Interview with Andy Mauery

As we begin our new cycle of A POSSIBLE PRACTICE, we welcome our nine featured artists to reflect on how the world keeps ending, and the world goes on. In this series of interviews, we’ll discover more about each artist’s work, their practices, and what it means to be making art during this time of intense global change. Andy Mauery is a Maine-based visual artist whose current work often focuses on species endangered in New England, or those having some type of protected or rare status recognized by government entities.

When we selected Franny Choi’s poem “The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On” in December 2019, we could not have envisioned the ways we would each be asked to accept new levels of grief and apocalypse into our daily lives. What initially drew you to this poem? How has your understanding of the poem changed since then? What elements / images / phrases strike you most now? 

I love the poem, it grabbed my from the first line, “Before the apocalypse, there was the apocalypse of boats:…” and already I was thinking, which apocalypse of boats, there is more than one from by lifetime alone—which group of desperate people fleeing which horrific situation to which shores? So many cataclysms to choose from. It’s terrible to have so many examples, and in the poem the damages are listed matter-of-factly in beautiful language. And clearly part of an ongoing cycle, it’s a done deal. The apocalypse of bees is one that I look at in my work.

hair sculpture, stitched endangered bee

Drawing of an endangered bee stitched in human hair. large rusty patched bumblebee (Bombus affinis). Human hair, thread, pin. 7”h x 1.5”w x 1”d. 2015.

Now, I focus more on the end of the poem, the numbing and returning to daily business, deaf to the continued destruction. It feels so timely, to the fearful discussions about next steps with our human pandemic. I listen to debates about our new normal and hear the longing from some for everything to be the same, I watch the government strip ecological protections away under the guise of betterment. Compounding the early apocalypses, building on the dangerous “othering” that encourages more ruin. I also hear more rumbling, see more pushing against business as usual, knowing that some ears are still attuned to what’s going on.

What are you planning to create for this cycle? How does your work relate to the themes in “The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On”?

I am going to create fiber works that can act as mourning jewelry, mostly hair but possibly using some flax and other hairy fibers, that feature stitched images of endangered/threatened species of New England/worldwide plants and animals. I may include some diatom and plankton imagery in there, too, to get a sense of the microscopic portions of this apocalypse. Ideally I’m creating a larger installation, that will be dismantled bit by bit as people choose to take away the small, wearable pieces that create the larger whole. This will deplete the actual overall artwork, but hopefully motivate each wearer to stewardship of their chosen species. I do think there is a type of hope in mourning, a hope to go on and to maintain an ongoing relationship with what you’ve lost; and I sincerely hope that we aren’t too far gone, that we can still act to save some of our vanishing species. My apocalypses are the continued losses of once-common species, inextricably linked with the apocalypse of the other, of women, of meaningful ritual and exchange. 

Hair has many connotations—of the human body, of the mammalian animal body, of the feminine. How and when did the use of / adornment of hair enter your creative practice? How is it tied to your personal / our collective history?

Hmmmmm, hair and fibers have been a part of my practice for a long time. As a child, I played in my paternal grandmother’s hair salon, which was a small room in her house. I was fascinated that this separate business room with all of its mysterious social and aesthetic rules was just through a door in her living room. She was unusually tolerant with me about it, and let me set and reset a ratty auburn wig, and clean combs and brushes in luridly colored, smelly liquids. It felt like a taboo mix of science and gossip in there, and so tactile. Also, I was an unlovely child with frizzy/curly auburn hair, which was the physical feature of mine that attracted some positive attention as a child (some negative, as well.) I did find it odd that adults seemed often to be discussing people’s appearances. I mean, did we not all have hair, or those balding older people had once had it so what’s the big deal? It seemed like a dangerous territory, to have your appearance be something that could count both for and against you, when really most of it was just how you came packaged, right?  My maternal grandmother, Grammy, lived with us growing up. And she usually had her hands busy, one of her seasonal projects was crocheting snowflakes that we put on the Christmas tree. I don’t think she ever taught me to make them successfully, I convinced her to try at least once but didn’t really get the hang of it enough to practice it, and we tend to take for granted that we have so much time with our loved ones and we can just get to things later… but she would encourage me to make things and stay busy, and this I think is definitely a part of the fibers approach as well: stay useful, use your time well, keep making.

