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Jennifer Vantrease: Material & Process

As an artist, it is the medium of shelter and the potential for solidarity that I find myself unceasingly exploring. For example, in Cocoon, the mundane and rather bodily substance of laundry lint became a compelling material for me to explore the development of female life ambitions.

Similar to the caterpillar in its cocoon shelter, women throughout history relegated dutifully to domestic activity often experienced quietly meager levels of freedom and energy to pursue personal and professional dreams. The dryer lint, a record of daily life and a staple of domestic work, functions as a type of skin spun around various objects and houses them in a mixed organic and synthetic shelter.

Some of the objects inside the cocoons were given to me by women who have been part of my life over the last 10 years and given to me in response to the question, "What is an object that symbolizes one of your life dreams —either an active one or a past one that you never pursued?" The women then also submitted a short written description —mostly in e-mail form —of the significance of the object to them, and this documentation was then displayed on the gallery walls.

In addition, there were also objects in the show that came from thrift stores and antique shops and represented women without the voice to express their dreams. As women submitted the objects, the objects that were considered active dreams I cocooned in yarn and dryer lint and hung from the ceiling of the gallery. The objects that were considered dreams never pursued I cocooned in yarn, dipped in beeswax, and rested in dirt-filled drawers along the middle of the gallery floor.

With over 30 women participating in this show, they experienced with me and with each other a compelling solidarity as they shared their dreams —both active and past ones —and saw and read the dreams of others. In fact, the very e-mail documentation included in the show further referenced the way in which these women were initially connected across many miles —something that would have been very difficult just 20 years ago.

Likewise, the viewers experienced another level of solidarity as they saw a variety of women’s dreams depicted in the cocoons and filling the gallery space. For both the women participants and the men and women who experienced the show, there was an undeniable encounter with the power of a safe, transformational space and the role it plays in many women's struggle to pursue their dreams.

Similarly, in some of my other works like Wind, the shelter again played a catalytic role in the experience of persons’ solidarity with each other in and through the piece. Specifically, Wind was designed for conference participants to write thoughts on vellum cut-outs and add these to the structure over a period of 5 days.

During this time, the interaction of the wind blowing in from the ocean with the piece and the interaction of the participants with the piece were key elements of the participants’ experience of solidarity with each other through their contributions to the piece.

©2007 by Jennifer Vantrease

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