Susan Lenz and Cyber Fyber
By Cynthia Boiter
The connection between the South and fiber goes back to the birth of King Cotton in the 17th century and has known an ebb and flow that rivals the tides on our Atlantic shores. Today, the South’s love of the warp and the weave is still evident in our fiber artists who explore pattern, texture, color and the creative process. One such local artist has taken her love of cloth, her fascination with the stitch, and her flamboyant embrace of amalgam out of her one hundred year old Southern home, into her simple studio in Columbia’s Vista, and across the vast abyss of cyberspace where she shares it with fellow fiber artists throughout the world. The product of this massive exchange of art and inspiration is called Cyber Fyber and even those of us whose fingers tremble at the prospect of threading a needle can partake of these collected works first-hand for a brief period of time in January.
Susan Lenz hasn’t always been a cyber geek. While her aptitude with a needle and thread, and anything else she can work into a textile creation – keys, nails, organic matter – has developed in both intensity and potentiality throughout the decades, her mastery of technological communication is relatively new. In fact, in her first ever blog entry, dated Friday, April 28, 2006, she wrote that since she had never really blogged before and wasn’t completely confident that she was actually doing it right, she would just leave her first post “as is and see what happens! If successfully done, I’ll continue!” Today, more than four hundred fiber artists, in faraway places that include India, Israel, South Africa, the Benelux countries, the UK, Romania, Cyprus, Poland, Japan, Australia, Austria, Canada, all of the Scandinavian countries, Germany, Italy, Spain and France, as well as New Zealand and Malawi, are pleased she decided to keep at it. And they are demonstrating this pleasure by allowing the fruits of their own labors to be displayed in a gallery in Columbia’s Vista.
Each of these artists accepted an invitation issued by Lenz in February 2008 via her blog, Art in Stitches, to exchange one of their own hand-stitched fiber art postcards or ATCs, (artist trading cards), with one of Lenz’s cards that they had selected from photographs on her blog. She began by offering 130 of the 2 ½ by 3 ½ inch ATCs and 163 of the 4 by 6 inch postcards she had already prepared, but quickly became aware that she would need to offer more of her own creations to meet the demand from other artists. It seemed that Lenz’s desire to highlight the role of the Internet in the “supportive, global community of fiber artists” that she had personally identified struck a common chord among her cyber friends. The artists with whom she had become so comfortable online – sharing photos of finished works, discussing life and art philosophies, and engaging in discourse on new techniques in contemporary fiber artistry – were just as eager as Lenz to move their virtual community, or at least the artifacts of it, to a place in real space and time. And that is exactly what will happen when the Cyber Fyber Exhibition opens in Gallery 80808 in the Vista on January 8, 2009.
Lenz designed three distinct components to the Cyber Fyber Exhibition. While the first component is the display of the ATCs and fiber postcards that she has been trading online over the past year, the second equally exciting element is an exhibition of invited fiber artists, many of whom are well known and respected within the field. Each of the 18 invited artists was chosen based on the criteria of what they or their work represents to Lenz and the global community of computer-connected textile artists. For example:
- Penny Sisto is a quilter who was born in the Orkney Islands of Scotland and has worked as a midwife in the Massai, LuBukusu and Kikuyu tribes of East Africa. The subject of two PBS documentaries, Sisto learned how to quilt and embellish from her grandmother. She combines that knowledge with the beading and collage methods she learned from her African friends to create soulful, portrait - like quilts that almost always deal with marginalized peoples. Her work has shown from Santa Fe to SOHO. Lenz chose Sisto’s work for the diversity it brings to the exhibit: she is sending two pieces from her Slavery collection.
