REflecting on REinvention
June 25, 2010
MARCH 19, 2010: After 2 days of intense but productive SDA strategic planning and board/staff meetings, I seized a moment to commune with clement spring in Southern California before hitting the hard chairs at the Seven Hills Conference Center on the San Francisco State University campus–ready to hit refresh with Reinvention. I did. It was.
About 250 participants made this regional gathering, jointly-sponsored by SFSU, Studio Art Quilt Associates and SDA, a vibrant mix. UK, Norway, Canada and Qatar were in the house, as well as plenty of Eastern, Mid-West and Western States. West/Left Coasters all the way up to AK were the appropriate majority.
Day One: Let’s Hear It From the Museum
AM: Marci McDade, editor of Fiberarts led off with an overview of some recent exhibitions that have redefined and reinvigorated work re: fiber/textiles. Many more “RE-” words: REinterpret, REposition, REvitalize…were chosen to draw attention to the amount of institutional wall and floor time currently being given to works-in-fiber.
TAKEAWAY: a) There is a textile REnaissance happening in the world of curation.
b) Marci stated she doesn’t know much about fashion.
NEXT, Jane Przybysz of the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles took us behind the show floor of the museum for an experience of the wordsmithing agony curators endure to hammer out a mission statement that brands their institution’s purpose. Having just spent several hours discussing SDA’s mission, I found this back story very relevant.
Then Przybysz launched the usual debate with the fetishized “C-word” (for craft, of course) and gave a tour of Elissa Auther‘s recently published String, Felt, Thread: The Hierarchy of Art and Craft in American Art. Auther’s research and arguments should excite anyone who has a dog in this fight—as SDA has for over 30 years.
TAKEAWAY: Auther has created a thrilling academic page-turner on this seminal issue. Let’s hope we hear her present this brilliant analysis in person at an upcoming conference.
PM: After Japanese lunch and some great networking opps, Stefano Catalani of the Bellevue Arts Museum (WA) presented the Bellevue mission and then the work of 3 artists.
TAKEAWAY: Dinh Q. Le‘s photoweaving had the juice in this one. He already has his own wikipedia entry.
NEXT: Jill D’Alessandro relentlessly promoted the deYoung Museum for the next hour, which was followed by a final Day 1 Panel on Museum Perspectives. The “Q-word” (for quilt, of course) gets the fetish treatment here.
TAKEAWAY: 2 pieces of good advice from the curators:
1) Don’t submit an artist’s statement that the work itself does not prove or support
2) If you make “art” quilts, apply to non-quilt oriented exhibitions to push curators to expand
their definition of contemporary art
THEN: Out the door to find and view 5 Reinvention-related exhibitions scattered around campus.
Gallery Walk TAKEAWAY:
Depth of Surface@SFSU Fine Arts Gallery=Tiny Red Velvet cupcakes, carved paperbacks and art magazines, Queer plaids
Continuum@Martin Wong=DIY aesthetic embroidered self-portraits by Victor De La Rosa‘s students
Reinvention@The Art Gallery=Asian h’or d’oeuvres, a shirt of woven maps, an overly full brain
Day Two: Let’s Hear It From the Maker
OVERVIEW: Three panels in three flavors rocked the house on Saturday: Emerging Artists, Environmental Artists and Established Artists.
They really brought it–both visually and intellectually.
Emerging Artists TAKEAWAY: The “G-word” (Gender, of course) continues to be a hot topic for expression–“hot” meaning both prevalent and provocative. Mung Lar Lam‘s ironing was not so compelling on the wall but became much more so in her words. With Lacey Jane Roberts and Bren Ahearn‘s work we were taken deep into the performance of gender, the concept of mastery and queer theory. Lacey Jane Roberts delivered the most quotable quote: “I locate myself in craft. It is a very empowering place to be right now.” She also introduced a new genre: Sloppy Craft.
Lea Redmond: Practices “socially engaged conceptual art” that explores the politics of clothing with poetic care instruction labels: “It is time to change our clothes” (attendees were literally given one to takeaway)
Judith Selby Lang: Creates performance art by cleaning her local beach of plastic detritus, then creates “social sculpture” from the found, free and archival (plastic!) objects she finds there.
Experienced Artists TAKEAWAY: I just let the insights and images of 4 established artists Joan Schulze, Michael Rohde, Carol Westfall and Consuelo Jimenez Underwood wash over me after lunch. An informal poll rated this presentation the most inspiring of the conference.
FINALLY: Reinventing American Craft: Janet Koplos took us on a tour of the history of this iconic magazine. It revived me.
TAKEAWAY: Former AC Editor Andrew Wagner made craft cool again to younger readers and designers from 2007 until he left for ReadyMade.
Day Three: Studio & Museum Visits + Berkeley Foodfest:
I opted to visit the must-see Amish Quilt exhibition at the deYoung and to hang out with artist-in-residence Joe the Quilter. The deYoung just bought A Bend in the River, one of his bias-tape works . After the day-long studio and museum tours, Yoshiko Wada welcomed all to a fabulous post-conference potluck in the Berkeley hills with a spectacular panoramic view of the bay area.
OVERALL TAKEAWAY: 100% outstanding conference experience.
SOME BACK STORY: The impetus for organizing this conference came from the desire to follow a very successful SDA/SAQA joint symposium in Philadelphia/2007 with one in a different region. Joy Stocksdale, then SDA Executive Director, and Martha Sielman, SAQA’s Executive Director, got it rolling. Victor de la Rosa, a former SDA board member who heads the fiber department at SFSU, was approached and was instrumental in managing arrangements on campus. Judith Content, Joan Schulze, Nelda Warkentin, Candace Edgerley and Suzie Liles were also on the committee that made it happen.
BIG GRATITUDE: Very special acknowledgment and thanks go to Suzie Liles–coordinator for both Philadelphia and SF symposia. When a conference runs smoothly–as this one did–attendees often take it for granted. If you haven’t experienced the multi-tasking challenge of creating conference flow, check out Suzie’s to-do list below:
- Handle logistics for meals, meetings, workshops
- Handle all speaker/workshop leader contracts
- Negotiate contracts for hotel group rates/meeting rooms/meals for board meetings
- Handle symposium attendance confirmations, registration and information packets
- Arrange for sufficient tables, chairs, AV equipment, signage
- Handle arrangements for catered meals and coffee service
- Arrange for all materials and equipment for workshop rooms
- Compile information for symposium prospectus (speaker/instructor bios, descriptions,
materials list, AV requirements)
- Create printed program
- Arrange vans to and from symposium and for studio venues tour
- Manage volunteers to help on site
- Conduct analysis and complete symposium report after event
THANKS also go to various SDA and SAQA COMMITTEES charged with selecting locations, dates, speakers, workshop instructors, programming schedule, contracts, bookkeeping and development of graphics, printing, PR.
Finally, THANKS to the many VOLUNTEERS from both the SDA and the SAQA, as well as the students and faculty at San Francisco State University.
It takes an association (or two or three of them) to build a conference. Kudos to all.