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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Brooke Atherton: Controlled Burns and Winter Solstice

Tonight,  Brooke Atherton hosted a winter solstice program at the Yellowstone Art Museum (YAM)  in Billings, Montana.  I wrote about the event earlier this week.

Brooke has been an artist in residence at YAM for the last year.  As an artist in residence, she works in a studio and talks with visitors, often art groups and college art students.  Brooke uses all sorts of fabrics and found objects in her fiber art, heavily stitching and trapping objects and bits of fabric which in some cases she's altered by controlled burns and distortions.  She gathers a lot of her fabrics from various places, a lot of it salvaged.  She is prone to layering and burning or melting pieces away.

She has also been burning fibers by using a Japanese Shibori dying technique called "arashi", or pole wrapping.  In arashi shibori, fabric is wrapped diagonally around a pole, traditionally a polished wooden one, then bound with string and ultimately scrunched down once the string has been tightly wrapped around it.
 Here you can see how Brooke has applied this to her burning.  The fabric is bound as for traditional Shibori dyeing, but instead, she uses a gas or natural wood flame to scorch and burn the fibers.

The next photo shows what some of the pieces look like once the string has been cut and the lines are revealed.

Brooke had this to say of her methods:  " I love the way the fabrics capture directly the marks of a natural force, and it is, of course, insanely fun to do.  I use this a lot for borders—the strips of burned fabric are Misty Fused and stitched onto the edges of my canvases.  I put a lot of thought into how to end my work, how to transition from the work to a wall or floor, and this gives an interesting, soft line between one and the other (meaning the work and the wall). "

Many of Brooke's pieces are large installations which cascade down a wall, onto pillars before ultimately spilling onto the floor.

It was from describing her technique to these visitors that Brooke got the idea for having the winter solstice observance called "Ignite!"  Which was held tonight at 6:00 mountain time.  In many cultures, the longest night of the year is observed with bonfires.  Not only is the and warmth of the fires seen to drive evil and negative forces away, but also as a symbol of hope and the potential for rebirth.  It is, in the winter, an affirmation that the days will grow longer, spring will come, and the cycle will start all over again.

Fire is also seen as a cleansing agent, and Brooke asked participants to write things that they wanted to put behind them, or bring things which were emblematic of things they wanted to end with them and to put them into the flames.  I sent her a small quilt with a crab...(indicating how much I want to get rid of the cancer in my body).

"Like a lot of fiber artists, I use candles and a soldering iron for other effects.  My doctor always asks me what I’ve been burning recently, and one time he disappeared for a few minutes.  He came back handed me something, and said he’d like to see what I did with it.  And in demos, you can always tell who the guys in the room are who have had vasectomies, because they start laughing when they see the cauterizing tool he gave me.  The materials I burn are mostly natural fibers—cotton, linen, silk, paper, but I’ve also had good results with Tyvek and polyesters.  The manufactured materials are dangerous to work with, though, and if I work with them I do it carefully, outside, and not over a full flame—just enough warmth to shape them, not burn them.  I cannot stress enough how dangerous these things are; our burn permit is for natural fibers only.  I am looking forward, if there is no wind, to using gunpowder."

Gunpowder....I would have liked to have seen that!



The various layers, combined with hand and machine stitches and bits of this and that give her pieces incredible complexity but is based on the simplest of elements.  To me, her pieces have a luminous quality and a voice which just sings....They are evocative of decay and yet have elements of growth and rebirth.

Brooke also has an amazing way with color.   Yes, I'm a Brooke Atherton groupie.  One of these days I hope to get back to Montana and maybe swing down and visit her, but Billings is a long way from Cut Bank.

I had hoped to participate in the event here in Ohio at the same time they were burning the things in Billings...to that end, I prepared my own arashi pole....only to have it pouring down rain when I went to go outside and burn it.....So, mine will have to wait until tomorrow when the deluge stops....as I hope it will.

Brooke is the Studio Art Quilt Associate (SAQA) regional  representative for Montana and Idaho.

7 comments:

KAM said...

Thanks so much for showcasing some of Brooke's work; her approach to fiber art/quilt art has some fresh new approaches to the distress and use of fabric. Winter is not my time for driving across the state for an exhibit but I will surely be on the watch for her work in shows in the future.

Gerrie said...

Thanks for sharing work of one of my favorite artists. Brooke is amazing! I want to try this, too.

Kristin L said...

Thanks for sharing this Lisa! What's not to love about playing with fire?

Mia Bloom Designs said...

Thank you for introducing me to Brooke and her incredible artwork.

Michigoose said...

You're all welcome...I'm really happy to share her work, especially since she doesn't have a web presence.

Karen...I loved playing with fire. When I was about 4, I stuck sticks in the burn barrel and paraded around the yard with them like torches...of course my winter coat was a disgusting color of putty to begin with and got charcoal on it. Yes...I was found out and was sternly berated....this was very close to Christmas.

Mom said she couldn't figure out why the closer it came to Christmas, the more morose I was....I was convinced that I had been so bad that Santa would surely bring presents to my sister and brother but leave me out.

I am happy to report that Santa DID leave me presents and I forgot about the morose part until my mother told me about it.

Playing with the fire? Oh I remembered that part...and I did it many times after. :)

Del said...

You didn't identify the quilt at the top of your post. "Incidents of Travel: Frontispiece" (45"W x 41"L) was exhibited in Quilt Visions 2010 in Oceanside, CA. I deliberated too long and someone else wrote their check first. I hope Brooke's has a quilt in Quilt vision 2012, I'd be pleased to add one of her quilts to the Thomas Contemporary Quilt Collection. Thanks for sharing your insights into Brooke's work. Love, Del

Sheilasembroidery said...

Thanks for this link, I must try the burning shibori technique. I tried to share your site on Facebook but was unable to get it working, not sure if it's my settings or yours that is causing the problem.