Ellen Ramsey
Contemporary Tapestry

The Shape of Things

Have you ever felt like you are standing at a threshold between one state of being and another? I have - a lot actually. In fact, I created a whole body of work trying to convey that frame of mind, but I’m here to tell you that I have finally crossed over. But before I go, it’s time to publicly explain why I have been weaving lotus pond imagery for the last few years.

During a time period marked by loss, I latched on to images of the lotus pond in decay as a proxy for my feelings. Was it about losing parents? Kids leaving the nest? Yes, but it was so much more. In the three years following my youngest’s graduation from high school, my close knit neighborhood lost five kids to suicide, overdoses, or senseless accidents. I attended too many funerals and candlelight vigils; each time, the sadness and disbelief compounded. I live in a tiny suburb that is just 3 square miles in size. It is very much a small town in the midst of a large metro area. These deaths rocked our world. 

I took a trip to Japan during this dark time (with my dear friend who had lost her son just four months prior). The image and ideas within Satori stem from this experience. As Satori is now on exhibition in Heallreaf 3 in the UK (see “News” for details), now seems like a good time to share its origin story in this blog.

When I arrived in Japan it was peak cherry blossom time and every temple garden, and every city street, was awash in pink and white trees. At one garden there was also a lotus pond, but in stark contrast to the glorious garden all around it, the pond was almost black, slimy, and completely lifeless. Looking into that pond, I was very moved. My mind could imagine the beauty of the pond’s past, but not in any detail. Over time, as more stems would fall and dissolve into the mud, it would just get harder to piece that beautiful past back together. New growth was as yet undetectable, and seemingly impossible given the thick muck. To my eye, that pond was a visual metaphor for everything I was feeling. 

I found the pond to be visually arresting in its decay. I couldn’t resist the visual web of crossing lines and their reflections. Fallen cherry blossom petals puddled around floating pods. Using photographs of the pond and Photoshop, dozens of tapestry designs evolved, some very dramatic and some quietly emotional. Satori was the first in the series to be woven. Here is the statement:

“This tapestry references the experience of time. Time flows like water, each moment passing quickly, unnoticed. But occasionally time reveals itself, just long enough for one to realize that what once was, is now fundamentally changed or gone. The black and white section represents a dramatic shift in perspective, seen with unusual clarity as if by x-ray. “Satori” is the Japanese word meaning “sudden comprehension.” The lotus is a traditional symbol associated with time, the cycle of life, and human nature.”

Satori, 2017-18, 60x60 inches

The next tapestry, Obi I, is far less emotional, but still derives from that fateful trip.  I saw the strips as sequential frames of the same loss narrative - as fragments of memories strung together. It was only at the last minute that I decided to make the strips different lengths, somewhat kimono like, although it does not mimic the precise shape or scale of an actual garment. In hindsight, I wish I hadn’t done that.  Some have seen it as cultural appropriation and that was certainly not my intent. I thought the reference was more oblique than that, more of a nod to textile history than a blatant borrowing of a cultural form that is not my own. In the future I will be more careful.

Obi I, 2018, 42x36 inches

This week I finished what may be the last lotus, or at least the last lotus for the foreseeable future (never say never).  “Flux” was inspired by this verse in a longer poem about time by Bjay Kant Dubey*:

Life in a flux, the world in a flux, 
Everything but in, 
Mass and matter is the same, 
But the shape of the things continues to change.

Flux, 2019, 24x60 inches

Honestly, Flux is a “place holder” piece.  Place holder pieces happen when you lose your mojo for whatever it is that has motivated your creativity in the past, but you need something to weave while you work out where to go next.  Funny how prophetic. The shape of things are changing.  After finishing this tapestry, I’m finally out of my head!

This summer I have been developing an entirely new body of work, and I am very excited to get going on it. It is far more abstract. Suffice it to say for now that the imagery is based on the lines and shapes of microchips. In a few weeks I am moving to New York City for six months.  While there, I will be renting a studio at the Textile Art Center in Brooklyn, and I will be hard at work deriving inspiration and developing these new ideas – and writing about the textile art scene in this blog, of course.  I’m so ready for this adventure to begin.

I couldn’t help but notice…

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