A black and white image kept floating through my mind: an institutional gallery, shiny concrete floor, big droopy organic-looking imposing textiles suspended from walls and ceiling, and an artist (arms folded) standing in the center third for scale. I'd seen this photograph in a lecture by curator Alex Klein on the artist Barbara Kasten, and I hunted in my room for her Stages (2015) exhibition catalogue.
The catalogue's tiny reproduction of this photograph (pictured top-left) depicts Kasten surrounded by her 1971 MFA thesis show, Dimension of Fiber. Unlike many thesis exhibitions, the show featured more than just the graduating artist's work. Strategically curating the show, Kasten physically positioned her woven works in dialogue with works by other artists—including Sheila Hicks, Annie Albers, and textile artist Magdalena Abakanowicz, who subsequently became Kasten's mentor.
This got me thinking about several Philadelphia-based artists whose work I often revisit, and who have taken inspiration from, intervened in, or depicted collections and archives—reviving past artistic conversations and re-contextualizing them. By positioning self-taught artists as creative peers, Paul Swenbeck and Joy Feasley claimed their own roles as mystics; Shelley Spector invoked empathy for a historical lesbian couple by incorporating their works and writings into hers; Becky Suss sorted through her family history in relation to the modernist furniture, paintings, and books left behind after a relative's passing.
Moyra Davey explicitly dialogues with artists, novelists, theorists, and filmmakers in each of her essays and films as well as in many photographs. In Davey's longstanding, intimate engagement with Chantal Akerman's practice, Davey not only reiterates scenes from Akerman's films, but also shares heartbroken reflections on Akerman's suicide.
I feel as though I'm doing a mixture of these activities in Rewritings. As a researcher, I'm thinking carefully about Davey's work, and am also adopting her as a sort of unwitting mentor as I try out some of her artistic strategies for myself. I want to claim Davey as a peer writer and artist, as Kasten did with the artists in Dimension of Fiber and as Feasley and Swenbeck did with the vernacular artists in Out, Out, Phosphene Candle. I think this project is an attempt to weave our threads together and make a strong rope for me to haul myself out of criticism and into creative practice.