I started learning how to animate my embroidery art recently. Part of my whole ~art as self-authorization~ kick. Here are a few of my favorites so far:
On this day nearly 100 years ago (1927), Isadora Duncan died the strangest death. She was strangled in not-so-nice Nice (France).
By her scarf.
Duncan was a dancer, remarkable for her ability to use the body’s natural movements and desires as guides for her improvisational choreography. She is remembered for her movement-based rebuke of classical dance and its wealthy connotations at the time. Her dance was independent. Emotional. Beloved by sad corseted ladies and boho-minded men yearning to be free the world over.
Because of this dance style, scarves were kind of her thing.✌️ She usually danced barefoot, while wrapped in free-flowing gowns.
I know this sounds kind of “so what?” in the context of today, a time in which Bonnaroo exists and you can’t walk past a modern dance performance without being thrown a curtain from the rafters to climb into and be swaddled like a baby in the cradle of the womb your subconscious still craves.
At Duncan’s time, the drapery was rebellious — shocking even! Her movement style and sartorial choices were a stark contrast to the toe mashing and waist gashing of classical ballet, the bitchy bell of the dance ball for too long.
Here’s what was not her thing: Cars. 😠 I’m being glib, but this part is actually super sad. Duncan had three children (“all out of wedlock,” Wikipedia notes… hell yeah, Izzy). We’re already off the rails here, so I’m just going to quote Wikipedia again:
“The first two [children], Deirdre Beatrice (born 1906), whose father was theatre designer Gordon Craig; and the second, Patrick Augustus (born 1910), by Paris Singer, one of the many sons of sewing machine magnate Isaac Singer, drowned in the care of their nanny in 1913 when their car went into the River Seine.”
Daaaaamn…. 🙁 And then:
“In her autobiography, Duncan relates that [IN HER UNIMAGINABLE GRIEF] she begged a young Italian stranger [HELL YEAH, IZZY], the sculptor Romano Romanelli, to sleep with her because she was desperate for another child. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son on August 13, 1914, but he died shortly after birth. [WTF!]”
One can not blame Dear Isadora, then, for ignoring the warning of her fellow passenger on that fateful joyride in 1927 to watch her damn scarf.
Why not live free? Look fabulous? Die at 50 in a tragic and grotesquely bizarre way befitting a tragic and beautifully bizarre life? With a burdenous heart broken such as that… then what, pray tell my young man, is a broken neck?
The scarf caressed her as l’automobile revved faster on whatever rue de la franacaise. It slithered silky and sensual out the window, fluttered with the wind and shivered with thrilling joie de vivre. Then, spotting the car’s open-spoked wheels and, being one to fancy danger, the scarf flirted and tickled and teased and then licked the rear axle. The tire, all business of cut-throat rubber and metal grinding dirt, responded and swallowed the tongue of that scarf and consumed it in one harumphing gulp, pulling the legendary body of Isadora Duncan down with it for dessert.
A snap. A slice. An exit wound.
A goodbye, sweet world. A thanks for the dance. ✌️
I recently subscribed to The Met on YouTube and found a trove of treasures from this institutional mainstay. Since 2020, the museum has released three to four films from the moving-image archive to celebrate its 150th anniversary. Called “From The Vaults,” the series continues through March 2022.
Hey, when you turn 150 years old, it’s your party and you can make everyone celebrate for two years if you want to.
I’m slowly making my way through all the artifacts they’ve posted; most recently, a 1992 film about American painter Ralph Fasanella, who was known for his depictions of working-class city life and born in the Bronx on Labor Day 1914 to newly minted Italian immigrants.
Berenice Abbott: “A View of the 20th Century”
One of the most compelling docs I’ve watched in The Met’s series so far was another 1992 piece, this one about the photographer Berenice Abbott. I LOVE Berenice and am often drawn to her Works Progress Administration images when selecting images for my embroidery collection.
As one source in the film so succinctly put it, Berenice took, “Emotionally resonant pictures of ordinary things.” That’s as working class as it comes.
What I didn’t realize was how accomplished Berenice was in other intellectual and theoretical pursuits beyond artmaking. Here are some of my favorite quotes from this legendary artist.
“This clear-eyed, insightful documentary, directed by Martha Wheelock and Kay Weaver, offers a grand tour of Abbott’s extraordinary life, from her youth in Ohio and apprenticeship in Paris through her later groundbreaking scientific photography at MIT and final years in Maine.
Using the artist’s memories as a lens for apprehending nearly a century of American and European cultural history, this film pays homage to Abbott’s genius for invention, her free-spirited embrace of uncertainty and experience, and her unshakeable devotion the art of photography.”Watch Berenice Abbott: A View of the 20th Century
Best Berenice Abbott quotes
in “A View of the 20th Century”
Berenice Abbott photographing on South Street, New York, 1937. Photo by Consuelo Kanaga.
