In my new installation Ode to a Prairie, I’ve created a hanging work that fills the Chazen Museum’s Paige Court with textiles depicting Wisconsin flora on a monumental scale. The work was commissioned to mark the building’s—and the museum’s—50th anniversary in 2020 a.nd is now up in the exhibition “Suspended Landscapes: Thread Drawings by Amanda McCavour”.
I developed a new site-specific work in response to the collection and history of the Chazen Museum of Art and UW–Madison.
During research trips to campus, McCavour visited the botany department, the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection, the UW Libraries’ Special Collections, and studied native plant specimens held in the Wisconsin State Herbariumand botanical works from the Chazen’s collection. McCavour will also curate a presentation of the artwork on campus that inspired the installation, alongside her own preparatory drawings and materials.”
My site-specific installation Ode to a Prairie was inspired by a visit to the University of Wisconsin–Madison in summer 2019. While on campus to meet with Chazen staffand view the Chazen’s collection, I visited the Wisconsin State Herbarium (a repository for preserved botanical collections) and the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection. On in the small room beside Paige Court are objects I selected from all three collections, alongside the sketches and studies I made in the process of planning my large-scale installation. I am interested in finding connections between scientific research and decorative patterns found in textiles and wallpaper. The examples of lace on view here demonstrate the embroidery technique that I uses in my artwork. I based Ode to a Prairie on pressed flowers indigenous to the Wisconsin Prairie that I viewed at the Herbarium. First, I created embroideries (many of which are on view in this gallery) at the same size of the original specimen. My lace-like pieces of embroidery are made by sewing into fabric that dissolves in water. Prior to dissolving, I build up forms through stitched lines and crossing threads. When the fabric is then dissolved, the thread drawings interlock together even without a base. Plants and their ecologies are similarly linked—abiological network isa bound system that sustains a community of plants. To create the panels hanging in Paige Court, I scanned the embroideries at a high resolution, scaled them to a monumental size, and printed them on sheer polyester fabric. I burned away the remaining polyester to the borders of the image, disrupting the surface and creating organic contours that follow the edges of the prints. Last, I adhered the printed fabric to a sheer mesh with a heated iron. This final step of pressing the prints with an iron mimicked the way that the original flowers were pressed and preserved in the Herbarium’s collection.
With my site-specific installation Ode to a Prairie, I reimagine the Chazen’s Paige Court as a field of floating flowers, blending fantasy and document, imagination and observation.The installation shifts the perspective of a traditional prairie, inviting viewers to walk underneath—rather than through—a floating field of flowers. Vantage points from the Elvehjem’s third and fourth floors offer unique vistas across this illusive landscape. Based on the Wisconsin prairie, this work explores plants as markers of memory and place. Indigenous species that I reference include goldenrod and milkweed. I am interested in the recent movement to restore Wisconsin’s prairie environment, almost completely destroyed by decades of farming. My installation both looks back to the past and toward an idealized future of what might be. In Ode to a Prairie, small plants are rendered monumental, creating a dream-like environment. I have designed this installation with oppositions in mind: transparency versus opacity, intricate detail versus large forms, organic versus constructed, and the lightness of fabric versus the weight of the Elvehjem’s stone architecture. The fabric panels that hang from the Elvehjem’s ceiling emphasize the verticality of the space and the way that air moves through the man-made interior, as the panels twist and turn like flowers swaying in a summer’s breeze.
I would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts.
Suspended Landscapes: Thread Drawings by Amanda McCavour runs from March 11- September 11, 2022 at the Chazen Museum of Art in Madison, Wisconsin.
You can find more information and images about the exhibition here.
I have also included some colouring pages in the post based on herbarium specimens from the Wisconsin State Herbarium. Feel free to download them and colour them in!
Along with these colouring pages, I have also created special iron on patches inspired by the prairie plants in the exhibition. These are available in my shop!
More press on this exhibition:
The Spaces, lead story May 18, 2022
Inside UW, photos by Bryce Richter