Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Blazing World


I was on my lunch break, and standing at the corner of Robson and Thurlow. A person was in front of me, prostrate on the sidewalk, her back heaving as if sobbing. A cup was in front of her with a few coins in it. Right behind her was a trendy clothing store called “Plenty”. The noon hour shoppers milled about, oblivious to the person on the ground. It struck me as a true Vancouver moment.

Living in the city, I am struck over and over again by the disparity between those in need and those that have. Poverty and rampant consumerism exist side by side. And I’m right in there – having just moved all my stuff AGAIN I am conscious that I myself have too much stuff, more fabric than I could ever use in a lifetime, all manner of things that I hang on too just in case I might need them. So I have been thinking about the idea of “plenty” and what it can encompass.

The embroidered words come from a quote by Margaret Cavendish, who lived in Europe in the 1600’s. She was a noblewoman and writer of philosophy, science fiction and poetry who talked about her privileged upbringing like this: “As for plenty, we had not only for necessity, conveniency and decency but for delight and pleasure to superfluity.” In her terms, plenty exists as sort of a continuum between enough and too much – where do you draw the line?

The fabric panels are constructed in the manner of 16th C. Japanese patchwork. This method was used to construct Buddhist monk’s robes out of rags, and had two religious meanings, according to Yoshiko Jinzenji, contemporary textile artist. First, retrieving the rags from the dustbin and allowing them to end up in a place of honour signified that the cloth itself had attained Buddhahood. Secondly, the practise suggested the interconnectedness of all beings.

I have used over 72 different fabrics to construct these seven panels. Every patch comes from “the stash” - from used clothing or a leftover scrap from another project. The oldest piece is approximately 100 years old. There is silk, cotton, hemp, linen and even a bit of banana fibre. Each piece has a story to tell.

On reflection, I think my motivation to create this work is connected to a fear of becoming a bag lady – a fear that I am told is irrational, but not uncommon. On the surface, one might say a bag lady has nothing – no home, no stability, no value in our society. But bag ladies often have LOTS of stuff – carts full of clothes, bric-a-brac and other items of necessity or, who knows, even delight. Do these things in fact bring the owner a sense of stability, place or personal worth? If so, how far apart is the bag lady from the frenzied fashionista of Robson Street? Are they two faces of the same coin?

Finally, the somewhat archaic word superfluity has always had meaning for me. As a kid, my mom would put the things we had outgrown or didn’t need into a box for the “Superfluity Shop”, a thrift store in White Rock at which my Aunt Margie volunteered. (The shop still exists, run by the White Rock Hospital Ladies Auxiliary.

2 comments:

  1. "Plenty" -- I think you're right, that somewhere in that word is a limit. There is an end point to the quantity of plenty. "Ample," to me, has the same built-in limitation.

    It does seem to be a fluid measure. My children view plenty as a great heap, an overflowing treasure chest. I, on the other hand (and being the prime picker-upper of misplaced stuff), think the number of plenty is probably more like three.

    Love your fabric representation of plenty. It is wonderful.

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  2. Anonymous6:23 AM

    Whatever happened to this piece? This was posted 11 years ago and in that time housing prices in the Lower Mainland have gone even higher, into the stratosphere of ridiculousness, and the divide between those with and those without has grown wider. This piece is even more relevant today than it was 11 years ago. Jean-Pierre

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