B20 Artist Interview with Andrea Vail
B20: Wiregrass Biennial is a juried exhibition that encourages innovative and progressive work and showcases the South’s most talented contemporary artists, illustrating the region’s rich cultural heritage. Selected work utilizes a variety of art forms and media, including paintings, sculptures, mixed media, new media, and installation art. Three jurors chose from a field of over 130 entries for this year’s exhibition — the first virtual exhibition ever for WMA — featuring 39 artists from 11 states.
We’ll be sharing a series of interviews with B20 artists during the run of the exhibition, and our third is from Sugar Grove, North Carolina-based artist Andrea Vail.
How did you become interested in fiber arts?
I think most fibers people will cite their childhood as the beginning – this is true for me, too. Crafting over the holidays with my maternal grandmother and eyeing the meticulously-organized collections of ribbons, buttons, and rickrack in my paternal grandmother’s closet is really where it began for me. Each informed my current studio practice, though at the time I only knew that I enjoyed making fun things as gifts with my mother’s mother and excited to someday have my own stash of glitz like my father’s mother. Recently, while packing to move studios I unzipped a small, leather case – it was full of decorative fabric trim that once belonged to my grandma with the keen knack for organizing her riches. The scent from her house was so overwhelming that it took me back, standing there in front of that monumental closet. My gut reaction was to slam the case closed and protect the aromatic memory until another time. The second way to answer this question is to pinpoint the exact moment I realized that the media I was most familiar with could also be used to create conceptual visual art. It’s kind of a cheesy story, but during undergrad I walked into the fibers studio and sunlight was shining on the yarn wall in the most magical way. Once I learned that, just like paint or clay, textiles could also be used to create art, I was inspired by all of its potential.
What is the first collaborative, participatory art project you ever mounted?
“Mounted” is an interesting way to think about my first participatory project. I started hosting Crochet Events around town (Charlotte, NC), probably in 2001 or 2002. I would bring yarn and invite people to hang out and crochet with me. It was usually all outdoors, on lawns or at parks…One time it was at a warehouse transformed into a temporary art space. The idea was to get people together working on one piece without much fuss. That became the way I approach most collaborative works – I facilitate a platform and share it with anyone who wants to join. I would say that my first well-considered collab that has been mounted and exhibited formally is Woven Community. It was an 8 foot, in-progress tapestry on wheels that I completed with people on sidewalks, comedy clubs, galleries, and the public library in Richmond, VA. I talked about it in more detail with Surface Design Association here.
Where do you find inspiration for your artistic practice?
I meander between solitary studio work and community-focused projects; each piece or project usually informs the next. I love underdog fabrics (the loathsome double-knit polyester is one of my favorites), color combinations that in any other circumstance would not mesh, and the universal power that plush surfaces and woven or knotted strands exude. For me the power lies in the familiarity and humanity of handmade textile objects to leverage shared experiences as a broad entry for people from different backgrounds.
How has the COVID-19 outbreak affected your plans for future collaborative projects?
Like most everyone else, early March was a turning point. During the university spring break (pre-COVID) I worked with 3rd graders on a collaborative weaving project, and hoped to return back to the final half of the semester in-person. I teach at Appalachian State University and their spring break was extended a week to prepare for an online remainder of the semester – which in a way seemed a lot like a collaboration, too. Among other assignments, students in one of my classes worked on a virtual coloring book (you can see the outcome on Instagram #CommunalColoringBook).
Usually, this would be the time that I cycle back from working with others to focused studio making, however now seems more important than ever to make efforts to bring fragmented communities together. I don’t have a new collaboration in motion yet, but I think Friendge being showcased by the Wiregrass Museum of Art is a fantastic start. Stay tuned for an opportunity to participate via House Party for Art!
Do you have any predictions for what items currently common in our homes might soon become obsolete and the subject of future art projects for you?
Since we live in a throw-away culture, nearly everything we buy is designed to age rapidly and quickly become obsolete. To your question, is it cheating if I say all of it? Much of my work deals with the trivial objects that Americans accumulate to find meaning in their lives. I am interested in creating new narratives for irrelevant items and to rekindle human connections through the recognition of our shared attachments to these cultural artifacts. I think our current way of spending is shifting, especially in light of a global pandemic and visible injustices. For my studio practice, the next steps will be to examine virtual consumer culture during quarantine and a likely uptick if/or when restrictions are lifted, economic disparities, and housing insecurities through the lens of object ownership. I hope my work continues to provide a platform for disparate communities to work together towards a common goal.
How does living and working in the South impact your work?
We’ve got great flea markets and thrift stores, so I’m always inspired by things and experiences I find there! Also, the South is a really complex place that can look, feel, and sound like any number of truths. I’m interested in the commonalities among those truths as well as the differences that make the South a culturally robust place.
Is there anything new you are working on that you’d like to share with us?
Yeah! My studio work has taken a turn – I’ve been experimenting with clear acrylic polymer as a substrate. Usually it’s used as an additive to paint or final protective coating. Instead of weaving and knotting “rag rugs,” I’m really thinking through function and utility, or lack thereof. The works are so new, I’m still understanding how to talk about them. Regardless, I’m consistently drawn to remnants, rags, and decorative elements used for rug making. I’m excited by how the embedded remnants and acrylic work together in ways that seem both familiar and unexpected. The work is scheduled to be exhibited at McColl Center in Charlotte, NC (At the Seams curated by Lauren Harkey). My work is scheduled to be included in a few other shows that have been rescheduled including BIG BODY PLAY, Tiger Strikes Asteroid Greenville, Fine Arts Center in Greenville, SC; a solo show at ECA Gallery, Easthampton City Arts, Easthampton, MA; and my sculpture Collecting Pile (Zenith) is physically on display in the 2020 North Carolina Artists Exhibition, CAM Raleigh, Raleigh, NC.