Mark: Simon Rodia was like the international man of mystery.
His towers in Watts, they've served as inspiration.
Betye: He found objects and put them together.
Subconsciously, that aroused my creative energy.
Alison: I'm really interested in the power of materials.
All these little bits and pieces, they call to me like, "I'm being abandoned.
Come get me."
Tousue: We are our practices, our traditions, and our culture.
Mandora: When you do this Hmong needlework, it's not like in a book where you can find it.
Chuayi: Paj ntaub, it's a way of remembering who I am.
Mary: My pieces are influenced by work that's come in the past.
Where can I take this?
That's a question that I'm always asking.
Ayumi: My ceramic work really addresses the inner self, you know, how I want to be in the world.
Diedrick: Once I sit down at the loom, I feel like I fall into it.
Mentally, I go somewhere else.
It's that single strand being able to accomplish these great feats.
[Music] Mark: Art serves a purpose.
It's the universal healer.
It allows you to express things in ways that can't be expressed any other way.
It allows you to chronicle history, feelings, emotions.
It presents a different perspective on society, if you're paying attention.
It has a resonance that goes beyond anything else that I've ever seen.
It's really kind of a magic thing.
And I think Simon Rodia's "Towers" in Watts, they've served as inspiration in terms of expression and creativity.
Simon Rodia was like the international man of mystery.
I wish I had had an opportunity to meet him because I hear he was really something.
He was the master craftsman.
He would build the towers using whatever metal he could find.
He would tie it together with wire.
He would cover it with concrete, and then he'd put the decoration on, let that section dry, and then he would use that section to actually climb up because he didn't have a scaffold.
He didn't have a ladder or anything that he was using.
So it's just a little amazing what he was able to accomplish.
Rosie: Simon Rodia influenced the community simply by coming here.
He came to a community that was nurturing, and now the community sees these towers as theirs.
We are a campus now.
We're the Watts Towers, the Watts Towers Arts Center, the Charles Mingus Youth Arts Center, and the Garden Studio.
Watts is very rich in artists, and the Watts Towers Arts Center Campus provides a place for those artists to be nurtured and to nurture our community, so that's what Simon gave us.
Carlos: Simon Rodia would find pieces of plates, shells, glass, and bottles, and he would recycle these items and put them on his sculptures, these towers.
And I think what he did is monumental.
Simon has had an influence on me in terms of different ways to do mosaics.
I hand-built these relief sculptures of turtles.
Then I fired them, and I glazed them, as well, and we've got about 50 of these on this mosaic to decorate our turtle pond.
Rosie: In 1959, the city says, "There was never a permit to build those towers."
Mark: They subjected the towers to a stress test to see if it was structurally sound, and the suspicion was actually, they wanted to see if they could move it because of where it was.
It was in Watts.
Carlos: They got a truck with a crane on it and tried to pull the towers down, and what happened was the towers actually lifted the crane off the ground.
Rosie: They started to look at restoration and conservation.
And that was the beginning of the Watts Towers Arts Center.
Mark: Noah Purifoy was the heart and soul of the Watts Towers Arts Center.
Noah was working with Judson Powell, and Noah was John Outterbridge's mentor.
A lot of their work is based in the use of found objects, just like Simon.
Charles: John Outterbridge and Noah Purifoy, they're icons as well as mentors for me.
I have a background in working with bronze and various materials.
I'm a welder, and I'm also a mold maker.
During the designing of the garden, Rosie looks over at me and says, "Can you make a gate?"
The symbols are the omnipotence of God, and the Sankofa bird, which represents, If you don't know your past, then you don't know your future.
I try to give back to the community, and the Watts Towers Arts Center Campus has been a wonderful place for me to participate.
Mark: The Center has always existed because there's always been a need for that type of expression in that community.
The children that are there don't have a lot of creative outlets, but because of the conditions that they live in, they have to be creative every day.
Nipsey: My mom, just knowing I had a passion, found this community center at the Watts Towers and was like, you know, they offer a class once a week.