ON BEING AN ARTIST
“The only pleasure you can get from creating something is the pleasure you have in doing it. Not the final product even. The pleasure you have in doing it. And that cannot be taken away from you. And it cannot be crushed. But you had a certain kind of joy creating it. And that’s all you can expect.”
“There are many teachers who could ruin you. Before you know it you could be a pale copy of this teacher or that teacher. You have to evolve on your own.”
“I think you have to be intensely personal and be true to yourself. The subject matter that excites you is something you want to photograph. You have to convey to the person who looks at it what it was that excited you.”
“If you’re trying to express people, you have to be part of it because it’s an exchange. You’re a part of that time.”
“The art is selecting what is worthwhile to take the trouble about.”
“I think it stands to reason that if you recognize and appreciate your heritage, it helps you with your future.”
“Anything you photograph has to be exciting somehow visually. It has to be photographically important, visually important. Otherwise you write about it.”
“Photography is very much a prisoner of its time. You work within the framework of the technique at the time, and that’s the way you have to judge photography.”
“I think all photography is documentary or it isn’t even photography. Most photographs are documents by their very nature of the realistic image. When they try to make it a nonrealistic image, they’re imitating another medium. Selectivity is key.”
“Many interesting things aren’t photogenic at all.”
ON CITY APPEAL
“It isn’t just that you think the city is beautiful. It’s that the city is very interesting. Everything in it has been built by man. It expresses people more than people themselves.”
“The city is full of every period, every epoch. Everything there comes out of the human gut. Everything that’s built. Every sign that’s put up. The new, the old, the beautiful, the ugly. It’s the juxtaposition of all this that is an intensely, immensely human subject. You’re photographing people when you’re photographing a city. You don’t have to have a person in it.”
ON BEING A WOMAN
“He said, ‘Nice girls don’t go down on the Bowery.” And I said, ‘Well, I’m not a nice girl. I’m a photographer.‘”
“My assistant got the job. A young man whom I had trained. I think the last thing the world really wants are independent women. I don’t think they like independent women much. Just why I don’t know. But I don’t care.”
“Yes, I’ve always been a loner. I’m certain that some people marry and it doesn’t spoil their independence, even women in some cases. The vast majority seems to snare the woman and she can lose track of her directions and her desires and her interests. I’ve heard so many women say, ‘Oh I would like to have done this but after all my family came first. I had to look after my sons.’ So apparently that was more important to them. To me it would be like losing yourself. I think your work is the most important thing in your life. To spend more time with it.”
“I believe in nature and truth and common sense, pursuit of knowledge. Nothing is any good unless you sort of live up to it. Do unto others as you would have done unto you. That is very valid and can’t get you into any trouble. But you don’t need religion to have morals.”
“I always thought that there was nothing smarter than an old woman. You’ve lived so much, you’ve seen so much, in some sense you’ve been on the passive end of it, which means that you have observed plenty. But my impression was always that most ordinary women, if they’re old, have some remarkable quality that no other people have.”
“I had no idea I was getting older. I’ve never worried about getting older. I don’t see why people make so much of a thing about aging. It’s so natural to age. Everything is aging all the time. Everybody’s aging constantly. Why worry? It’s slow. You’re not aware of it.You just take it in your stride. But women are so harassed with the idea because of the social attitude, the unfairness of social attitudes between the aging of men and women is so ridiculous and so dreadful that women’s years seem to be only good as long as she can procreate, but a man can be very attractive at 80.”
“I’m planning to live to be 102.” 🙂
I haven’t heard my grandma, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia, say a coherent word for nearly three years. She said these last words while receiving communion at the assisted living facility. As everyone genuflected to launch into the lord’s prayer, my grandma did too, saying “Father, son…” and then petering out. I figured those were words she could formulate because she had gone to church and said them every weekend of her entire life until the day she moved in here. Those words were seared into the empty rivulets of her brain, so they didn’t seem a miracle to fish out.
I accepted the reality that I’d probably never hear her say another word again.
And then I did.
It happened on my recent visit, a drop-in at the assisted living facility that marked over a year and a half since I’d seen her (pandemic lockdown).
Once my plane landed, I got my rental car and started on the hour-long route north. I called the nursing home to make sure I could walk-in to see her or whether I needed to make an appointment. I didn’t. I asked then, to the surprise of both myself and a Wanda on the other end of the line, if I could bring flowers. Would that be OK?
I don’t know what came over me to ask such a thing. I don’t usually bring flowers when I visit. I don’t usually bring flowers for anything. Maybe I thought there needed to feel like there was more gravitas to this moment. I hadn’t seen her in so long. We’d survived a pandemic. Her husband died during that time. I knew she wouldn’t remember me, but flowers… well, anyone can remember those, right?
