Wandering through Homebodies, Nancy Andrews’s recent solo show at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, a visitor couldn’t help but remark on the range of materials activated by the artist who makes her home on Mount Desert Island. A short list would include fabrics, figurines, wood, ironing boards, magazines, plates, and video.
“The questions that unite this work,” Andrews explains in a statement for the show, “explore the pursuit of being seen through display, and the disconnect between American ideals and actualities.” The work, she writes, is a “particularly female point of view on aspirations for peace and prosperity in the home.” The pieces also reflect “pervasive overtones of ownership and control of women’s bodies by men who occupy dominant roles in our past and current Western culture.”
Some of the forms of the artworks, Andrews notes, were inspired in part by her family: “my grandfather, who carved birds that he mounted on felt-covered wood, and my grandmother and mother who made myriads of sewing and needle-based projects to clothe us, furnish the home, and celebrate holidays.”
Andrews responded to questions about materiality via email. Her responses have been lightly edited.
CL: How do you engage with your mediums in all their density and specificity and in what ways do the mediums you choose impact your work?
NA: Materials are a driver for me. Perhaps that is why I continued to make films on celluloid long after digital video was available. I really enjoy working with my hands and I believe that tactility provides a particular kind of information that drives certain types of understandings, memories, and directions.
My favorite materials are paper, ink, wood, and fabric. These all have strong connections to my childhood where these materials were common in play, of children and the activities of adults around me. My father built things from wood in his shop and my grandfather carved things from wood and was a woodsman, having made his living in logging camps and paper mills.
My mother and grandmother were ever engaged in work with fabrics and fibers whether ironing, knitting, darning socks, hooking rugs or sewing clothes. My sewing machine was my mother’s and I feel close to her when I am sewing. She died when I was eleven. I learned embroidery from her.
CL: How do you handle your mediums? What materials and tools do you choose, how do you handle them, and for what effect?
NA: I started this body of work (Homebodies) in the early days of the pandemic. When I learned I had gotten the [Ellis-Beauregard Foundation] grant and [Center for Maine Contemporary Art] show, I first thought of doing something using toy trains as a type of drawing. This came from my longing to get away from feeling locked down by the pandemic.
After exploring this avenue for a few months, I decided that the toy trains weren’t exactly part of my world—my brother had trains, I was more into cars. However, I had some felt that I had collected, and I started working with that, and it felt right and true to my experiences.
I learn from what my hands are doing. There is a mix of the way materials act, tactile response, eye-hand connections, ideas and analysis that go on, back and forth to create work.
I like to work with non-toxic materials that I can feel comfortable touching and spending time with. I started out as an undergraduate with a degree in photography and also did silkscreen printing, but all the chemicals were a drag.
CL: Do you fully embrace your mediums’ specificity, letting them, as it were, guide you, or do you instead engage in a conversation, fighting the materials’ natural tendencies?
NA: I don’t fight the materials’ natural tendencies, but I shape them and work with what they can do. Fabric into sculpture is an interesting process of flat become dimensional, and often I am not in total control of that. I have a pretty good idea but don’t know how exactly it will turn out. I don’t work with a pattern, so things do take on a life of their own. I like the idea of animism, the attribution of a soul to inanimate objects.
I guess working with puppets is tied up with that. And animation, I mean, that is bringing life to “dead” objects.
CL: How do the material objects you create reflect our surrounding world and how, in turn, do they interact with it and maybe even transform it?
NA: I like to take everyday objects and incorporate them into a new world, a new context. So, you might see a decorative plate hanging on the wall and it has familiar aspects but then you see it doesn’t fit into the familiar world. And this disjunct is where I hope people can manage to enter and consider the familiar with a new eye. And maybe ask some questions or see things that viewers are conscious of being problematic or warped in the society around us. I like humor, and often find these juxtapositions and associations funny.
All photos and video by Carl Little.
Image at top: Nancy Andrews, from the series Commemoratives. The plates “quote women from girly magazines. Magazine editors quote them to demonstrate their care for the identity of these women/models. The models will be fired soon, when they get a little older.”