It's, like, electronic music.
I used to catch the bus to the train and go to the Watts Towers on Saturday and just learn.
That was my first exposure to production.
Mark: The Watts Towers Arts Center created an atmosphere that allows creativity to thrive.
And I think John and Noah and all those people were constantly looking for, "How can we make this happen?
"Because we know that the magic is there.
"We just have to figure out how to make that magic get through to everybody else."
Rosie: When Simon was through, he was through.
He didn't sell it.
He gave it away.
Artists have to do what they have to do.
Simon had to build these towers, and we're so happy that he did and left this legacy for us to continue and to provide a platform for the richness that comes from this community.
♪ ♪ Alison: I really love working with wood, and I think not having been trained as a sculptor, it was the most accessible thing.
Alison: Most people think of the chainsaw, this is cutting straight, but it can become like a file.
You can kind of like just skim surfaces off and things like that.
It's an amazing tool, and now that they're making these little ones, I'm really getting into these kind of finer detail things.
The smell of wood being cut is just really beautiful and rich, and just that it's a living thing is really important to me.
Alison: I really love the chisel marks because it becomes a faceted surface, which I love because then it also feels like it's, is it stone or is it wood or...?
It shows the mark of the hand and the stroke of the hand.
I'm a native Angeleno.
I grew up in Laurel Canyon.
After living in New York for 15 years, it felt like the right move to come back.
Betye: What's this little tree here?
Alison: And now I live a mile from my mother.
Both my parents were artists.
My mother, Betye Saar, is a sculptor, painter, printmaker, and installation artist, assemblage artist, and then my father, Richard Saar, conservator and ceramicist.
I think my own work kind of falls between the influences between both of them.
While my mother was very well-known and I was influenced by her work, I would spend my afternoons with my father, and it was kind of a really traditional apprenticeship.
All of the little strips are pieces of linen that was cut off of paintings that my father was remounting.
And so I gathered them all, and there's pieces of tin and rawhide from my dog's rawhide bones.
And so all these things wrap her up.
Underneath all of that, there's this very sexy lady.
Simon Rodia had a role in that piece because the mask flips up, and you can see this mosaic face.
We were introduced to the Watts Towers really early.
I think I was three at the time.
It's one of my earliest memories of a piece of art.
We were also really friendly with the artists that were part of Watts Towers Arts Center.
Noah Purifoy and John Outterbridge, those were artists that were a really big part of my mother's art circle.
Betye: My grandmother lived on 117th, but 107th Street was sort of the downtown or the business area, and to get to that, we would pass a man making these strange buildings.
I would ask my mom, "What's he doing?"
They were the beginning of the Watts Towers.
The fact that he just found objects and put them together, subconsciously, that aroused my creative energy.
"Spirit Catcher," which is a series of basket-weaving constructions that come up like a tower, that's where that comes from.
Maddy: I grew up playing on that piece.
I used to like--I know.
I used to look at it all the time and kind of like play around it.
And there was definitely a sense of anything can be art.
That was like the seed of the idea of collecting.
Betye: Any kind of materials.
Betye: Any old kind of materials can be made into art.
And not only is it materials, but it's ideas and thoughts and philosophies and everything like that.
Yeah... Maddy: Gran Betye has inspired me and influenced me in so many different ways.
I grew up in her studio.
I grew up watching the way that she picks up objects and thinks about them.
I grew up with her thinking of composition, telling me important parts of history and stories.
I learned to think of my identity in a different way and how to use my power.
Alison: I think another thing that you have inherited from your grandmother is all of the components of the occult.
Maddy: Yeah, and the symbolism.
Betye: But behind that is the interest in other layers of consciousness.
Betye: Because that's where I feel that real creativity comes from, the kind that we're interested in.
Maddy: I was making a body of work that was a reflection of my upbringing and this sort of generational magic between the women in my family.
What I mean by "generational magic" is this curiosity that was brought down through all of us.
It's the way that we question things and investigate things.
We surround ourselves with things that we have put meaning into.
