“In our house, anything was possible to make,” she said. “That philosophy stays with me regardless of what I am making.” Beyond natural materials, her personal life is an integral and inseparable influence on her work’s narrative. For example, in her recent exhibition at MAINSITE Contemporary Art in Norman, entitled lines of language/ language of lines (February/March 2012), a series of 11 works explored the format and meaning of scrolls, some torn from her own journals. “I knew I wanted to transform my journals, give them another life,” she said. “As I ripped the pages and rolled each of the 2,400 pieces on a chopstick with a glue stick while sitting as the passenger in the car while my husband drove 2,000 miles, I went through a strange meditation process, an intense process of letting go. It was elevating, releasing.” Scroll #10: Archives: I have just one thing to say... has tiny scrolls hanging in delicate curtains, a three-dimensional environment brought out from the pages. As she was pulling out the journal pages, she was also re-reading short phrases from what she had written almost two decades ago, out of context fragments of two or three words. She found the experience of glimpsing her life this way, catching these moments of words as she obliterated the journals into something new, as both “sobering and laugh out loud funny,” a disjointed experience she recreated with vinyl words lining a wall in the MAINSITE show. “I see Archives as so much more beautiful than anything I ever wrote in my journals, and it seems that what we say and what we mean changes so drastically in and out of context that we have to consider, honestly, what we are holding onto,” she said. This theme of holding on and letting go is also in Scroll #7: Conjoint, another piece exhibited at MAINSITE, where she transcribed her will onto white satin ribbon, winding it into a sculptural loom, reminding us of the heavy expectations and entitlements of wills. Another work, Scroll #9 Bloodlines, used a red madder dye derived from the root of Rubia tinctorium
Heather Clark Hilliard, Norman, Scroll #9: Bloodlines, Hand spun yarn, madder dye, Site specific corner installation
on hand spun wool, which was then pulled into a three dimensional drawing, representing “what makes up a family, what ties us together and how things can easily get tangled.” She is continually fascinated by the complexity of natural colors, and how they are extracted. Her recent series, Collected Color, is a map making project documenting her travels with her husband throughout the country. Along the way, she collects plant materials, preserving the time, location and water sources through prepared cotton fabrics tightly packed into the jars with the plants. The intensive process harvests color, leaving behind random delicate lines or bold marks contrasted with the memory and idea of the place. “For me, working with traditional materials such as hand spun yarn is a way of respecting the past, and using those materials in nontraditional ways is a way of having reverence for the future while carrying the skills and knowledge from artisans from many cultures into our contemporary world,” she said. “These materials are astoundingly beautiful, tactile, seductive and they inspire so much creativity and innovation. These materials add a sense of history and survival. It is in these materials that I find the contrast so compelling in our modern world- the dance between natural and
synthetic, handmade and machine made, fast and convenient or slow and meaningful.” Inspired by artists like Lenore Tawney, who experimented with complicated weaving structures in large-scale works, and Tomoko Ishida, who uses minimal materials in repetitive processes that build into installations, as well as Kyoung Ae Cho, an artist who stitches with found natural materials like twigs and leaves, Heather Clark Hilliard continues to push the boundaries of her work based in the natural world, while guarding its inextricable connection to contemporary society. “We live in such a materialistic world that I can’t help but have materiality and the process of working with and combining materials be the core of my work as it progresses into the future,” she said. “Maybe that will shift at some point, but for now I will follow it and see where it leads me.” n Allison C. Meier is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn. She works in communications at the Cooper Union and has covered visual arts in Oklahoma for several years. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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