I thought about just hopping off the highway to a Kroger or a Whole Foods. They always have little flowers packaged up at the end of the aisles. Instead, I looked up the local Marion flower shop, saw they were open, and entered the address into my phone. It felt good to buy from a local family business after the pandemic. Plus, I knew they’d probably have roses. My grandma’s name is Rosemary. Even if she didn’t remember me, I wanted to show that I remembered her. I got half a dozen multicolored roses for Grandma in a glass vase and another half-dozen in a mournful maroon to take to my grandpa’s grave. He loved his Rose.
When I enter the long-term care wing and ask for Rosie, the nurses look at me grimly, wondering whether I’m prepared for just how far gone she is. I am. They wheel her into her room and shut the door. It’s the two of us.
After some fruitless and awkward talking to her while sitting across from her, I spend most of my time squatting next to her wheelchair, rubbing her back and nervously trying to use my other arm to keep her in her seat. The medication they gave her keeps her nodding in and out of sleep. She doesn’t register my presence when she has to look at me, but she seems to lean into my hugs.
So I position her so that when she wakes up from the brief naps, she’ll see only the flowers, now sitting on a table in her room.
And that’s when it happened. I was squatting by her side, arms around her, when she woke up and, clear as day, said, “Flowers for me.”
Three little words. One moment I’ll remember forever. 🌹
She passed away two weekends later. While writing her obituary, I turned to my notebook of stories written by her and my grandpa. There I found another gift. A recollection of her first memory: “I was about 2 ½ years old then. [Brother] Eugene and I were in the barnyard with Dad. We were standing near a wagon watching the men who were taking the horses. Well, about the time one of the horses was being led to the truck to be taken away. Dad put his hands under my arms and swooped me up into the wagon, as he did with Eugene. I remember the horses coming by the wagon bobbling their head like horses do when they walk. I was about eye-to-eye level with the horses. I think this is the earliest memory of my life.”
On our recent trip to New Mexico, I made it all the way to the clouds before realizing I’d forgotten my swimsuit. My old bikini remained rolled up somewhere, seducing moths with its neon thread trim and fading pheromones of summer’s past (chlorine, sunscreen, Red Hot French fries).
How does one end up suit-less on a pool-centric vacation? I blame COVID. It’s been a year and a half of never really leaving the apartment. I don’t know how to plan to be out in the world anymore. I’m still getting my sea legs back under me. Pool legs?
We landed in El Paso and saddled up our slick white Mustang to drive to Las Cruces. As I worked from my laptop at the Airbnb we’d rented for a few days, Justin drove with the top down to Target and tried to find a swimsuit in my size that was as close to cute as possible.
He came back with this neon orange bikini:
It’s too big in the bottom. The drawers are droopy. Any time I climb out of a pool, waterfalls pour from the sides. I look like a soggy toddler bopping around in a dragging, dirty diaper.
But who cares. It was a sweet pick. He even snuck a size swap so that the top and bottom are two different sizes. Medium on the top, large on the bottom for my back-country backside.
I guess that’s just what happens when we forget how to do things we used to remember. We improvise. We make do. We jump in feet first. I’m just happy to be here.
Spend $75 or more on shop.jackiemantey.com this month and get a free print of “Pay Attention” (pictured above, to be mailed August 1). // Original image info: “Albanian Solider” (1906-1914) from photographer Augustus Sherman’s collection of photographs from Ellis Island, which is worth a scroll this Fourth of July weekend.
Have fun! Be free! Love your neighbor!
I spent most of January in an escapist headspace, burrowing down into several subjects, my fascination with which have taken me by surprise.
1) Richard Yates. I read Revolutionary Road in 2008 when the movie came out because my tween brain imprinted on Titanic-era Kate and Leo in 1997 and I’m pretty much subconsciously committed to following them in a space ship to Mars if they were featured as star-crossed lovers in its alien-infested bowels.
But. I never watched Revolutionary Road the movie for some reason? Probably because I read the book first and it was devastating; too devastating to see on screen right afterward. Fast forward almost 13 years later, the movie’s on HBO Max and with all this quarantine time on my hands, I gave it a crinoline-skirted whirl and… god damn. Devastating, yes indeed, but I was surprised at how differently I thought of the characters and the plot with some years as an adult under my belt. (APRIL, I KNOW, IT SUCKS YOU CAN’T SELF ACTUALIZE BECAUSE OF THINGS OUTSIDE YOUR CONTROL, BUT YOU LUCKY BITCH, JUST ENJOY YOUR HOUSE AND WORK-FREE LIFE OMFG.)