Storytelling and lore is really important, and I think that is why we collect objects and use them in our practice.
They tell narratives.
Alison: So this piece I'm roughing out, she's going to be wearing a girdle made of skillets.
These skillets become a protection, but they also point towards women in their sort of activities within the kitchen.
Really, what felt like home, what was Thanksgiving and Christmas and Fourth of July and Mother's Day was all my mother's family.
The African-American part of my ancestry really was at the forefront of who I am and why I identify as Black even though people often perceive me as White.
You know, that's why I'm really insistent on making art about my African-American ancestry.
Some of these pieces are directly responses to some of the news, but I think the work has always been about the same sort of things.
It has always been about the need for equity and justice.
"Si J'etais Blanc" was one of my first sculptures.
He looks very much like the four-by-four he started out as.
He is a tribute to Simon Rodia in that he has mosaic pants on, some really snazzy mosaic pants on.
The title is "If I Were White," which is the title of a song made famous by Josephine Baker.
It's a song lamenting, you know, all of her trials and tribulations because of the color of her skin.
And, actually, he has a little door that opens up in his chest.
And if you look beyond all the broken glass, there's an image of Josephine Baker, really tiny.
Having come from a family of my mother, who's a really powerful Black female and my grandmother, who was an educator, who was really a powerful Black female, you know, that they're all really intense ladies.
And so I feel like it's a, you know, something I am really compelled to carry on.
For the larger pieces, I'll just start covering it with the ceiling tin.
You know, I just love that it has this history, and I feel it has a memory as well.
It's been in these apartments and witnessed, you know, fish fries or Seders or all these things.
Ceiling tin also takes on these ideas of scarification and tattooing and identification through how you mark your body, and it also metaphorically becomes fortification, that it becomes an armor.
Her skin is impervious to pain or abuse or all of those things.
The materials become witnesses, and they bring that knowledge to the piece, and I think it enriches the work a lot.
I hope it does.
Irene: Alison Saar has done a number of works of figures that are suspended.
It's a disturbing image, but she puts her figures in positions that they can move from.
One-half of the exhibition "Alison Saar: Of Aether and Earthe" is here at the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena, California.
The other half is at the Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College.
Rebecca: Aether is the mysterious element that moves in and around and between.
It's an essence that connects all the other elements.
It just speaks to our exhibition at two different venues with aether floating in between.
What makes Alison's work so compelling is her efforts to reclaim the narratives of gender and race by presenting ordinary individuals as agents of their own change and their monumentality in this life.
Her works, I like to think of them as monuments to hope.
Alison: You know, it has its own life once it leaves your studio.
It gathers energy and disperses energy and becomes something else.
It just needs to get to the point where it can tell its story, and then I let it be.
♪ ♪ Diedrick: I have always been a tinkerer and, like, love to take things apart.
I had a frame loom when I was a tiny person, and I spent a lot of time with it, and I've always loved the process, but I honestly found weaving by accident.
I decided to sign up for this summer class of textile and weaving.
Adrian: Good morning.
Diedrick: The first day I walked into the room, I just was hooked to see the sunlight streaming in, these perfect rows of looms, and just that materiality of all of these different textures and colors of yarn.
It had me spellbound.
I mean, I think if I had a personal license plate, it would say "Dreamweaver."
I had an idea of what figurative things needed to look like.
Textiles that were figurative were often European tapestries, which are highly realistic, very figural flora and fauna exploding out of the surfaces of them.
I had been looking at West African traditions of weaving, which were almost entirely abstract.
As a queer Black person who is weaving, people are like, "How does someone "with all these identities find their way to something even more niche?"
After maybe the third time, someone was like, "God.
You're a unicorn."
And so thinking about the unicorn as this exceptional, impossible creature, I started to think about a self-portrait.
The "unicorn kente" is one of the first things I took away from abstraction because I needed so badly to weave this, like, figural thing.
I had so much trepidation about introducing figures to the work, but I knew I needed to weave them.
The drawings that I use to make the figures are based on my own body, but I don't necessarily think of them as myself.
They are related to my experiences, but they can be vehicles for people to think about themselves and others in the world.
I've been really curious as I've been weaving figures how to continue to make the poses interesting and dynamic, what ways the figures might flex or move and convey those motions to get that solidity across with these fragile, precious materials.
Natural fibers have helped us both lift things, tear things down, move things.
That, like, single strand is able to accomplish these great feats.
This is one of a series of works that will use the rope.
So, in this case, it's just these two figures sort of wrestling with each other.
Successive pieces will be more about pulling things down, like structures, and raising things up, like tents.
So how humans have used string and rope in both building and destroying things.
I work in panels in part because of the constraints of the loom.
When I work in the panel, I can create an image that I wouldn't otherwise be able to if I was working in just one piece.
But this, I think, needs to go up to, like, here.
Tristan: OK. Diedrick has a plan, but he also has this leeway of, like, letting the material kind of do its own thing-- a lot of back and forth between his sketches and then what's happening on the loom and his spontaneous additions to the image.
Adrian: In the interaction between the human and the, like, mechanical of the loom, there's inevitable fallout from the framework, and we have to constantly be reacting to that.
Diedrick: Once I sit down at the loom, it is--I don't know-- I feel like I kind of like fall into it.
I often tell people it's like time travel or taking a long road trip.
Like, you just kind of, like, it feels like mentally, I go somewhere else.
It is a full-body experience.
You use your legs and your arms and the rhythm of kind of pushing yarn backwards and forward.
It just...it's meditative.
The weaving techniques are mostly double weave, doubleweave pick-up.
I also do a lot of strip weaving and sewing things together to create larger compositions.
The figure is woven in a supplemental warp and weft.
So inside the structure of the cloth, there are these additional threads that I can call up at will.
And what they do is essentially hold the black yarn to the surface of the cloth wherever I want.
As opposed to having to take the thread from end to end, I can kind of put it in in place, almost like a woven embroidery.
So it's two weaving techniques kind of collapsed on top of each other.
I think about the double weave, I can kind of push the figure into the foreground or have a horizon line or put shapes in the sky or in the ground by having those two layers.
So, it's color, image, and depth, I think, for me.
My grandmother taught me to sew when I was young.
So I was always tinkering with these materials.
I spent a lot of summers with my grandmother.
She lives in the same house that I grew up going to in Mexia, Texas.
Mexia is, like, a tiny town.
It's a place where most everyone knows everyone.
I mean, I think of myself as, you know, a child of this place.
In 1981, up at Lake Mexia, during a Juneteenth celebration, three young men were drowned in police custody.
They were being transported across the lake, handcuffed, in a boat that capsized.
They were Steven Booker, Carl Baker, and Anthony Freeman.
I think it's really shaped who I am and how I think about the world, to be from that place.
The catfish is a symbol that I work with a lot.
And, for me, it's become a symbol of the American South.
And I've used it as a way to think about death, about transformation, about this creature that sort of can be above and below.
Holly: The exhibition is a survey of Diedrick's use of the catfish motif in his poetry and weavings.
Diedrick's work illustrates where someone who is deeply steeped in the history and the techniques of weaving can use them to create very contemporary, relevant narratives.
The poems and the weavings are parallel practices that feed one another.
Diedrick: Fish prayers are easy to answer and the days pass quiet, so I sleep.
Sometimes, I dream of boys.
They fall and flap, breaking open my glassy eye.
They dance down, deep into my belly where I can't cry them out.
I try and fill their chests with; "Breathe!
I don't know the words for save or swim.
My catfish wreath them-- suits of clouds.
[Applause] I started to think about the catfish as a way to signify this loss, to think about the energy of these young men being transmuted, thinking about, how could I make the catfish special?
How could I raise it up?
How could I think about it as something worth weaving?
I started thinking about how to make textiles sculptural, and inherent in basketry is form.
I made a series of baskets and took them out into the natural environment to think about them as another means of navigating the world or escaping.
The photographs allowed me to extend these narratives in visual ways that the textiles sometimes have to forgo.
I've just been in the studio dreaming of what I want the work to do, how I want it to grow and change, and just, like, further exploring what mastery of this medium of craft is.
I think I return to that class of textile and weaving.
I return to that room in my mind a lot.
And even now, it still feels like the most romantic occupation that I could have chosen.
[Chuckles] ♪ ♪ Chuayi: Paj ntaub is one of the most original Hmong arts.
It's been passed on since the beginning of Hmong people.
I feel like whenever I pick up paj ntaub and really work with the needle and the thread, like, it reconnects me to a part of myself.
It's a way of me remembering who I am and where my heritage comes from.
So for me, it's a very emotional and very spiritual, like, connection to the art.
A lot of my learning came from my mother.
[Speaking Hmong] Mandora: When you do this Hmong needlework-embroidery, the traditional Hmong paj ntaub, it's not like in a book where you can find it.
And so I was looking for a teacher.
Finding Suzanne Thao was like finding gold.
She's very patient, and this skill takes a lot of patience.
You have to stitch this way so that it goes in the right direction or so that your back will look pretty.
She explains a lot about the colors, certain colors you can and cannot use if you're doing a certain piece.
She talks about the different symbols.
Some of them are geometric, some are like flowers or imitate animals, but there's always a meaning behind these.
Lee: Some of the Hmong people live in the jungle of the northern part of Laos.
So, many of the designs reflect many of the animals and plants within the jungle.
If you look at this piece here, you see the snails.
The spirals represent the Milky Way.
You also see the elephant foot designs.
The country of Laos is known as the land of a million elephants.
You also have the tiger face, the chicken crown, which is on the baby's hat.
The intricate designs here reflect the Hmong writing system.
We used to have our own writing system, but it was lost.
A lot of folk tales and stories talk about the fact that they sew the alphabet into the clothing.
In fact, the word for education in the Hmong language is kev kawm ntawv, meaning that if you want to gain knowledge, go learn the embroidery.
♪ Mai: The elder generation has the stories and the knowledge and the history all in their minds, and if we don't connect with them and if we don't begin asking for it, then it's going to be lost.
What we have here are materials that would be used on traditional Hmong clothing, especially worn during the New Year.
You can see these are in pieces, and so they would be sewn onto a shirt, for example.
And then over here is Hmong clothing that has the coins on it.
[Clinking] You'll hear that sound during the Hmong New Year as people are walking around.
Paj ntaub is passed on orally, usually from a mother or an auntie or a grandmother to the child.
Mai: We started a program called Project Paj Ntaub to begin that intergenerational sharing of knowledge.
That act of crafting together, making paj ntaub together, is that relationship building for the women in the family.
Chuayi: Paj ntaub making, it was really a skill that helped a young woman move through life, through finding her purpose in the family.
It's carried on to some point, but I think with the war, there was a huge disruption to that.
Lee: In the secret war of Laos, the Americans instead of sending troops in, they sent CIA advisors.
Then recruited the Hmong people to serve as surrogate soldiers of the Vietnam war.
After United States pulled out of Vietnam, the communist government took over the country of Laos.
Long Tieng was the CIA headquarters.
Three planes were sent to evacuate the Hmong out of Long Tieng.
1,600 of them made it out.
The rest of them had to find their way over to Thailand, crossing the Mekong River.
Ban Vinai was the largest refugee camp in Thailand.
Over 40,000 people lived in Ban Vinai Refugee Camp, predominantly Hmong.
So many of them Hmong in the United States came from Ban Vinai.
Mai: Story cloths are Hmong experiences embroidered on a piece of textile.
The story cloths came out of the refugee camps.
In the cloth, you might see Hmong characters but also soldiers, you know, red string that represents blood.
The Hmong women and men who created these story cloths were sharing their stories through these pictorials.
Lee: Some are folk tales.
Some are about life in the village.
Some are about the New Year, and some are about the migration from China all the way to America.
My family came here October 22nd of 1976.
My father, he was a captain in the military.
He came here, and he worked as a janitor.
We have about 85,000 Hmong in the state of Minnesota.
Most of them are here in the seven-county metro area.
Here, you know, you have a culture of acceptance.
I think the local community really wanted the Hmong to thrive.
And I think that we've added to the vibrancy here in Minnesota.
Yia: Here in Minnesota, one of the things that grows really well is root vegetables.
So, we're working with rutabagas, we're working with kohlrabi, different kinds of turnips, stuff that traditionally probably most Hmong people wouldn't do back in Laos or Thailand.
My mom always said to us, Vinai is not where our life ended, but it's actually where our life started.
My parents met in Vinai, and they married.
I was born in '84, and then we were in there until '88, when we came to America.
Man: I'm like, "Dude, I love this guy!"
Yia: So we're at Hmong Village, probably one of my favorite places to come to.
When we first moved up here, we lived, like, 10 minutes away.
[Yia speaking Hmong] Laos style, that means that it has, really, that funkiness, that fermented paste in there.
The Thai style is a little sweeter, and then the Hmong style is, like, kind of a mix of two, and that really is descriptive of Hmong food.
Hmong food is based on our people's ability to adapt to the cultures that are around them, and that is actually the history of our people, is being able to adapt to wherever we go.
There's two cultures, and you take the beauty of both cultures, you create a third culture.
I believe in forging.
When you forge ideas from different cultures together, what you're doing is you're making a bond there.
In that bond, what happens is there's growth.
Tousue: "Hmong Minnesota" was inspired by Hmong paj ntaub.
I was trying to find a way to tell the story of the Hmong American experience.
It came together as, like, the nice fusion of, like, digital art with like, Hmong traditional story quilts.
The top part is a lot of the experiences that I would hear from my parents, such as farming in the valley, being with their animals, and even with, like, my father being in the war, learning how to, you know, hold a rifle, things like that.
And the bottom part is my Hmong American experience here in the Midwest.
As I was leaving to go to college, my mom said she wanted to buy me a quilt.
And at the time, I didn't see the significance of it, and it was more money than we could afford, and it's now very special to me.
[Mai Chou Vang speaking Hmong] Tousue: My father always talked about how we had to learn the culture so that it could live on because if somebody didn't do it, then it would die, and then there would be no more Hmong people.
We are our practices, our traditions, and our culture.
Chuayi: For my mom, it was more than just teaching paj ntaub.
It was really, like, "How do I make sure that "this beautiful art that's really, truly Hmong continues to live on through my students?"
Chuayi: And to also see pieces that her mother has made.
Like, this piece you're holding is over 70 years old.
I feel like being able to show them that and share those stories is just very powerful.
It's a piece of us.
You know, it's really made by Hmong hands through the art of paj ntaub.
♪ ♪ Ayumi: This is a ram press machine.
It's a hydraulic press that basically is a giant clay squisher.
You put a billet of clay in.
The platen rides up, and there's a mold for the inside of the pot and the outside of the pot.
The aspect of function has always been critical to me.
I almost don't know, like, why you'd want to make something that wasn't functional.
Pots exist in, for the most part, in the domestic sphere in these very intimate spaces.
When you hold the handle, you're like, you're hugging somebody, you're holding hands with somebody.
When you bring a cup to your lips, like, it's this, like, very intimate act.
And so I think my ceramic work really addresses the inner self, you know, how I want to be in the world.
I grew up in a little bubble of Japanese culture in a very white state, and I think I've spent a lot of my career trying to explore how that has impacted me.
You know, what is embedded in me?
When I was an undergrad, I developed a really terrible, terrible case of tendinitis.
So I developed a technique called dry throwing.
Most of us are familiar with wet throwing, where you use plenty of water to pull up the wall of a cylinder.
Dry throwing is like coring out the inside and pushing out the walls.
It's a reductive process, but it gives you a different kind of sensibility than wet throwing.
For me, I like the kind of raw quality of it.
I got a B.A., and then I got interested in ceramics.
And when I decided I wanted to be a potter, I went back to school.
And I studied at the University of Washington with Akio Takamori.
When I got out of school, I looked at the internet, which was really on the rise, and seemed like a really natural channel in which to put my energies.
Like, you didn't need to find somebody that lived 10 miles away that was interested in your quirky little raccoon cup.
That person could be in Seattle or Montreal or in Florida.
I think my aim for really my whole career has been to broaden the audience for handmade pots.
In the beginning, I really concentrated on trying to use photography to capture process.
When they started allowing video, it really changed the game.
The tactility of clay, the plasticity of it, its just, like, squishiness, it felt just like making more potent the message I was trying to get across.
I had a project called Pots in Action.
I was asking people to take pictures of my work in their lives to complete that circle between user and maker.
Pots in Action became another form of education to share, like, all the amazing things about ceramics.
And so, I feel like I've been able to make this kind of quirky line of work, like, really because of the internet.
These are waterslide decals.
They're drawings that I actually made in clay.
So they're basically silkscreened with glazes.
It works just like a temporary tattoo.
So the trick is really to get the water and any air bubbles out from underneath the decals, so the adhesion to the surface of the glaze is strong.
A lot of times, I make work for kids.
I'm drawing alphabets.
I'm drawing multiplication tables.
I like the idea that there's a didactic object that's, like, not a book.
For a kid to learn off a piece of pottery or a tenugui, these Japanese hand towels, I really love that idea where, like, that learning is embedded into life.
Can I hold the baby?
Woman: Yeah, do you want to put her hat on?
Ayumi: We're living here in this liberal bubble, and we don't really think all that much about being gay parents.
But for a long time, I heard the same message, and I believed it.
You know, that being a mother really, like, shut down your career and you couldn't do both.
I mean, that's a kind of mythology that needs to be dismantled.
So many famous male artists had their domestic lives taken care of by their wives.
The reality is, is like none of us have done any of this alone, and some of us have had more privileges than other people.
Craft, I think, has been inaccessible for a number of reasons.
You know, whether it's economic or that they've been predominantly white spaces with the kind of inequitable systems that were set up in the first place.
I'm not particularly interested in addressing politics through my ceramic work.
So, for me, working to try to help change culture through policy and protocol, those are the ways in which I feel like I can have an impact.
Marilyn: The Center for Craft just launched the Craft Archive Fellowship, and we worked on that with Ayumi and a number of other folks.
Each fellow is going to research in an archive underrepresented or non-dominant craft histories.
Ayumi: You know, I came to you with a seed of a dream, and I feel like you made the whole thing a reality.
Marilyn: If we can acknowledge that expertise comes from so many different sources, I think we can begin to tell more of those histories and then value more of those experiences.
You know, archives are made up of what somebody thought was important at the time.
Ayumi: And so how do we start to rethink archives so that we can start to celebrate and reexamine the things that we have not questioned in the past?
Marilyn: My hope is that makers will see themselves as part of craft and where and how to take us forward into a brighter future.
Ayumi: It's interesting when you think about, you know, how each of us, as artists, define success.
Does it mean showing at the Venice Biennale?
Does it mean being in this museum collection or in that gallery?
I feel like, and maybe it's such a low bar, but I feel like it's such a kind of simple bar, but, like, making a cup that functions well, that migrates to the front of the cupboard, that is dear to somebody, to me, is like one model of success.
I'm trying to make something that will be a positive force in the world, and so I think that's what keeps me going.
♪ ♪ Mary: The canvas, it was just the perfect material.
It's a beautiful ivory color.
Somehow the light catches it, and in the indentations, there's this shadow, so it almost looks like there's so many different colors within the canvas.
There's a neutrality about it, but it also gives me a lot.
I feel I have a good relationship with it.
When we moved into this large open-space loft, we were in need of a screen.
It's unbelievable that I made a 10-foot-by-10-foot piece as my very first one.
And this is where it all started.
I hung this up, and people just wouldn't stop talking about it.
They loved the shadow effect, the simplicity but the size, coloring.
It's just a kind of very serene, tranquil piece.
I want tranquility.
I want to be able to invest my own time in work, expand on it.
I just love peace, quiet, and being at home.
I make bodies of work, and I'm following a kind of theme.
The pieces influence each other, but they're all each influenced by work that's come in the past.
The piece starts as paper patterns.
They're printed out just on letter-size paper, and then I tape them together and cut them out.
In this piece that I'm making, there are three different patterns.
This one needs to be cut, just one of that, three pieces of that, and 80 pieces of that.
Once I've cut the patterns, I roll my canvas over the table and lay the patterns down and start to cut them out.
You'll see there's a diagonal line there on the pattern, and that tells me that I have to lay these diagonally on the cloth, and that's called cutting on the bias.
Every single thing I do is cut on the bias, and what that means is that my pieces become a little springy, a little softer.
It lets these forms open up in a more gentle way.
Emotionally, it's really good for me to do that repetitive work.
It's just all there in front of me, and I tend to think and create ideas when I'm making the work.
This soft, gentle sensibility that's in my work comes directly from where I grew up.
I grew up on the Ards Peninsula in Northern Ireland.
On the east coast, it's the sandy shore.
On the west coast, it was rounded boulders, low hills, really gentle.
The landscape in all of Ireland is just so beautiful.
Balligan is a place in Northern Ireland.
To begin with, this was a smaller piece.
I hung it on the wall and thought, "No, it's got to be more generous."
And then with these slits, it allows these pieces to just naturally come forward a bit.
There's just a kind of sensibility from the landscape in Ireland: softness, gentleness.
And that's essentially what I'm exploring with everything that I'm doing.
Once I've cut the pieces, I'll sew them together in pairs.
There's a half-inch seam allowance the whole way.
So once that's sewn like that, I'll do a zigzag stitch, and that opens it up, and that gives it that dimple form, and it gives it more structure and stiffness.
As you can imagine, it's quite a lot of work because I'm cutting out 80 of these, sewing it 80 times, zigzagging it 80 times.
There's two of them, and then I'll sew those two together to make four, and then I'll zigzag to open those up.
So it goes from one to two to four.
I stop at four because I'm using a domestic sewing machine, so it's just got a very narrow neck, and I can only thread through this amount of cloth.
So what I do with my big roll is I just keep on adding four and four and four and four, and it becomes longer and longer.
After doing undergrad in Belfast, I went to the Royal College of Art in London.
From there, went to work as a general designer of furniture and products.
I started to train myself how to do upholstery, not traditional upholstery but more experimental.
Being a designer really appealed to me because it's a mix of creative thinking and technical and practical thinking.
I love the combination of that.
When we moved to Los Angeles, I was really ready for a change to have a period of exploration to really think about what's the core of what I'm interested in.
I don't think it took very long to make a first body of work, but to get myself out of the mind-set of thinking I'm a designer literally took two years because that was really, I saw that as my identity, and I had to free myself up from that.
Where can I go with this?
So, that's a question that I'm always asking, and something that I love to do is work with gravity.
So, I love to hang a piece and for it to open up in a way that's, um, in a way unpredictable to me.
I'm hanging it now to see what I have and to see if I like it.
Maybe I like it, but I want to emphasize something, or I may not like it but can see a way to improve it or change it.
I honestly didn't know what was going to happen at this side here.
I'm trying to make a flexible, flat sheet of material into something that's three-dimensional and that has character and that has some resonance with people that look at it.
I'm really into thinking about how people react emotionally to the work.
That's really what I'm excited about.
It's people walking into the room it's gone into, and just, you know, a sense of awe when they see the work.
That's what I'm after.
Now I can see what way I'd like to go with it.
Certainly bigger, certainly more expansive, and more layered.
I don't feel that it's complete until it's out of my studio.
I am emotionally attached to the work in that when I have it here, I fall in love with it.
But its right place is being part of someone's life, and I think that's what I love most about what I'm doing now as an artist.
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