- Dijanne Cevaal is a teacher and writer who dyes, prints and creates original textiles in the Otaway Ranges of Victoria, Australia when she is not acting as curator of the many international traveling exhibitions she has produced throughout Europe and the Middle East. Cevaal’s was the first fiber arts blog that Lenz read and she credits it with inspiring her ascent into the cyber arts community. Cevaal blogs about subjects like conducting a dyeing class in the Savoie, foiling cedars on a tie dyed quilt that tells the story of Gilgamesh and Enkudu, and pomegranates – she loves pomegranates.
- Jill Rumoshosky Werner is one of the top art quilters in the United States today. She describes the products of her quirky work as “quilts of unusual proportions” – think a faucet protruding from nowhere and multi-colored quilted fabric pouring forth; think the toe of a giant shoe with elaborately quilted laces – and her inspiration varies from art deco to Frank Gehry. Lenz included the Wichita artist primarily for the vast conceptual nature of her work.
- Dale Rollerson owns The Thread Studio in Perth, Australia and finds her supplies in the hands of many of the world’s fiber artists, a common thread tying many together – pun intended, hence her inclusion in the exhibit. She teaches online workshops in contemporary textiles and is as passionate about the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team as she is about her work and art.
- Doreen Grey, from Canberra, is a 68-year-old grandmother of four who embodies both the future and the history of textile arts in that she divides her time between teaching stitches to her 9-year-old granddaughter and patrolling the blogosphere where she shares and receives up-to-the-minute information on the intricacies of the online fiber arts community. One of her submissions will be her daughter Ebony’s first quilt.
- Arlee Barr is one of those artists whose eclecticism is so far beyond expansive that words inevitably fail, as these are doing now. With inspirations ranging from Egyptian tomb art to the Pre-Raphaelites to Max Ernst, Barr creates on the Sunshine Coast of Alberta, Canada where she says her “inner fairy godmother gifted her with concupiscientia oculorum, an intense visual curiosity which leads to sensory and imaginative excitement.” According to Lenz, Barr also represents “how Internet exposure is a lifeline to those living in remote areas.” One of the most recent of her projects was the enactment of a fiber arts version of cadaver exquis, or exquisite corpse – a play on the old parlor game/Surrealist technique in which a paper is folded into quarters and a different writer adds a line of poetry to each quadrant without viewing previous additions. Barr enlisted the help of other online artists to do this – but with fiber.
As if the showing of the traded and invited pieces was not enough, Lenz has developed as the third component of the Cyber Fyber project, a series of interactive events to take place during the exhibit’s run before it closes on January 20th. She designated Saturday, January 10th as Fiber Day during which she will conduct demonstrations for both adults and children. She is also partnering with a local business called Creative Sewing to display state of the art machines and embellishers. Saturday, January 17th is ATC Trading Day – a day in which local artists can participate in artist card trading with no restrictions on media or artist age. International artists have also been invited to participate by mailing their cards to Lenz in advance. During the entire exhibit Lenz plans to have Internet access available to gallery go-ers to enable them to locate and view the web pages and blogs of the artists on exhibit. “I love the idea of a patron viewing a card they particularly appreciate, then logging on and complementing the artist right there on her blog,” Lenz confides.
With such a multinational representation among the traded ATCs and postcards, along with the forty-four US states that are represented as well, the potential for human connection out of such a distinctly non-human medium as the Internet, is startling. And reassuring. Given the security of anonymity that the Internet provides, how very nice it is to know that there are people out there – artists – who are willing to take the risks that every outstretched hand, even the virtual ones, embody. People like Diana Lochala from Mississippi who traded for Postcard #14 and writes the recipe for Mint Juleps on the back of her ATCs. People like Judy Carpenter from Georgia who makes a mean watermelon salad and includes on her blog a counter that spins furiously as it ticks off the number of dollars being spent on the war in Iraq. People like Monica Magness of Alabama who traded for ATC #15, blogs about “the return of the domestic goddess” and uses her art to raise money to promote breast cancer research. And people like Susan Lenz who devoted a year of her life to bringing these artists together via a mad combination of cyber space and human hands – for no other reason than to make it happen.
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