Hanging from the walls and ceiling like a massive, colorful spider web, Sheila Pepe’s yarn installation exhibit, “Common Sense,” gives audience members a chance to interact with the artwork at the show’s finale. At Pepe’s recent show in Boston, some exhibit goers crocheted beer cozies using yarn from the exhibit, while another made a cap for her unborn baby.
The traveling interactive exhibit by Pepe, opened at He Said, She Said gallery, 216 N. Harvey Ave., in Oak Park, Ill., on April 9. The yarn installation is strung abstractly across the space, with some crochet pieces hanging and others woven together like a web. When the exhibit ends on May 14, the audience will get to dismantle the piece and crochet their own work with the yarn.
“For me, this is the first time I’ve selected an artist who’s working with something so interactive,” said Pamela Fraser, co-owner of He Said, She Said.
Fraser and her husband, Randall Szott, have differing views on art and opened the gallery to start a discussion about it.
“The basic premise is that we had this ongoing disagreement of art and culture,” Szott said. “It had been playing itself out in conversations with friends, so we said we’d come up with a way to make this conversation more formal.”
“Common Sense” was a new way to get people involved with art, Fraser said. Pepe brings the installation to the gallery space and designs it there. According to Pepe, no two pieces are ever alike because all galleries are different.
The main focus for this type of art is the deconstruction process. Pepe, who has been doing yarn installations since the mid ’90s, said she decided on the deconstruction element while showing her work in Austin in a private home gallery. She wanted the work to represent the idea of a home but recognized she needed to add a contrasting element to it.
“It’s like bringing tea to China,” she said. “I’m bringing knitting back to the home. What kind of transition is that? There’s
Pepe and curator Elizabeth Dunbar discussed how to add such an element to the show. She said the two decided the piece needed to be taken apart by audience members and turned into something else. By doing this, Pepe said the art work comes full circle by returning to people’s homes in the form of different knitted objects.
People who come to the final show get to interact with the art in ways they can’t with most exhibits, Pepe said. To her, the temporary nature of “Common Sense” represents the ephemeral nature of woman’s labor—it always continues. In the process, it becomes a more social interaction with art and other people.
The gallery contacted Pepe about bringing the exhibit to He Said, She Said in early 2011. The gallery is in Fraser’s and Szott’s home, and she thought it would be perfect to present the piece in a domestic environment.
“It sort of takes over the space to some degree,” Fraser said. “When Pepe was setting it up, my son already turned it into a trapeze, and Pepe suggested I invite some of his friends to have a more child-like deconstruction of it.”
Fraser said she hasn’t decided whether to go that route or contact a local sewing group in Oak Park to crochet the yarn. Either way, she was glad Pepe gave her artistic freedom with the piece.
So far, “Common Sense” has traveled to Houston, Boston, Austin and internationally to Tbilisi in the Republic of Georgia. At each location, the audience reacted differently to being able to take the piece apart. Pepe said in Boston, where the work was shown in a for-profit gallery space, people felt bad about touching the art and didn’t want to destroy it.
Because the piece is taken down and used, Pepe said she has started to feel she’s done all she can with the work. According to her, this will be the last tour of
“I wanted to experience this big giveaway and have an opportunity to talk about returning the process to its home design origins, the [do-it-yourself] origins and the origin of feminist work,” Pepe said.