We really love Reading Frenzy in Portland. It’s where we first read Doris and Burn Collector and everything by sts and got vintage postcards to send to our penpals before email shrunk our brains. RF lost their lease a few months ago and they’re looking for a new space. Hopefully you can kick down a little coin to help them make it happen — viva la real books!
op·u·lent adj: 1. characterized by an obvious or lavish display of wealth or affluence 2. in richly abundant supply
The Opulent Project is a Portland-based designer/maker collaborative founded by Meg Drinkwater and Erin Gardner a handful of years ago. Drinkwater and Gardner make “jewelry about jewelry” — and they’re of particular interest to us in this moment not only because their work is stunning, inspiring all sort of covetous, curious thoughts — but also because their 3D Ring has us thinking about the metaphor of 3D printing in the era of DIY, “makers” and the conflation of art and fashion. Culled from Google Image Commons, the ring is a stack of digital images never intended to see the light of day IRL. Having broken this unspoken contract, they’ve made something beautiful, thoughtful and slightly dangerous.
“We like to make objects. We are curious about the relationship our society has to its objects. We ponder infatuations. We are interested the nature of possessions. With that, we become a factory.”
The term ekphrasis refers to the act of “making art about art” — it comes to mind when you mention making “jewelry about jewelry” in that both practices invoke translation, cynicism, celebration and a sort of intentional nonsense-making, calling into question the social, aesthetic and material scaffolding around “real,” “fake” and “meaningful.” How cerebral do you get in your process — does it touch on these points or is more about play? Or both?
This is a great question and I think it considers our process and approach very well. Our process is absolutely rooted in a cerebral investigation of a subject matter, however the outcome, or the product, is very much about play. We try not to take ourselves too seriously. But the viewer/wearer response can be varied in relation to this question. We recently had a bit of a debate with our gallerist in New Jersey about this exact subject. She was wondering if people were ever insulted by some of our projects. Where I had thought we were blending all of the above: translation, cynicism, celebration and intentional nonsense making, she seemed to think some of our work could be more on the cynical side. She thought some of our projects could be seen as a bit more of a sarcastic representation of jewelry than a celebratory one, as though we were saying, “Oh you want a fancy ring; I’ll give you a fancy ring.” We can be pretty cynical and we are of course critical of the established system of value related to commercial jewelry and luxury objects, but we regard this culture with fascination, not necessarily disgust. Our work is not angry, but curious… We are asking questions, not making statements.
Johanna Jackson, a treasure of the West Coast and of the universe, introduced to most of the world through Beautiful Losers, has six hand-knit sweaters and a blanket strung up at the new Portland Museum of Modern Art, a makeshift gallery inside Mississippi Studios on North Albina in Portland, Oregon. Her show, The Big Fig, reflects her roots in street and folk art culture, and celebrates craft, feminized mediums and the psychically, physically and philosophically dynamic metaphor of weaving and knitting.
You still have a few more days to catch the show in Portland — it’s up through Saturday.
I’m curious if other textile artists like Sheila Hicks or Lenore Tawney provide you with any inspiration. Hicks has a book called Weaving as a Metaphor the pages of which hold all of her miniature weavings she’s done over the last 40, 50 years in Paris, Mexico, Florida, wherever. Each one is like a poem — how the weft expresses the way the wind was moving that day and the deep blue ribbon was a man she’d spoken with on the corner. Do you feel like your sweaters are part of this sort of kinesthetic storytelling tradition?
I do feel influenced by Tawney and Hicks, but more influenced by people way outside of the professional art world, like Bertha Gray Hayes and Martha Stewart. Still, I love Hick’s poetry, and I feel the cyclical loop within loop motion of the knitting process mimicking a kind of narrative impulse — it turns the formless enormity of time into fabric the way a story turns the infinite succession of events into a finite chain of events, looped one to another.
Does art have to be useful? These sweaters are real and will keep animals and humans warm. They could even insulate tomato plants or reupholster the driver’s seat of a car. Does it feel different to make art that can be useful in real life?
I don’t think that art has to be useful. I mean, it’s all dust.
It seems like you and your partner Chris have strong feelings about not worrying to much about shit and just living the good life. What is there to learn from letting go of the label of “artist” — or conversely, spreading it out to encompass everything you do?
Life is the best thing that I have. I don’t want to block it by labeling myself, limiting my creativity or prioritizing some of my life work (say painting) over others (brushing my teeth). I want to be here for all of it, who knows where the art is?
Images via Portland MoMA