Kimonos, Collages, & Papier Maché
I use designs from manhole covers to create kimonos and collages.
I wonder what could be more utilitarian than a manhole cover? If it weren’t for these sidewalk plugs, millions of pedestrians would fall down a hole into darkness. They are unassuming signposts that exist in full public view, but unviewed. The covers, cast into the most rigidly functional solid steel plate (and walked over with relentless ignorance), offer some surprises, though. They reveal an impulse to beautify, a kind of municipal pride.
My work uses paper rubbings (frottages) of these utilitarian objects, picking up the intricate designs of ordinary manhole covers, fire hydrants, water mains, electrical labels, and commemorative plaques. The fascinating textures and designs resulting from rubbings also has lured me into graveyards searching out the sentiments expressed on tombstones. The history revealed on a tombstone can be poignant. My rubbings are reminders of the utterly practical and nearly-invisible efforts of unknown workers, their engraved songs of gratitude, a visual ode to glory and loss.
Wherever I travel, I gather as many impressions of these designs as I can, and then by cutting, ripping, slicing, tearing, bending, binding, sewing and stapling, turn them into utterly impractical but very visible paper garments and collages. Even my kimono art, which may look wearable, is only suited to be hung on walls or suspended from ceilings. Each work is a composite of parts chosen to illustrate both the text and pattern of the rubbings, as well as a unified color theme, in a way that reflects cultural aesthetics. The resulting pieces are thus both thoroughly foreign, and yet thoroughly familiar.
Countless steps and years lie between the work I do and the work of the anonymous tradesmen and women who first designed and cast these engineered products; yet I feel close to them. I want my work to honor theirs by creating a new order of beauty from an environment of utilitarian and commemorative objects.