Monday, May 8, 2017

Threads of RE$I$TAN¢E

When the Threads of Resistance call for art was first announced in early February, I experienced a range of emotions:
  • Thankful for having an artistic outlet to channel my concerns with the current administration and policies.
  • Overwhelmed by the list of issues to address, as there were 23 themes listed and this was just 2-3 weeks into the new presidency! 
  • Uncertainty and trepidation as to how best to convey my viewpoints while also staying true to my artistic style.
  • Vulnerability and fear, especially after I witnessed some of the malicious comments (several from fellow fiber/quilt artists) that were directed towards members of the Artist Circle for mounting an exhibit in protest of Trump and his Administration.
  • Courage and hope, thanks to the strength and composure of the Artist Circle, overwhelming support from the online community and my own small quilt group (several of which worked on their own entry submissions).
Much of my growing frustration with the current administration is their tendency to side with dollars vs. data and put their own greed before the need of Americans.  So while I was researching images of money, I started to see images of dollar bills folded into hearts and stars.  Intrigued by this idea, I did a quick Pinterest search which revealed hearts, stars, ties, guns, animals, guns and letters all folded out of $1 bills!  Interestingly, I had recently watched Nova's "Origami Revolution," a fascinating documentary about scientists and engineers who were applying origami techniques into medicine, microrobotics and space exploration.  Bitten by the origami bug, I went to work searching for shapes that would tie in with Trump's Administration.  I focused on mostly 2-D shapes that would lie flat within my quilt vs. the 3-D shapes which would create a challenge for both the quilt construction as well as safe shipping as part of a travelling exhibit.
Billfold
I must warn you that origami, especially using $1 bills is way more tricky than it looks!  And it is entirely possible that I may have uttered some choice 4-letter words during the folding of these shapes.  Some of the instructions found online were difficult to understand and follow.  Luckily, I was able to find some helpful resources both online and through our local libraries:  
Video tutorials were the easiest to follow, especially when they used an actual $1 bill so the viewer could identify reference points for folding.  But even then, there were some sections that I would need to watch, and rewatch multiple times before figuring out a particular folding technique.  I should also note that while my mother was visiting, she helped to fold several of the shapes including the fish, guitar, house and the lower half of the female symbol.

Crisp, uncirculated dollar bills are ideal...but unfortunately my bank did not have any available this time of the year.  But the bank tellers were very nice and went through their drawers in search of the newest and crispest dollar bills!  As some of these shapes took multiple attempts, some of my dollar bills lost that crisp finish.  Turns out that it is safe to iron your dollar bills...which is truly a unique experience!!!
Money Laundering

I researched the rules & regulations with regards to using US Currency in artwork starting with the US Department of Treasury website which outlines the laws and regulations related to the use, image use, reproduction defacement and associated fines/imprisonment for violations.  While I was passionate about my creative vision, I was not ready to pay a fine and/or go to jail.  So I did what any law-abiding citizen would do and I emailed the US Treasury department introducing myself as a fiber artist working on a new piece and requesting a one-time persmission to incorporate $40-60 of US currency into my piece.  I also let them know that I did not plan on selling the piece or making any profit but simply to express my artistic view point.  Much to my surprise, I received a prompt email response...albeit not the response I had hoped for...   
Ms. Beach: 
Defacement of currency is a violation of Title 18, Section 333 of the United States Code. Under this provision, currency defacement is generally defined as follows: Whoever mutilates, cuts, disfigures, perforates, unites or cements together, or does any other thing to any bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt issued by any national banking association, Federal Reserve Bank, or Federal Reserve System, with intent to render such item(s) unfit to be reissued, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both. 
Defacement of currency in such a way that it is made unfit for circulation comes under the jurisdiction of the United States Secret Service. Please address your inquiry to the United States Secret Service web address at www.secretservice.gov. 
Thank you,
BEP
Moneyfactory.gov

So much for that plan!!  Interestingly, there are several artists who are creating amazing artwork using US Currency, some of which is on display within the Pentagon!:
So I looked for alternate construction techniques to express my artistic viewpoint without risking jail time and/or paying a hefty fine.  After exploring a few different possibilities, I opted to use tulle netting to layover my quilt and use stitching around each of the shapes to effectively encase the dollar bills into the quilt.  Now that the construction was sorted out, I needed to finalize my layout and design.

As you can see below, I explored a variety of compositions.  Several were scrapped because they were too busy or didn't allow enough space for the origami shapes to take center stage.  I briefly explored using some colorful fabric, but opted for the green and white effect of the dollar bills.
Throw Money Around
I liked the heart concept but needed to scale it down to make room for the wall and origami shapes.  I also played around with the orientation of my layout.  The left one is more of a portrait orientation and left for very little negative space.  So the next morning I woke up and rotated it 90-degress and liked it soo much better!!
Pressed for Money
I used painter's tape to hold the various shapes into place before placing a grey tulle netting over the entire surface.  Lots and lots of safety pins were used to baste and stabilize the quilt for quilting.  I started by outline stitching all the bricks and origami shapes using Aurifil 50weight thread in black.  Great care was taken not to accidentally stitch through the dollar bills.

