Bodies of Work: Pulling a Thread Through History / by Jennifer Davey

Bodies of Work

by Mickey Bookstaber

Interview by Jennifer Davey  

Fort Collins Museum of Art:  

Exhibition from July 15 to August 5, 2011

On July 29th, I had the pleasure of interviewing artist Mickey Bookstaber about her current exhibition, Bodies of Work, on view at the Fort Collins Museum of Art.  Here are a few highlights from our conversation.

Image still.  video clip of Bodies of Work, by Mickey Bookstaber   video taken by  Dennis Bookstaber  2011

Image still.  video clip of Bodies of Work, by Mickey Bookstaber   video taken by  Dennis Bookstaber  2011

While events in the news rise and fall, 

Mickey Bookstaber has been pulling a thread through political concerns since the 1970s.

The result of her artistic inquiry is

Bodies of Work, now showing at The Fort Collins Museum of Art.  Enter the show to see an elegant collection of visual imagery exploring world events that impact us all.

Mickey Bookstaber explaining the dolls she made by hand over many years to express her frustration about American political actions in Guatemala.

Mickey Bookstaber explaining the dolls she made by hand over many years to express her frustration about American political actions in Guatemala.

Walking into the show, one sees a line-up of small, hand-made canvas dolls, each adorned with a tiny bead, a mark of individuality, amidst their precise and uniform similarity.

 It is these dolls that provide the genesis for the entire show. 

Mickey, an art teacher at the time, and her husband Dennis, began traveling to Guatemala in the 1970s.

Visiting remote villages, they experienced cultures and people with a rich history of making textiles to adorn and express their individuality. 

As Mickey and Dennis returned, year after year, they began to see changes and watched the ideas of globalization, capitalism, and American democracy drastically change the villages they first knew.

Politically, she felt America was very aggressive in pushing our version of democracy to other cultures, at the cost of a country’s individuality and heritage.  As she thought about this, she began to make handmade canvas dolls.  They were the same, minus one small bead that would mark their individuality.  It was a visual statement to say, “Yes, America, we see these changes, but we also maintain our individuality.” 

Watching the political and global scene unfold, and often with a very negative impact on the cultures and people she knew in Guatemala, she exclaimed, “I am so angry about American politics, I could make a 1,000 of these dolls!” 

And so it was.  She made them, year after year, filling many boxes with dolls, going about her life as an art teacher, and coming back to them when she had a chance.

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Shortly after September 11th, a friend, who was also an artist, came to visit.

They discussed Bookstaber’s dolls and her friend requested to see them. 

As Bookstaber opened the lid of the box, both felt a chill, as the stacked canvas bodies created an eerie reminder of the recent tragedy. 

However, the timing and the conversation also created inspiration for Bookstaber to continue making the dolls.  It also added a new dimension to her political ruminations.  After September 11th, she began to think more about American political leaders and the consequences of their decisions.  Reading Thomas Friedman’s book, The World is Flat, also brought new insights about globalization.

This lead to the next part of the exhibit, a map on the floor stacked with black rubber dolls. 

800 of the 1,000 dolls were meticulously dipped in black rubber. 

She then placed them on the floor on a map of the world. 

Black figures bulge and precariously balance to stay within their limits of the geographic boundaries of land. 

The idea of population over-load is more than obvious.  Although this map’s ignition point stemmed from the perception of very negative global situations, Bookstaber feels now she also sees the positive changes of globalization.  Most notably, she notes the rapid expansion of the Internet, leading to more opportunities for education and connection, and even to the most recent revolutions across the Arab world.

By 2008,  just before the presidential election, she worked on a piece that was submitted to the Fort Collins Museum of Contemporary Art’s patriotism show.  It was an idea for tapestries that would create a merging of the portraits of iconic political figures and the American flag. 

The results are the framed woven images of prominent American political figures, starting with George W. Bush.

American flags were unwoven, becoming the warp, and the photographic image the weft. These two parts were then re-woven together with a statement written at the bottom of the frame as to what kind of world she felt each politician was helping to create.

The political portraits are a strong contrast to the quiet white figures, providing a very interesting opportunity for comparing and contrasting. 

Over the span of decades, Bookstaber has kept her awareness on the human cost of this turn of the century’s globalization, politics, war, and economics.

Through the simple act of making she has woven a thread through challenging topics relevant to us all.  Her show is beautiful, engaging, and provocative.  I highly recommend spending time with it before it closes on August 5th.

Regardless of your political opinions, Bookstaber has generously shared her very human views of our changing world.  Spending time looking at the work, posing your own questions, and sharing in Bookstaber’s exploration, will be time well spent.