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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Pepe to my Shadow Self

Sheila PePe lecture last night at VSC
image from

Even though I found it hopeful, I was beset with a feeling of impending weight after listening to Pepe. I flung myself on my bed, legs in the air, and wondered about social relevance, patterns, and my personal artwork.

Pepe grew up in a New Jersey deli and went on to work in a collaborative lesbian diner in Boston. Her work today, collaborative social gathering spaces, crocheted chairs even, encourages a gathering of people to interact, observe and hang out. The ends of her fabric, twine, or rubber lines are left with crochet needles for the viewer to participate in the process of creating the work. Her art pieces grow and move throughout their lifespan. The twisted and crocheted sculpture defines a space much like the deli might have or as the diner certainly did. She spoke repeatedly of taking space and making a place.

She also spoke of feminist legacy. Citing many of her teachers in the power point, Pepe emphasized that female artists need to find their lineage, even if it means reaching backwards after the fact. “Acknowledge and pull up the women that worked before you.” Back your work up with smart context. A pile of precedent is more interesting to set your work under than having it viewed in isolation. “Cobble together your best teachers.” “Know your culture.” We are contextualized by the contingency of when/who/how people see our works… Check out what the patterns are of things you are interested in. (Hindsight is the gift of getting older). She asks, “How do we place ourselves and deal with our ambitions and its implications?” (A really good question).

Pepe’s work grew from capturing shadows. She literally drew them on the walls and tied them to her abstract mixed media sculptures. The work grew out of the shadows similar to the way her visual presence grew metaphorically out of the 1980’s shadow of lesbian culture.

Now her work is less ephemeral and when I asked her why the change, she spoke of being tired of constantly making new pieces, and her schedule, which was shared ahead of time, certainly makes the imagination dizzy. Her work has been a learning process and was a result of economy.
But with the hope of more female role models to be pulled from the shadows, working ephemerally is counter indicative. Poignantly, Pepe finished her answer saying that once your parents are dead, ephemeral isn’t as romantic or idealistic as it used to be.
What is now ephemeral for her is teaching. She looks to find and construct the valuable moment.  It certainly was a valuable evening for me. I have lots to work on now.

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