For the background, I considered quilting in a variety of quotes and messages related to each of the miniature scenes.  Again, I did not want to detract from the $1 bills and scaled back to include one quote that wrapped around the large heart.  I auditioned four different Aurifil threads:

  • red, white and blue variegated
  • solid red
  • solid white
  • green/white variegated
The red thread was difficult to read against the black background.  The green variegated was interesting but seemed more military vs. currency.  I really liked the red, white and blue variegated.  Once again, I was drawn to the high contrast of the dollar bills against the black backdrop and chose the all white thread in keeping with this high contrast design.

Thread Auditions
I printed out the quote using a large font that somewhat represented my own handwriting.  I cut it up and wrapped the words all the way around the heart.  I used the blue painter's tape to reserve space for my stitching and taped the paper copy directly above as a reference for spacing and spelling.  Once the painter's tape was removed, I was left with a channel of space to stitch the quote in one continuous line.  
"Patriotism means to stand by the country.  It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country."  Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States 
Aurifil black was used to stitch a zig zag meander throughout the unquilted background.  Various threads and embroidery floss were used to add some quilted details:
  • fumes and bubbles rising out of the beaker and test tube
  • tassel for the graduation mortor board (with some red embroidery floss for the diploma ribbon)
  • syringe needle for vaccinations
  • wind spirals for the wind mills
  • bubbles for the fish

Money Embellishment
In case you were wondering...there are 67 $1 bills used in this design.  Some of my quilting friends have joked that I will need to make arrangements for an armored car to transport this quilt!  I am reminded of the saying:  "Put your money where your mouth is!"
"RE$I$TAN¢E," finishes 39"x 34"
The online entry process required a photograph of both the finished quilt as well as a detail shot, along with as an Artist Statement which I chose to include a letter addressed to Donald Trump:
Dear Donald Trump, 
American citizens are speaking out to express our significant concerns with regards to your administration and policies.  To date, we’ve mailed postcards and letters, made phone calls, communicated with our United States Senators and Congressional Representatives, signed petitions and organized rallies and marches—all of which have been dismissed by you and your administration.  Since you’d rather think like a billionaire than act like a public servant, let’s utilize the one item that has consistently received your attention:  Money, Money, MONEY!! 
Now that I have your attention, I would like to express my profound disapproval of your determination to build a Wall along the US/Mexico border.  Not only will this place a huge financial burden on those who actually pay federal taxes, but it will do little to address illegal immigrants from entering the United States.  Instead, let’s reallocate more of the federal budget into programs and policies that will truly make America Great (top left to right, counterclockwise)
·         Establish Immigration policies that provide a safe space to refugees fleeing from war-torn countries, for immigrants who wish to rebuild their lives and positively contribute to our country, much as our ancestors have done throughout our history (Statue of Liberty)
·         Acknowledge and support scientific inquiry and research (Beaker and Test Tube)
·         Build bridges and partner with world leaders to work towards world peace rather than bully other nations (Peace Sign)
·         Support our veterans by creating job opportunities, affordable housing and insurance for those who have given so much to our country (Star)
·         Invest in quality primary and secondary education, so that we can empower our youth and develop leaders (Mortar Cap, Gown and Diploma)
·         Provide affordable health insurance for all Americans (Vaccination, First Aid and Heart)
·         Protect LGBTQA rights and provide equal access to marriage (Paper dolls depicting gay couple and transgender)
·         Create affordable housing (House)
·         Celebrate and fund the Arts including music, visual, performance and literature (Guitar, Music Note & Painting)
·         Preserve our environment and natural resources, including our waterways, air quality and wildlife (Fish and Tree)
·         Respect women’s rights, our right to choose and equal pay (Dress, Uterus & Female Symbol).
·         Invest in renewable energy (Windmill) 
As Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed, “Patriotism means to stand by the country.  It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country.” 
The country is speaking up and I truly hope you will listen and start standing by the country and its citizens vs. your own self-interests, your family, the Trump organization, your business associates, and other questionable affiliations. 
Sincerely,
Mel Beach
A Proud Registered Voter who is eagerly awaiting the 2020 Presidential Election

8 comments:

  1. You obviously put your heart and soul into this. So much effort to convey a message that one can only hope he will eventually get. Love it!

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    1. Thanks Joelle. Yes--my heart, soul and bank account went into the making of this quilt! ;-) I certainly hope the message is received by the POTUS.

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  2. Mel,this is truly awesome. I loved the way you worked around the "mutilation" of the dollar bills, which I trust you know do contain textile fibers. I love the design you created, but most of all I love the message that goes with it. Best of luck. I really hope to see your piece accepted.
    Sandie Ehrman

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    1. Thanks Sandie...these past few months have been a rollercoaster of emotions in response to proposed policies and budgetary spending. I had great difficulty narrowing down which sweeping changes concerned me the most, especially since each day presented a new set of issues/concerns!! Using USD as my unconventional materials allowed me to address several issues that were near and dear to my heart.

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  3. Mel, I am flabbergasted. What a powerful work of art you made. You have distilled your hopes, dreams and fears into a tiny, powerful quilt so concisely. I am awed by your ability to express yourself so forcefully with civility. You never fail to impress. Remember Bowling Green.

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    1. Thank you Joni...as you know, typically I design quilts that are bright and cheery. However, given all that is at stake, I needed to step outside my comfort zone to voice my concerns and create this piece. So while it is not as cheery and bright as usual, there is so much of me incorporated into this quilt.

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  4. Replies
    1. Thanks Ann! I am pleased with the finished piece and all the reflection that went into its creation.

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