After months of contemplation, I am ready to launch my fifth community art initiative, "WHITE FLAG." The project is motivated by a desire to foster openness and transformation through conversation, creativity and reflection. As with all my previous community art projects, "WHITE FLAG" uses a textile to encourage understanding between individuals and communities through healthy communication and creativity.
The centerpiece for this project, a "WHITE FLAG," has been recognized for centuries as a symbol not only for surrender or truce, but as a willingness for dialogue and negotiation. If we are going to survive as a species, as a planet, we need to find ways to come together peacefully, to listen to one another and to be open, even vulnerable. This community art project builds on that concept by asking participants to sit at a table, talk, listen and use embroidery threads, sewing trims, buttons and writing/drawing tools to embellish the WHITE FLAG with words, images and patterns reflecting their dialogue. A handwoven linen WHITE FLAG will be given to participants, who will support and engage in the project using prompts and guidelines from me.
"WHITE FLAG" is appropriate for all ages and abilities. Throughout the project, the participants will witness how the WHITE FLAG changes with each get-together, becoming more and more layered with threads, stories, ribbons, images and text. The project will culminate with a public exhibition of the "WHITE FLAGS," along with journals, photographs and videos of the white clothes and community events.
"WHITE FLAG" will launch in the late summer/early fall of 2022. I am currently seeking participants for this community art project and exhibition sites. Individuals, families, schools, institutions, restaurants, cafés and collectives are all invited to participate.
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Sarah Haskell video by Lights Out:
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“Well Used, Well Loved”
A community art project that explores age, impermanence and beauty
Textiles and the human body have many parallels: Both are permeable, vulnerable to wear and tear, absorbent and resilient. Fabric and bodies both have memory and they breathe. I find these parallels compelling and intriguing.
In January 2016 I launched “Well Used, Well Loved” (WUWL), a community art project that explored the similarities between cloth and our physical bodies. I invited eight households to “adopt” a linen towel that I had handwoven. The towels were embroidered with Roman numerals I to VIII and were to be used however the families saw fit. For example, Towel I went to a couple who live in England, Towel III went to a young couple in Brooklyn, NY, and Towel V went to an art teacher on a Navajo reservation in Arizona.
The towels were used to clean up kitchen messes, as a picnic napkin, to dry kale and bread knives, in a ceramic studio for wiping hands and as a bib for an elderly mother. One towel went on bicycle trip to Europe, another to a family camp up north, another to school. Some towels never left the kitchen. Along with a towel I sent each family a handmade journal, with the agreement that they would write or draw in it as a response to a question or prompt I sent every other week.
The response to my initial call to participate in WUWL was overwhelming. Over 50 households expressed interest and I only had eight towels. So I created a secondary way to participate in the project that dovetailed with the first one. The group of eight households with the towels and journals became the Linen Team. This second group of ultimately 38 households (Maine to Arizona) became the Paper Team. The Paper Team wrote and drew on kozo paper—a special Japanese paper that I provided—to record their response to my prompts.
Prompts to both the Linen and Paper Team were the same. For example, Prompt #6 was: “The materials for this project are hand-woven linen and kozo paper. Both are created from plant fibers known for their absorption qualities. Absorption can also be seen as dissolving boundaries. In that light, what parallels or connection do you observe between your own ability to absorb, to soak up, to empathize? What connections do you perceive between your linen/paper and the action of union, of dissolving boundaries, connection? What value do these actions have today?”
Here is a response from a member of the Linen Team to Prompt #7, which was “Do you see an opposite to being well used, well loved?”
“I can’t seem to shake the last prompt regarding opposites, darkness and light... It follows me through my day and even seems to be stalking me in my sleep. Clearly something I have not given enough consideration to is seeking my focus and attention. As I sat staring at towel VIII on my kitchen counter this morning I wondered... Is she a continuation of VII and all the woven and numbered towels before her? Cut from the same cloth, but with her own unique sewn and stitched edges. That’s when it hit me.... the idea and nature of EDGES is what has been insistently prodding me. Edges, transitions and the nature and power of something to be itself and at some point (visible/invisible/tangible/intangible) become/express something else. It’s time to grab some paints and stay tuned to what is bubbling up from the edges and transitions of the dark woods I am about to wander through.”
The Linen Team recorded their responses to the 10 prompts in the handmade journal. The Paper Team recorded their responses on the Japanese kozo paper. Thru a hands-on workshop in my studio, I taught local folks from the Paper Team how to spin their kozo paper into thread using a Japanese technique called kami-ito. I created a video tutorial for those who wanted to learn to spin their paper from afar. Over the next eight months, participants responded to the prompts on their paper or in the journals, used the towels, engaged in the private Facebook group and built community. Over the months that I guided WUWL, I witnessed a profound engagement from participants and saw a ripple effect as some shared their experiences with others.
In September 2016, I collected the eight well used and loved towels and journals from the Linen Team. The kozo paper from the Paper team was returned to me either as kami-ito thread, having been spun by project participants, or as sheets of paper that I later spun into thread.
I used the following months to read and copy text from the journals, to spin paper threads and to reflect on how to honor these stories … to create a piece that illustrated our common threads of attachment to beauty, aging and impermanence.
Well Used, Well Loved, 6 x 12 feet (four panels)
Handwoven linen with cotton embroidery thread and handspun paper woven in a brocade structure.
Ultimately, I wove the hand-spun paper threads into two narrow panels using a brocade weave that floats the threads on the surface of a deep blue linen cloth. These two panels bookend the two large center panels of hand dyed and woven linen. On these two center panels there are a pair of hands in a gesture of opening, loosely holding a red handspun paper thread.
Reflecting back on this project I am in awe of the openness and vulnerability that each participant demonstrated. I asked tough questions that sometimes led folks to dark places. I did offer participants the option to opt out of any difficult questions and some did. I learned that creating art in community has huge value not only for the participants, but for those who witness the process and the end product.
And in the end, the towels, the papers and the journals are simply vehicles for interaction, for conversation. A way to bridge the perceived gap between us is at the core of my community art projects.
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