Loose Threads

Saturday, November 14, 2015, 6 pm

November 14 to December 11, 2015

Marina Cruz, through her latest show, Loose Threads, explores the transfiguring qualities of the painted surface—particularly oil on canvas—in its ability to embed a range of materials and processes, which in her case is the application of embroidery on her recurring subject: a collection of archived clothes from her family heirloom. The use of thread and the process of stitching are integrated into her paintings of childhood dresses and antiquated uniforms worn by a past generation, depicting the different narratives associated with each wearer’s past. Adorned with symbolisms and references to personal histories, the thread that runs through the canvas and across the surface of each painting becomes an ingrained image, which contrives with each crease, stain, button, fold, and other unique qualities of the clothes the artist has captured through painting. In each work, the combined media of painting and embroidery transform the figures of archived dresses into a mutable surface for affixing new meanings, new memories, new histories, in their otherwise delicate existence.     

Old dresses and uniforms—threadbare, discolored, and brittle—bestow ideas about an archaic object that has been preserved and is presently outmoded. But beyond that, they also inevitably confer upon us images of people who may have worn them, because after all, these dresses’ existence can only become possible as heirs to a living body. It is suffice to say, then, that garments and bodies co-exist. Their correspondence is a vivid extrapolation of the embodied and the embodiment, of an object that has engulfed another concept in order to provide its meaning, of a symbol that has wrapped another in order to transform an empty sign—the naked body, who is always waiting to be named.

With Marina Cruz’s depiction of old, archived clothes, she tries to present its capacity as a provider for meanings and narratives. The fact that she has rendered them as solitary objects occupying the surface of the canvas intensifies their link to any meaning that is attached to them. Through this kind of depiction, they cease to become objects and begin to turn into personas themselves. Each crease, fold, and manner of arrangement is a characterization of a living body, one who has lent his or her absence for a more remarkable exposition of a life lived through an object.

The paintings of dresses as metonymy, as a substitute for a person’s account of his or her own life, suggests the power of images to express narratives even though they correspond with the characteristics of still life. And Cruz, through a similar strategy she has used in the past with depictions of dresses via photographs and prints, adds the process of embroidery in order to relay a particular story through symbols and figures.

In the work entitled “Flightless Birds,” the embroidery is composed on a surface of a girl’s blouse as if it was composed within a canvas. A tableau emerges from it, or through the combination of elements and symbols—a kind of poesies. The scene, like a framed picture, seems to read from left to right: we see a bird perched from above, below is an old woman on her bed, a patch of leaves and flowers then follow her, and then a girl, hovering on top of her are umbrellas that seem to fly, their collapsed armature mimicking the spread of bats’ wings. For Cruz these are symbols from the notions she has derived from its wearer—a wary Aunt who was reluctant to leave home because of their ailing mother.

In “Lost Thoughts,” we see the other side of that blouse which was in fact a teacher’s uniform. Another aspect of the wearer’s life is revealed through Cruz’s embroidery. This time, the Aunt is portrayed as a woman, dreaming of emancipating her mind through enlightened thoughts, swirling above her through the symbol of leaves and a levitating braid of hair. The way Cruz’s embroidery has rendered these images indicates a kind of childlike simplicity, matching the craft’s modest status with the straightforwardness of its illustrations. It implies a domestic feel, and how each narrative is rooted in the personal, and how we embed our stories through marking—whether through stitching, painting, or implanting impressions in our memories.

Not only did Cruz use these paintings of dresses as a surface to mark her family’s stories, she also capitalizes on them to evoke ideas about mimesis. In “Mountainous Terrains,” she uses the unique, physical appearance of clothes to capture a phenomenon of nature, which is the ragged topography of mountains which she tries to demonstrate through the garment’s creases.  The same goes with the work, “Skies and River.” The thread runs through each nuisance on the dress as if it weaves through a real object that has volume and depth. An illusion takes place, as our apprehension of the image is momentarily tangled with what may have been real. We recompose ourselves and become reminded, that the surface to which her embroidery weaves is in fact flat and immovable.  This demonstrates Cruz’s nifty approximation of the actual object and how she interacts with her own painted subject as she stitches through it.

In the works, “Folded Hands,” “Flight and Plight,” and “Security Blanket,” we see how the inherent characteristics of the dress can come out to enhance the narrative embedded in it. Each of these garments hold a unique representation of a certain stage in a person’s life: as child and student. Depicted as school uniforms, they could signify an emotional state. A compliant and docile attitude is portrayed especially with the manner on how they were folded—with the sleeves folded at the back while showing the embroidered images of hands at the edge of its cuffs. “Hands at the back!” It seems to echo this repressive command constantly exclaimed by strict schoolteachers and nuns. Or they may project innocence and warmth, through the way a young girl’s blouse is laid with outstretched sleeves, implying the affable craving for affection or the angelic spread of wings.

All in all, Marina Cruz’s amalgamation of thread and pigment is laden with recurring motifs and expressions. The symbol of the bird, and of its flight, appears constantly. As well as the foliage of leaves, trees, and images of her Aunts. These are mostly images from the countryside, where Cruz and previous generations of her family have settled. Such was the environment where these dresses were actually worn for. These are personal narratives, either learned or heard by the artist herself. And these, for her, are the treasures that can be found from the past, sparked by her own discovery of a treasure trove of old clothes worn by her elders.

In another work, called “Big Heart,” Cruz recounts the story that has been embedded in her memory ever since she was a child, which is about her grandfather, to whom she associates the idea of constantly searching—and finding—treasures that can be drawn from the past. She paints in her canvas a shirt that her grandfather used, and does her embroidery on its surface. Her grandfather appears in her story as an old bird, afloat on a boat. Right on its chest is an image of an oversized heart. A large leaf from a plant appears behind a doorway, and we see right in front of it, staring with a look of amazement, the face of a young girl. Cruz probes deep into her memory and applies her own persona in her work, recalling the situation and the impressions she had made from them while as a child during the time her grandfather passed away.

The string of narratives, memories, and impressions that are either weaved into the dress or are organically embedded in the appearance of the dresses themselves comprise for a rich vignette to a generation of lives lived, which we can surmise as also having been ‘woven together’ to some degree. The artist, Marina Cruz, has portrayed not only the identities of her predecessors but also stories and sensibilities from past cultures. Through her ingenious method of combining medium and material—painting and embroidery—we are led into intersections that cross not only the gap between the past and the present, but also the divide between art and craft.