Resolutions: A Stitch in Time

Resolutions: A Stitch in Time

Although Through the Flower did not tour Resolutions, it provided administrative and educational support to the museums where it was exhibited, and continues to work with institutions interested in exhibiting the various works. This project might be described as a post-modern undertaking in that it subverts both the tradition of proverbs and that of needlework in a series of images reinterpreting traditional proverbs, through works that combine painting and needlework.

Resolutions: A Stitch in Time is a series of painted and needleworked images created by Judy Chicago and a group of highly accomplished needleworkers, many of whom have worked with Chicago on previous projects. Begun in 1994 with the intention of addressing the problem of the widespread breakdown of social values, this project reinterprets traditional adages and proverbs for the future. A collaboratively produced Sampler which introduces the exhibit groups the work into such age-old values as Family, Responsibility, Tolerance, Human Rights, Conservation, Hope, and Change. Resolutions puts forth a playful contemporary vision of old-fashioned ideas—casting these in a multi-cultural and contemporary perspective.

The nineteen images and one sculpture employ a wide variety of techniques, including embroidery, applique, quilting, beading, macrame, smocking, needlework, and petit point. These are combined with Judy Chicago’s painting to push the boundaries between art and craft—between high art and hobby techniques. In all cases, the standard of needlework far surpasses the norm, even that of Judy Chicago’s own projects such as The Dinner Party and the Birth Project. In fact, one of the goals set by the needleworkers was that the technical challenges involved in this project exceed that which Judy Chicago had established previously.

Edward Lucie-Smith quotes Judy Chicago in his text, Judy Chicago: An American Vision:

In retrospect, the attraction of reinterpreting age-old maxims seems consistent with much of my previous work, which often involved a recasting of myths, images or art historical themes. As usual, I wished to introduce a new twist, in this case turning round English proverbs—which too often transmit a narrow, white, male Eurocentric perspective—in order to present a larger, more inclusive world view.

As Edward Lucie-Smith goes on to state:

It [Resolutions] can, for example, be seen as a Post Modernist artwork or series of artworks, which achieve originality through the deliberate subversion of established and familiar traditional forms. But this is really a quite insufficient description. The forms, which it subverts, are often ones which have long been established in folk art—quilts and samplers, for example—the kind of folk art traditionally associated with women.

Another way of looking at Resolutions, however, is precisely through the prism of skill. Today the barriers between the world of high art and that of the applied arts and crafts have become extremely permeable. Fewer and fewer so-called craft objects are actually made for practical use and, in terms of context and function; they often seem to be competitors of things which are classified as art.

Resolutions has its roots in the deeply serious Holocaust Project, completed the year before Resolutions began, as Judy Chicago states:

The Holocaust Project exhibition concludes with a large stained glass window entitled Rainbow Shabbat, which offers a hopeful vision for the future, embodying the Jewish mandate to ‘choose life’ even in the face of the bleakest of circumstances…perhaps it was the imminent approach of the change in century, a century marked by genocides on a scale previously unknown to humankind, that caused me to think that the time might be ripe for some images that appeal to the best in people, images that would help us believe in our capacity for change.

Home Sweet Home with embroidery by Pamella Nesbit interprets the worn phrase in a new fashion.  ‘Home’ is the globe itself, the only habitation we have.  Clustered around it are dwellings typical of different parts of the world.  The image is an intricate fusion of sprayed acrylic paint and embroidery.  The two media are fused in such a way that it is almost impossible to tell where one leaves off and the other begins. In common with the majority of the works in this series, the dimensions are quite small—24″ x 18″.  This reflects not only the labor-intensive nature of the process itself, but the fact that Chicago and her collaborators feel that pictorial rhetoric is out of place.  They want the message to come across when the piece is quietly and minutely examined.

The forms which the works in the series take are often tailored to the specific skills of the needlewoman responsible for it.  Turn Over A New Leaf embroidered by Jane Thompson, literally folds over so as to contrast a desecrated forest and a pristine landscape; the kind of transition which is very difficult to achieve in stitchwork.  Judy Chicago points with pride to the pattern of the sawn-off trunks where, even upon close examination, it is impossible to distinguish what is paint and what is stitchery.  Here, too is a close link to earlier work by Chicago; the design is a development of the drawings in the Thinking About Trees series.

When compared to the extreme rapidity with which many contemporary art works are produced, component parts of Resolutions impress by the almost superhuman degree of patience which was required to create them. Live and Let Live is a good example.  The position of each minute bead is dictated first by the outline drawing Chicago made to guide the beadworker, Lisa Maue, and then by a series of colored sketches.  These sketches then served as the basis for small trial pieces.  The actual position of each bead in the final work was then determined with the use of a computer.  The bead loom was arranged so that single threads could be taken out and revised if any detail seemed unsatisfactory.  Though the completed piece measures only 20″ x 24″, it is very large for a piece of fine beadwork.  To make it required nearly the amount of time a leading Renaissance painter would have devoted to a large fresco prepared and painted with the help of several assistants.

The final piece in Resolutions is Find It In Your Heart, a sculpture made from Judy Chicago’s maquette by a professional woodcarver.  This, too, is adorned with embroidery; a stitched heart, and a thread of Japanese gold work springing from it which winds down the body.  Lettering in multiple languages emphasizes the universality of the values celebrated in the series.