Hanging the Silks

Have you ever found yourself admiring the art on display at a gallery, coffeeshop, store, or restaurant, and thinking about all of the work that goes into getting it there? Not only does the artist have to take the work from idea to reality, and make all of the arrangements to have the work displayed, but there is also the presentation of each individual piece to consider. And as my friend Lydia (GeneralSteuben.blogspot) always says - presentation is everything! 

Each artist has their own set of concerns, of course. Some think that the art should speak for itself, and do very little to prepare it for display. While that can work, I think that the display should always be a conscious decision. Considering the appearance of each piece and the best way to present it to viewers shows respect for their attention. I am always interested in ways to enhance the way people experience my work - and as a fiber artist, I have even more options than a painter or a sculptor. Texture, weight, size, color, design, theme, location - I try to take everything into consideration when I am preparing to display my work.  

While some artists like to plan out the arrangement of their works well in advance, sometimes even before they are created, I prefer to get a sense of the space once I am there before deciding how to lay out the artwork. I definitely don’t restrict myself to the surfaces of the walls! I look at the dimensions of the room, the size of the walls, and ask what options do I have to do something unusual. How does the space feel? I look to see if I can stretch wires across the space, below the ceiling, so that I will be able to hang the work away from the walls in a free-floating way -– I have always been enamored with the way silk floats and spins in space. 

When the UGA Ramsey Center commissioned a piece, Kind Words Rising, for their special events entrance hall, I was blessed with an abundance of space. In designing the piece I was able to take all of that space into consideration when I was selecting fabric, choosing a size, and considering coloring. The silk pieces are 4x15 feet, and hang from the ceiling with a special bearing that allows them to rotate slowly with the changing air currents. In this case, I could create a piece with the display options in mind.

My first solo exhibit, Ethereal Spaces, consisted of a series of images that came from our home. I planned to hang the art in a way that mimicked the layout of my octagonal house - but the pieces presented a bit of a challenge. What is the best way to display a square yard of fabric? I chose to hang it from a clear acrylic rod, so that the hanging method did not visually compete with the designs, yet the weight and the texture of the fabric could be sensed.  

For a long time, that has been my standard method of display. But over the past year or so, I’ve been reconsidering my options. One client chose to have a deep frame built for their silk piece, placing my hanging arrangement inside the frame, in front of a white background. I thought it was a marvelous way to protect the work, yet still retain the three-dimensionality of the piece, and it got me thinking about other possibilities.

For the recent Orr2 exhibit, I tried framing pieces that were stitched onto a large white mat. One of the smallest pieces I had ever made - only 3”x4”! - became the logo for the exhibit:

 Because it was small but powerful, I framed it in a neutral frame - very light-colored wood - with a lot of white space around it. I had a feeling that this might be a great solution because even though it was tiny, it was a strong design, it was on a more substantial linen fabric, and the vivid colors were layered on, giving it a striking luminescent look. It deserved the attention that the frame brought to it. 

Since the success of the experiments with the Orr2 exhibit, I’ve been thinking more about new and different ways to present my work. Of course, each piece and each exhibition presents a new set of challenges, and I have found that letting the specific situation inform the solutions is the way I like to work. One of these days, though, I hope to try stretching the painted silk on a frame, like canvas is stretched, or perhaps wrapping it over a canvas that has been stretched on a frame - yes, that would give the whole piece more substance and weight. While I love the movement of the fabric, and have always tried to incorporate that into my displays, perhaps the design should take precedence and the fabric should merely enhance it. What do you think? I always welcome opinions and ideas - if you come across anything interesting, or have a preference, feel free to let me know!