*Featured photo: Keeping Up Appearances (part of Pop Up: The 29th Edition of Miniartextile, Como, Italy) site-specific installation 15’ high x 10’ wide, crocheted cotton yarn, 2019 [image courtesy of Giulia Pini]
Ashley V. Blalock was born and raised in San Diego, California. She holds an MFA in Sculpture from the San Francisco Art Institute and attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture.
Blalock applies traditional and domestic textile techniques to large-scale contemporary art installations that take over and redefine space. Every element – material, technique, colour and content – flows into a narrative that engages the viewer and makes them part of the work.
Selected as an artist-in-residence for the Wassaic Project, Vermont Studio Center, she was a visiting teacher at the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts.
Her installations have been installed at the Hunter Museum of American Art, Franconia Sculpture Park, Montgomery Museum of Fine Art, Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art, Nevada Museum of Art and Lux Art Institute.
Her work has been shown in group exhibitions, including ESXLA, Miniartextil in Como, Craft in America Center, Mingei International Museum and Whatcom Museum.
Her site-specific installations have been placed in and around historic homes such as Edith Wharton’s (The Mount), Highfield Hall and the Heritage Museum and Gardens. Here is what she told ArteMorbida about her artistic journey and research.
In an increasingly standardized world, you recover an element that belongs to the grandmothers’ memory and also to a culture of care for the home, made up of small, unique and precious things handmade with love and patience. With this element exaggerated in size, you create large contemporary art installations. In this dichotomy is there the reflection on a society devoted to the production of mass products empty of content, to compulsive consumism, to waste, to disposable objects, feelings and emotions?
Yes, in many ways my work is a response to the over-use of technology in our lives and our distancing from the real world. I was fortunate to have been a kid and teenager when technology was on the rise, but wasn’t an everyday part of most people’s lives. I’m not that old really but I still remember that things were made better and more durable, even insignificant objects. I am shocked by the abundance of disposable things today and how short our goods last before they break. It isn’t just that things break, but also the planned obsolescence, too. Like a tablet that still works but you can’t use because the technology company no longer supports it. What do you do with something like that? You are forced to buy more technology or choose to no longer use things like that. If you choose not to use all that technology then there come along with it a judgment from those around you who do use it. We have finally come to a place where people judge others based on their engagement with technology.
When did you start experimenting with crochet and how did you get to macro works?
I have always crocheted- since I was a very young child. I started making art with it when I was in my early 20s after I graduated from college. I was a painter in college because that was what every artist seemed to be. They had a fiberarts program at my college, but I never took those classes. I came to using crochet as art couple years later. I started making larger works much later when I was in graduate school. For me, it was a brave step to make something big with this material which was always used for small things.
Why the red thread?
I am very interested in the meaning of color and perceptions of color. All of my color choices carry a larger meaning. The red symbolized for me the love and turmoil that exists within the home. I love how one color could mean two so very different things at the same time.
Your large crochet installations intervene in the space, changing its perception. Is it an invitation to change our point of view on the world around us which is not always as it appears or as we expect it?
Yes, I enjoy changing the viewer’s perception of a space, even a space thay may have been in many times before. Our perception of a domestic space changes merely with the addition of furniture or the arrangement of that furniture. My work operates in the same way through the arrangement of my red doilies- sometimes they make the space feel bigger, sometimes smaller, and sometimes I add ceilings to make the space seem to close in. When I make tunnel structures, the viewer can experience constriction and expansion of the space as they walk in, through, and out of the tunnel. Frank Lloyd Wright did the same thing with places in his architecture and I often think about how he constricted space in order to open it up for the people who walked through his houses.
Using such a slow and methodical technique to create such great works makes it necessary to cultivate patience and acquire a different rhythm that belongs to another time. Is it also partly an exercise to regain possession of the moment, even a meditation practice?
Not surprisingly, I am a very patient and methodical person and my work is meditative, but I pretty much live in another “time signature” in my dailiy life. I do this on purpose- maybe out of nostalgia or a sense of loss for the time in which I grew up. Aside from teaching art online with all the associated technology, and using a laser cutter and 3D printer for some works, I generally don’t use too much technology in my life. I don’t have the latest gadgets or do much on social media anymore. I limit my use of technology on purpose and limit how I can interact with things like my email and online news. I don’t have those things on my phone so they can’t intrude into my life all day long. I have to sit down to my computer to access those kinds of things. My home is a modest mid-century from 1950s and I look for things to put in it that are from that time period or from my childhood. I have working rotary phones and a couple VHS players that I still use to watch movies. I still have the 35mm slides I used to teach from 20 years ago and set up an automatic slide viewer on a shelf in my living room so I can look at some of my old slides. I like old things, but not special old things. I like mundane old things. The things people used everyday.
‘Memory’ and ‘bonds’: how do you decline these two concepts in your works?
Researchers say the brain is a “predictive machine” that determines how to act in future situations based on what happened in past situations. Memory is what is past, but is not always reliable. The way we remember things is dependent on the situation and two people can remember the same situation very differently. I find this very interesting. When people experience my work they experience it based on who they are. For example, whether a closed-in part of the installation is perceived as comfy or oppressive depends on the person, their experiences, and their memories of those experiences. I set up the situation for experience in my installations, but the sactual experience is up to the viewer and their past. Bonds is a complicated word. We talk a lot today about connections, but the connections we experience through technology are not the same as bonds. They seem to be more fleeting connections without the deeper connection implied through bonds. I think only real-world, face-to-face interaction can produce bonds. I am more interested in that kind of experience and the resulting memories created.
What does it mean for you to be an artist?
To be an artist is to have a vision and share it with others. If I can impart some of what I am feeling to the viewer, then I am accomplishing what I want.