The following is a response to PATTERN that shares a poignant connection to the work. It captures not only the essence of what I’ve wanted to accomplish with this piece, but reveals layers yet to be discovered…
Thanks to Gordon Pradl for this gift of words. And thanks to Mary Ann Pradl for her inspiring love for color, beauty and for her amazing collection of patterns.
Some Thoughts on PATTERN
by Gordon M Pradl
Imagine a vital meaning-making conversation surrounding any text. Such a conversation continues to grow as the reader/viewer is invited to enter. Two explicit contributors to this conversation include the manifest characteristics of both the materiality and the temporality of the art object itself, along with the intentions and experience of the artist directly responsible for its creation, its conception and execution. A further contributor to this process of making-meaning, one who often remains unacknowledged, is the experience and history of any person(s) intimately associated with any aspect of the art object’s creation and materials. So in thinking about our participation with an art object we are always already considering both what is before us and what lies behind the scenes.
In the instance of the work PATTERN created by Christina Graf, we encounter three “dress-up” dresses suspended before us above our heads. As we live through our extended engagement with these dresses we find them offering a poignant commentary on the very process of fabrication, what is lost or left behind and what remains. Representing varieties of women’s outfitting for some formal occasion–imagine such events as defined by a Western tradition of fashion–these dresses begin by forcing on us a reversal of expectations. This is because the material of construction, the delicate and ephemeral “behind the scenes” pattern paper, usually a means to the end of clothing fabric on final display, has itself become the end before our eyes.
This unexpected end or ending is what we must now deal with and re-conceptualize. Indeed, this reversal encourages us to scrutinize all that contributes to the process of creating the “normal.” When our default position no longer suffices, new light is cast on the surfaces that constitute the outfitting of our corporeal existence, the various fabrics covering and revealing our body’s shapes and curves. Normally the pattern, and its associated paraphernalia, disappears in the making, but here the artist celebrates it. Thus we are invited to reconsider the durability of its usual taken-for-granted fragility and “cast-off” status.
The visual surfaces of the three pattern dresses reveal both exquisite complexity (undulating shape and texture) and the residue of a host of printed directions and “guidelines” that the pattern-maker provides the dress-maker. The artist herself, however, has employed the fragile pattern paper in assembled ways to signal a host of previous patterns, all at once suggesting a life’s history of pattern manipulation and dress-making. This trace of the past transitions us to the experience side of the meaning-making conversation that verifies the conception and execution of PATTERN.
A knowledge of the history of clothing/fashion and its constructed elements of draping and exposing the human form contributes to our appreciating the full context of these three pattern dresses and the intricate artisan work necessary for their completion. But while this knowledge may perhaps be a given tapped into by the final appearance of these dresses, it offers no immediate clue as to what dustbin of memory collected such an assortment of pattern pieces in the first place. They could have, for instance, merely been found objects subsequently assembled. In this case, however, personal histories are evoked by the three dresses on view. The artist had a particular intention to recover and represent the prior time behind the present surface as a visual, collective collage, both fixed and hovering amid the virtual. Thus the pattern paper serves to front past history in ways that a final fabric dress could not. Further, the fact that the pattern pieces were not just found but originated in the collected history of a given specific artisan/dressmaker provides resonating significance.
Over the years, as each new dress or article of clothing was completed, its pattern was carefully stored away to create a memory of creation, a substitute for the mind that can no longer hold such memories. But the artist’s task was not complete with the mere presentness of the three dresses before us. No, she also sought to place the dresses symbolically within an imagined history of the dressmaker by using dynamic light to add a dimension of temporality. In illuminating the three pattern dresses at the center of a projected light show, the artist allows us to simultaneously experience time gone by and timelessness. The light projections manifest time by repeating a cycle, but once entered the cycle leaves us bereft of any distinct beginning, middle, or end. The repeating loops are just history and its memory occurring over and over again.
The projected colors, red and white and blue and gold and silver, and the spraying on the dress pattern backgrounds of additional objects and emphases, also encourage us back to the materiality of fashion fabric, which the original pattern pieces were meant to serve. Light thus reintroduces the idea of fabric manifestation, visiting upon us the transgression of boundaries and signifiers that the artist seeks to uncover and celebrate. A supposedly ordered hierarchy between pattern and fabric accordingly becomes democratized. As the light show proceeds, the pattern paper is alternately supplanted and exalted, moments of valorization back and forth. The implicit becomes explicit and vice versa. The art object as scaffolding on display perhaps even reminds us of inside-out architectural works such as the Centre Pompidou in Paris–an extended layering effect.
As cognitive power recedes the medical instruments used to measure and mark the progress of this decline include sequencing recalls: “repeat the following numbers or restate in order the events comprising the following narrative.” As memory fades, the task is both impossible and terrifying in the face of what has been lost, at least until a state of blankness is reached. But in the light projection sequences what does it matter that blue comes before gold or vice versa? So the dynamics of the light projection simultaneously celebrate time movement and forgetting. The artist offers a chance to honor memory and also escape it into pure flashing presence. And the artist’s sheer skill displayed in her PATTERN dressmaking recalls the dressmaker herself whose collection of patterns throughout her career somehow sought to deny the end of memory.
In turning everything inside out the artist triumphs over the limits of the materials and of memory itself. She makes possible what heretofore was only potential. Such is her inspiration of and hope for art, object, and process: to celebrate that what is lost might be found and renewed.