Skip to content
12/06/2012 / accfiber

Foreclosure Quilts

“I was really afraid for several years to use fiber as a medium. Coming from the fine art world, there’s a stigma attached to it. Thankfully, that’s changing now. I struggled through several series of paintings trying to make my work look like fiber, because I thought it was so beautiful and I had a strange affinity with it. The only way I could confidently use fiber as a medium was to be able to justify the need for its use in my work. Years later, it seems obvious to me why I love the medium so much, my mother was a fiber artist. She died when I was a teenager, so the material has a very emotional significance for me. It took me years to understand this.”  -Kathryn Clark

Kathryn Clark used to have some sort of urban planning job (and by job I mean CAREER). It was this position that gave her the unique vantage point from which to observe the housing crisis in its embryonic stages. The crisis worsened, and during this time, Clark drew on her background in both urban planning and fine art to create an ongoing series of work, her Foreclosure Quilts. Here, we have portraits of decaying cities.

Detroit Quilt

Detroit Quilt

Above is a map of a neighborhood in Detroit. The red areas represent homes in varying states of foreclosure, some vacant, still more demolished to make way for empty lots. Clark utilized a process of reverse applique, placing red cotton fabric under linen and then cutting away the linen to reveal the red patches. The map is constructed in blocks and then assembled with the seams raw and visible. Finally, a filmy layer of cheesecloth is overlaid and hand-stitched into place, unifying the surface and calling to mind the omnipresent grime of urban life. The traditionally-trained quilter will notice that these quilts lack any sort of binding, and are generally enclosed by four unruly edges. Oh my!

These quilts exist where craft and politics meet. Craft, meaning traditional media, provides an excellent conduit for social criticism. The materials used are oftentimes deeply familiar to the viewer: textiles like the ones we sleep under; wood like our table and chairs; clay that we trek through and out of which our nicest coffee cup is made. It is this familiarity that gives craft its cunning ability to shift from object-based to conceptually driven work.

Albuquerque Quilt

Albuquerque Quilt

The process is the same, but with different materials and no cheesecloth. The exposed seams, raw edges, and fraying bits–in short, the deconstructed elements which dominate these quilts–underscore the unraveling of communities caused by the housing crisis. I find this quilt to be particularly appealing, because of the arrangement of fabrics and the scale of the little red foreclosed-upon rectangles. Although they are tiny, they are numerous–I counted 63–and evenly distributed throughout the map, so we are given to understand just how widespread this problem is.

Albuquerque Quilt, detail

Albuquerque Quilt, detail

Through her Foreclosure Quilt series, Clark started with grim maps and abstracted them into striking compositions, as with Riverside, CA:

Riverside, CA quilt

Riverside, CA quilt

We interact with textiles on a daily basis, and we project meaning: the business shirt, the laundry day outfit, the cheap hotel sheets, and the fine linens embroidered long ago. Cloth ages over time, according to its use, and eventually decays. It is impermanent, but while it is here, it collects history. We can sense the stories present in cloth even if we cannot draw them out by name. I don’t believe that these compositions would be as powerful if executed in a different medium–paint, for instance; it is by tapping into the language and meaning specific to fibers that Kathryn Clark created an arresting body of work.

Riverside, CA quilt detail

Riverside, CA quilt detail

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: