I recall a space I used to rent in leaner times—a 200 square foot postage stamp of a dwelling. It smelled deeply of cigarettes and oil, a stench that no amount of sage burning or febreezing on my part could ever lift. There was a tiny kitchen, so narrow that my elbows would bump against the wall when I cooked. The carpet was brindled with mysterious stains. The space was empty of furniture save for an old hospital bed I inherited from the previous tenant and an ugly ottoman embroidered with peacocks I found on a street corner. While I unquestionably prefer my current living situation to this previous one, there is a certain nostalgia attached to the memory of that place. The strange hours I kept there, the meager meals, the sparse decorating.
I imagine I’m not the only one who will feel an instant sense of recognition and subsequent nostalgia as they walk into Stitch Thought, an installation presently occupying the Spector Ripps Project Space at the Center for Contemporary Art in Santa Fe. The domestic scene—constructed almost entirely from felt—depicts the bare, messy living space of a student, an artist, or maybe both. A shabby couch rests wearily in one corner, cigarette burns and paint stains brand its surface. A felt milk-crate serves as a makeshift side table. Cigarette butts and coffee filters are strewn across the floorboards. A baby-blue radiator sits in the corner with a coffee pot, cups, and a few rolls of toilet paper. A cluster of light bulbs dangles from the ceiling. Sheets of felt writing paper decorate the opposite wall, and a series of felt pencils occupy the wall adjacent. The space appears to reflect the comings and goings of someone in the throes of creative inspiration. Someone consumed with a project to the point of neglecting basic hygiene and nutrition.
I spoke with the creator of Stitch Thought, Tamara Wilson on the phone. She tells me she hails from a crafty, DIY Alaskan family and grew up sewing and felting on a regular basis. Wilson explains that she has spent the majority of her artistic career working in the medium of paint, but more recently has moved into 3-D projects, sculpting life-sized environments out of bolts of felt fabric laid over skeletons of wood and wire. Felt seems an apt material choice for Wilson to work in being that it is a fabric most often associated with the domestic arts. In Wilson’s work the material is exalted into large-as-life domestic tableaus.
In Stitch Thought, Wilson’s sculptures, although three-dimensional have a 2-D cartoonish feel. The objects have a round, benign look to them, with soft bulges of fabric, and blunt corners. Despite their mildness, the felt pieces posses a dynamic, vital sense, looking as though they might become animated at any moment and begin wiggling around the room. There is a notion, walking into Stitch Thought, that one has jumped into an old animated TV show. The objects and surfaces are warmly, fuzzily familiar, yet they have the exaggerated tones and textures of an alien world. This felted world is undeniably inviting. It lacks the sharp points and rough edges of our real one. Like a Polaroid snapshot, Stitch Thought offers you a yellowed, diffused version of a time and place. It’s reminiscent of somewhere you’ve been before, but drained of any hint of reality’s coldness.
(All images: Tamara Wilson, Stitch Thought, installation views; Courtesy of the artist.)