Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Sandra Brownlee: Shifu

Sandra Brownlee Departures & Returns Deluxe; Photo credit: Jack Ramsdale
A highlight of Sandra Brownlee's Departures and Returns Deluxe Edition was a six panel pull-out page with an image of her Shifu. Shifu is a Japanese technique of weaving cloth with threads of spun paper. In 1995 Sandra took a paper-spinning class at Arrowmont where she spun paper strips cut from photocopies of her notebook pages into thread. When she returned to her studio in Philadelphia, she wove the paper thread and unspun paper strips into a sample. She included her trademark supplementary weft and some tapestry weaving into the piece. Although the sample is black and white like her fine woven images, it has its own feel and character. Sandra's Shifu is visually complex and the more you look at it, the more you see. Spend some time with the bottom image and you'll see what I mean.

Sandra's Shifu holds my attention. That she has woven a textile with slivers of notebook pages spun into thread inspires me to look at my own cultural production and consider how to reinterpret copies of my textiles and sketchbook pages into new forms. This Shifu is embedded with meaning and mystery. What feelings, words and images are buried into this textile? Was weaving with coarse materials a big shift for Sandra, considering that she normally weaves fine images? Seeing this sample makes me want to see how Sandra would develop and integrate this technique further into her weaving practice. More, please.

When I asked her during a telephone interview if she intends to combine her weaving, stitching, notebook and collecting practices into one form, Brownlee replied that "weaving is a pure form, not material-oriented, and very graphic" and thus she intends to keep these practices separate. Well, sort of. On a visit to her studio last August she showed me one of her new projects: paper spinning. She has started to spin photocopies of her notebook pages into thread that she intends to weave with. Brownlee now has a desire to work more coarsely: notebook plus handwriting plus weaving in a more direct, stream-of-conscious way. I can't wait to see the results.
If the stars align this summer, I'll arrange a studio visit with Sandra and see if she's woven any Shifu recently. India Flint spun thread from Twinings tea bags. Check it out here.
Sandra Brownlee Shifu; Photo credit: Jack Ramsdale

1 comment:

india flint said...

i was blessed to spend time with Sandra during my brief residency at NSCAD late last year
and to feast my "eyes of seeing" on her work
it was like giving my soul a drink from a crystal clear rivulet high upon some remote mountainside