Perhaps my bleak outlook is quarantine related. Or could it be because the movie is different from the book? I bought a three-book tome of Richard Yates’ work and decided to find out. This turned out to be the biggest January 2021 gift of all! What a cynical, destructive, brutal, little worm Revolutionary Road is. 😍 Like the girl-smirking-at-house-fire meme in book form. I love it, and I find such unrepentant catharsis in how slowly but surely Yates dismantles each character with the kind of rage-eyed honesty no one wants to be in front of but, if you see the people the way he does, feels so rewarding and relieving to watch.
And how he does it is startling. Funny almost. You can’t even see it coming. Example: The following savory paragraph about how the children can sleep comfortably now that their parents have stopped fighting (because mom and dad are high on their unrealistic self-deluded fantasy that will eventually kill someone but we’ll get there soon enough!).
“They could lie drowsing now under the sound of kindly voices in the living room, a sound whose intricately rhythmic rise and fall would slowly turn into the shape of their dreams. And if they came awake later to turn over and reach with their toes for new cool places in the sheets, they knew the sound would still be there—one voice very deep and the other soft and pretty, talking and talking, as substantial and soothing as a blue range of mountains seen from far away.”
Then, next paragraph, like a slap in the face from a surly sugar plum fairy:
“This whole country’s rotten with sentimentality,” Frank said one night…
2) Dennis Rodman. I know, girl! I don’t know! Whyyy?
This minor obsession was inspired by another thing we finally watched: The Last Dance docu-series, which chronicles the 1990s Chicago Bulls as they went for their sixth and final title. At first I was really grooving on Scottie Pippen, learning about his playing style, often relegated to the second paragraph (rightfully so) behind Michael Jordan (GOAT). Then I met Dennis “The Worm” Rodman. Like, basketball Dennis Rodman. I’m so compelled by him! I’m trying to figure out why? I love the way he played basketball, I know that much. Gutter ball go-getter, beast hunter of the rankest of rebounds, trash-talking trash man king of the trash can people…
3) Art as self-authorization. That both of the angry, broken-hearted people listed above struggled with addiction issues all their lives, is the only thing not surprising to me.
I’m interested in people who have channeled extraordinary pain into something else and then turned that “something else” into a brand new something else. Something only they could do or make or be. And if it’s got a little dash of rebellious, self-supporting stank on it, even better. Dennis Rodman became his own performance art piece on the basketball court after accepting that the love/loyalty he thought existed in the world did not, in fact, exist; turning into Dennis Rodman as we now know and (I) love him was the alternative to suicide. For Yates, writing about loneliness, hopelessness, and self-dishonesty the way he did throbs with recognition; this is someone who lived most of their life feeling like a balloon within a balloon, disconnected from others and bumbling about in the void.
Maybe what’s appealing to me about Yates and Rodman right now relates to the third thing I thought about a lot this past month: the idea that being an artist is simply a matter of self-authorization—authorizing yourself to see what you see and express it however you see fit, then move on. I dig that. Feel inspired by it. Even when it comes from deeply flawed sources. Especially when it comes from deeply flawed sources (who have tried and failed to redeem themselves over and over). For those artists I am “rotten with sentimentality.”
Related: Below are some videos I made for my gallery’s Instagram stories this month. I ~authorized~ myself to learn how to animate my work and post it even if I don’t think it’s perfect yet. Can’t wait to see what February brings. Stay healthy, friends.
Yo Yo Mama
*Thanksgiving Thursday to Cyber Monday*
Get a free limited-edition tote bag when you spend $100 or more at shop.JackieMantey.com Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday (November 26-30).
The special tote bag features a heat-pressed print of my photography, embroidery, and illustration collaged into one awesome sack design appropriate for any and all sack-related things.
The boy slurppin’ on some soft serve while barefoot on a sidewalk is one of my favorite moments from my 2018 gallery show at Slate Arts. It was fun to bring him back out to play again, this time in Adobe Illustrator.🍦
Like always, tax is included in the shop list price, and shipping is free!
Check out these posters I made for the [email protected] Artwork Campaign in San Francisco!
I’ve been learning how to cut out photos in Photoshop and decided to use a cutout of my embroidered pizza-party-boy patriot as a starting point. The exhibition prompt: “Express creative activism and promote democratic participation in the lead-up to Election Day and beyond.” ✌️🖕✊
All the artworks in the exhibition (on view online and in the windows of Hubbell Street Galleries at California College of the Arts) have been made into free, downloadable posters that you can print out and share to encourage others to get involved in their communities.
I took a playful angle with my entries, but there’s some really striking work up there, including a participatory Google maps photo project that pins found, littered masks—American Values by artist Amy Tavern.
Go to creativecitizens.cca.edu to see all the stellar work and download your favorites. Then go vote and/or eat pizza while you wash your face mask.
😷🗳️🍕🦅🕊️📮🇺🇲 #presidentsarelikepizzatoppings #youchoose