From Schoolhouse To White House (2019) Wood, tassels, flocking, yarn. 58” x 76” x 12."
Title from Alice Allison Dunnigan’s autobiography, A Black Woman’s Experience: From Schoolhouse to White House. Kentucky History: Honors Alice Allison Dunnigan, first African-American female correspondent in the White House and member of the Senate and House of Representative press galleries.
LAURA MONGIOVI’s sculptures are material-driven contemplations of the past, both sociopolitical and geologic. She uses the repetition of stitching, braiding, and knitting to physically process local history. The resulting abstractions crafted from tactile materials, are paired with informational text, drawing attention to lesser-known people and events. Laura has an MFA from University of Colorado Boulder and a BFA from Florida State University. In 2019, she initiated and co-organized the Deeper Than Indigo: Southeast Textile Symposium at Flagler College (St. Augustine, FL). Recent solo exhibitions include The Grass is Blue (2019) at Georgetown College in Kentucky and Northward (2018) at Arts on Douglas in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Laura is a recipient of the Northeast Florida Individual Artist Grant (2018) and the Arrowmont Pentaculum Residency (2020). She lives and works in St. Augustine, Florida.
Laura Mongiovi: I often research a particular time and place. I am interested in exposing origins; I consider the past a vital component in understanding the present and navigating the future. I am most interested in sensual experiences and utilize associated materials. Our relationship with distinct materials taps into our senses, powerful conduits for reflection and emotional response.
Upon researching Northeast Florida, where I currently reside, I discovered the history of indigo plantations. I began experimenting with indigo dye and ink to visually communicate stories about a color that led to enslaved labor. Such stories bring awareness to the humanitarian histories, as well as current textile practices, associated with the production of indigo. Another example, I collected water from the Atlantic ocean and boiled to produce salt. The salt was incorporated into a piece about Kentucky geographic history for a solo exhibition The Grass Is Blue at Georgetown College. Kentucky was once underwater, covered by the Atlantic Ocean and present day salt licks are residue of receded ocean water. The memory of salt and taste allows the viewer to connect with this information beyond the visual experience.
Tracks (2019) Felt, faux fur, yarn, thread. 14" x 17"The demand for fur in Europe was great. Indigenous peoples hunted beyond their own needs so they could trade fur for tailored shirts, guns and gunpowder.
OPP: You’ve stitched thread into felt for years. What keeps you coming back to these materials?
LM: Tufts and elevated marks echo topography. As I work, I trace my hands over the surface, aware of valleys and mountains. I am mapping, connecting with space and time.
OPP: Tell us a bit about your process? How do you start a new piece, generally speaking?
LM: My process is deeply rooted in research. My research includes tangible experiences as well as gathering resources about a particular time, place or subject. I carefully consider how materials and processes can visually communicate content and meaning. If I don’t have the materials or process knowledge, I will embark on a search for materials and learn a new process. I then begin exploring materials and/or process. Sometimes my first attempt is successful. The majority of time, I am reworking ideas, learning about materials and process for future pieces.
Claimed Union With The Earth (2019) Yarn. 45” x 56” x 5."
Title from bell hooks poem #5. Kentucky History: The significance of hair and sweet grass among Indigenous Peoples.
OPP: Many of your works might be viewed solely as material abstraction if the viewer didn’t read the title card. In two recent series, The Grass is Blue and This Land is My Land, the long-ignored histories of Indigenous peoples and enslaved Africans are highlighted via titles and supporting text. Do you consider this language part of the work or the context for the work? Is this distinction important to you?
LM: This is a good question – led me to reflect on how I arrived at decisions to use language. I was a gallery monitor during my undergraduate years. I noticed the majority of visitors read the title card before viewing visual work. I came to the conclusion that people wanted to “know” what they were looking at, an explanation, and relied on the title card to guide perception. This observation led me to eliminate titles from my work for many years. I wanted the work to speak for itself, the visual experience to dominate and the viewer to arrive at their own interpretation. As I matured in my studio practice and expanded my research practices, I realized language providing historical reference can serve as context and not necessarily guide the viewer toward a particular conclusion. I also see this information as an additional honor toward the visual stories I am telling. Perhaps similar to a plaque that accompanies a visual commemorating a person or event. So, yes this distinction is important to me as my intent is to create visual work that provides moments for investigation and contemplation while acknowledging the past.
This Land Is My Land (2019) Felt, metallic thread, air dry clay, wood, steel, paint. Detail.
Shell middens, left behind by indigenous peoples, buried under colonialism.
OPP: 2020 has been a challenging year—that’s putting it mildly—for most of us. How have the events of the past six months affected your studio practice?
LM: With projects and exhibitions postponed, I have time to explore ideas that have been kicking around and finish pieces that have been patiently waiting for me in the studio. Some of these ideas and pieces may not work out and that is okay. Time spent investigating will lead me to new ideas. So, I would have to say the unusual circumstances of 2020 have afforded me time to reflect and catch up.