The Art of Assemblage

by Arianne Gelardin and Jacob Palmer

“Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.”
— Richard P. Feynman

We enter a fabric womb, a cave-like space of soft stalactites that brush against us, shifting and pooling us into groups. We’ve stumbled into the world that is Give, an installation by artists Bird Feliciano and Juliana Raimondi.

We could trot out the familiar trope of the “social fabric,” but this piece touches upon something more distinct. The equivalent of a child’s blanket fort, the installation gives us permission to let go of our expectations of what a night at a gallery is meant to be. In a time fraught with divisions and stratifications, subsets of subgroups of subcultures, it seems an admirably naive prospect to create a magical, ephemeral space, and then simply throw a party within it, inviting anyone and everyone with even a passing interest in merry making. On opening night, Feliciano and Raimondi invited their friends to dj and perform live hip hop, a call and response with a mob of human bodies bobbing and gyrating among the contents of a giant laundry hamper.

The installation is as much about the individuals who come to see the spectacle, as it is about the fabric, itself. The low-hanging wool, polyester, cotton, and polycotton are a decoy for the real artwork—the art of assemblage—which suggests the careful orchestration of randomly assembled people and materials. The small pockets of standing room and the wayward layers of insulation introduce human warmth and closeness to the oftentimes cold white interior of an exhibition space. Those who attended the opening reception found themselves committed to an unexpected intimacy, a dance party in a fabric cocoon, free of pretense and art-world formalities.

A month ago, Feliciano and Raimondi called upon the public to germinate this idea. Clothes were delivered to the gallery in mounds and twisted knots; musty dress shirts and ill-fitting pants were pulled out of a box under a box in a closet. People were delighted to hand over a tired old rag, privately sentimental, and return a week later to see it drawn and quartered, bisected and conjoined, suspended from the ceiling on high tension wire. At the opening, a woman reached up and delicately touched a hanging yellow sleeve, eyes glazed over a bit, “I wore this on my honeymoon 35 years ago. Wow, has it really been that long?”

We pull out an old worn t-shirt from a drawer with a certain tenderness, like a sweet lonely child somehow transported from our past. An article of clothing that we chose from a rack, a choice that at one time defined us and who we were before the divorce, the kids, the cancer, the new house, the career. We draw it close and smell it. We are embraced in a personal history. These woven fibers become totems, mystical articles, good luck charms or perhaps just a quiet old friend telling the same sweet old story.

Feliciano and Raimondi join these artifacts together, stranger to stranger into a collective memory, a quiet cavern as warm as a paper lantern. As the opening night’s festivities reached a crescendo and spilled out under the billowing fabric of the city night and its few dim stars, a certain quiet reverence was observed. Fueled by wine and song we carried on with our small lives, clothed in our current whims and fancies, drawn closer to one another by idle curiosity and abandon.

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