Chantel Mierau uses string, yarn and fabric as an integral component of printmaking, video, sculpture and other forms of image-making. A Thread, a Thought, a Knot uses basic sewing supplies to explore the process of thinking, especially moments of confusion, epiphany and rumination.Read More
I've been doing some printmaking agian. The following are prints of sillhouettes of string.
Steps: First I make the objects from string. Sometimes the objects are woven, tied or embroidered on clear plastic. Other times they're just laid down and secured with clear tape. Then I lay the objects on a screen coated in photo-emulsion and expose them to light. The shadow from the string becomes areas of the screen where ink can pass through when printed.
Thoughts: Loose, haphazard threads and neat, highly organized ones are easy to come by. There might be a really interesting thread hanging off your clothing right now. These prints do what all photos do, isolate a moment in time for examination. They also operate like microscope slides, allowing us to zero in on something that normally evades observation, hopefully giving us insight into how our lives are ordered. Then again, perhaps all they can ultimately do is permit us to stare briefly at a bit of chaos.
(Note: click on the photos to see enlarged versions)
I grew up in a church that was, like so many (Russian) Mennonite churches, quite plain. Between white walls, plain wooden pews advanced in a straightforward line towards a pulpit that employed about the same amount of ornamentation as most kitchen cabinets. A rotation of quilted and/or applique wall-hangings adorned the walls. It was beautiful in its own way, despite trying very hard not to be.
This predisposition towards simplicity could be attributed to a number of factors. Some point to the fact that in early years, Mennonite churches had to meet in secrecy out of fear of persecution. A cave is not a great place to house art.
There were also groups and individuals closely associated with the early anabaptists (Mennonites, Amish and Hutterites all have roots in Anabaptism) who condoned or performed acts of iconoclasm. One such person was Ludwig Haetzer's, who published a pamphlet in 1523, succinctly titled "The Judgement of God our Spouse as to how one Should Hold Oneself toward all Images, according to the Holy Scriptures." Here's a good quote from that, "O hypocrite! All the images on earth carried to one pile cannot by a hair make you more pious or more reverent or draw you toward God." He saw images as a distraction from what was really important, i.e. worshipping God. If you were worshipping in front of an image of Jesus, were you worshipping Jesus or were you worshipping the image? Tricky.
Another argument against art is that it is a waste of resources that should instead be used to help the poor. During the Protestant Reformation, this spurred people to action, like Klaus Hottinger, who tore down a crucifix and used it as fuel for the poor. I think many Mennonites will find a very similar attitude still exists today, even if it's not expressed as overtly. Art is seen by some as something we should do after everyone is at peace... so never.
I obviously see it differently. I don't believe we need to put off art and beauty while we continue to work for peace, justice and equality. And if we want to get into "proof text"ing, I will quote Matthew 26:17-30 and Mark 14:1-11, the story of Jesus being anointed at Bethany. A woman pours expensive perfume on Jesus head. The disciples are appalled at her waste of resources that could have been used to help the poor, and Jesus responds saying, "Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want." Interestingly, in the gospel of Mark, Judas leaves to betray Jesus to the authorities immediately after this event. If you are a Mennonite who has trouble empathizing with Judas, maybe this is the place to look.
Despite taking issue with it, the simplicity and practicality of the Mennonites has been a huge influence on me. In researching other artists, I've been strongly drawn to minimalist aesthetics in the work of artists such as Eva Hesse, Wolfgang Laib, and Agnes Martin. Perhaps this affinity can be partially attributed to growing up in the landscape of the Canadian prairies, but I think the architecture of my home church must also be somewhat responsible.
I also identify with the many artists who, since the 1960's, have been working in ways that often don't leave behind a physical object, for example video and performance artists. The images of video, made out of light, disappear with a touch to the power button; the actions of performance, unless documented by photography or video, are ephemeral. The Mennonite tradition of simple living, though differently motivated and differently expressed, ensured that de-materialization (as in "Six Years: The De-materialization of the Art Object" by Lucy R. Lippard) was not new vocabulary for me when I first encountered it in the context of art school.
My heritage has influenced my choice of materials. Those banners hanging in the church and other handmade items at home introduced me to different textile techniques, so when I got to art school, I found myself knitting, sewing, and (later on) tatting. Whatever the ultimate reason is that Mennonites historically rejcted all art except quilting (I exaggerate), it seems I've internalized it. Also, in working with string and fabric, artists like Rosemary Troekle, Judy Chicago, and Aganetha Dyck have been exciting discoveries along the way.
Mennonite simplicity is my companion in the studio. Sometimes I argue with him/her directly; other times she/he makes helpful suggestions. "You know what would work here? Less. Or something knitted." Like most people, I'm drawn to everything in art history that I can see a piece of myself in. As it turns out, this very often has something to do with simplicity, or something to do with something you could call being Mennonite.
Previous: Mennonite for Short Part 1: Origins
Coming soon: Low art, Low church, Low German -on humility and pathos
In my resident province of Manitoba (Canada), Mennonites have had a very strong cultural presence, and so usually referring to my Mennonite heritage holds some meaning for people here. Consequently, I use the term Mennonite in artist statements as short-hand for a number of different theological ideas, and cultural traits that pertain to my work. I'd like to use these "Mennonite for Short" blog posts to expound on these references, searching for the roots of what I mean by them. But first, a bit of background.
Mennonites originated largely in Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands during the sixteenth century Reformation. Some of their core articles of faith include adult baptism, and pacifism, which got them into a lot of trouble. In search of religious freedom, my ancestors migrated from the Netherlands to what was then Prussia, then on to Ukraine. It was in Ukraine, living for an extended period of time in insular colonies (they were forbidden by Catherine II from proselytizing their Orthodox neighbours) that a Russian Mennonite culture emerged. Between 1874 and 1953, three waves of Mennonites migrated to Canada.
I'm losing. There is dust on everything. It's three weeks until Christmas, so I've decided to take it easy. This means eating peanuts while watching a movie. This means only manipulating my immediate surroundings. If it's outside of the radius of my arms, it will have to wait until I decide to get up. So, I'm typing, and picking up little flecks of peanut shells from beside me on the couch and dropping them down the crack between the couch and the wall. It's okay; it won't hurt. The little shells will land unharmed on the soft bed of dust bunnies at the baseboards.