I was in college studying art when I realized that my fascination with hair was creeping into my work, reasserting itself into the learned art history and criticism parts of education. I took a great fibers class as an undergrad, but really focused on the traditional techniques with animal fibers, and human hair crept in a few years after. Really I am not a good fibers artist, I don’t practice any of the techniques enough to be very skilled at any one of them. It was exciting to find other craft and art practices that used animal and human hair, it’s finding your people. Also, as someone who doesn’t have ease with spoken/written communication, finding other artists who made these powerful works and then could speak eloquently about their meanings was so welcome. 

In our collective history, animal hair is the primary fiber, right? Yes I include humans as animals. We can daily pluck it, shave it, collect the sheddings…also some plants are easily processed to collect fibers, some it’s a more arduous process… It just feels like the start of weaving was such a practical, but-of-course, solution to so many needs. And really, there were such great technologies for fiber work in so many now-lost civilizations. When I was in Peru, I saw woven wool that we still can’t replicate in terms of its fineness and strength. And the first time I saw a bridle made of horsehair, just yes, of course, that’s perfectly right.  

How do you envision people interacting with your pieces? 

I’m hoping they want to touch, own, wear the smaller pieces that feature the endangered species images. I’m wishing to find a way to activate a contract with people, to ensure that by taking home the piece(s) they should also endeavor to find ways to help the species pictured—without dictating to them how they might enact these protections. That part is really rather their business, but I’d love to collect information back from them about what they do… I think if I add extinct species images in the mix, which is likely, that the wearer/owner should name the lost species to others while wearing/displaying it, to find and tell stories of it, to keep some narrative of its existence alive in the current world. I think forgetting and ignoring is the big danger, too much desensitizing, too much fear of admitting grief and acknowledging mistakes and losses.

How does your practice engage with processing personal and/or collective grief through art?

Well, returning to the idea of mourning jewelry here makes sense. I’m going to mention American mourning jewelry here, since many other cultures use wearable reminders of ancestors but in varying ways… some Victorian mourning jewelry was worn to show an awareness of death, a mindfulness of how we should be living our lives. These could be Momento Mori (“remember death”), which directly depict symbols of death like skulls, coffins, worms, etc. But the type I really love are the pieces that used more subtle symbolism (various flowers reference different characteristics, anchors for faith, using pearls as tears, etc) but most importantly used the hair of a loved one as material. So you were actually keeping part of your loved person with you as you wore it, either under glass in a locket or pin, or in the woven/plaited loops of a bracelet, or even pulverized in paint. There were even DIY instructions in popular ladies magazines, so you could do the work yourself (and avoid having other hair substituted at the jewelers, of course.) 

I really respond to being able to show your grief in a way that’s open, and public, and accepted by others. I think that’s something that’s quite hard to do right now, to be allowed to openly mourn something or someone that you’ve lost for the period of time that works for you, months or years or decades. Grief isn’t shameful, it’s not a lack of strength, or an inability to, “get over,” something. It’s a natural response to losing something valuable. I think we collectively need to grieve for all that we’re losing, so much that we’ve lost, to acknowledge the ongoing and everyday pain of loss. I think it’s also true that to grieve collectively we have to have empathy, to be able to see and acknowledge each other. But we need to practice it, because we don’t really know how to do it. I think loss and death is something that we tend to isolate in our country, we isolate or separate those who are suffering, who are in pain or ill, who have suffered trauma. We seem to think it’s most graceful if people can suffer in silence while maintaining normal productivity, best not to intrude into other’s comfort or cause disruption for other people. I don’t think most people enact this maliciously: it’s just what we know, what we practice now, out of habit to try to keep up the illusion of control. 

So making work that visually represents something/someone lost and gone, to be worn and identified, that seems a valid ritual, a valid practice. Being seen, choosing to wear a momento of loss, potentially starting conversations about grief and what we give up or have taken from us.

What are you listening to / reading / looking at right now?

Love to read. Anne Lamott (will read anything of hers, most recently, “Almost Everything: notes on hope.” The actress/writer/journalist Louise Brealey was reading the Tove Jansson book, “Comet in Moominland,” chapter by chapter on Instagram live. She’s in England, so her 9pm reads were 4pm reads for me—it’s really lovely being read to, and she’s a wonderful reader and would chat before and after each chapter… I like connecting with people on Instagram that I wouldn’t otherwise. Like wake+rave with DJ Skooch, who I swear is a mindreader and drops tracks that are my nostalgic triggers, lots of kitchen dancing there. Looking at tons of recipes, gardening tips, and art. Artstuff==Henry Klimowicz cardboard works, Grainne Morton’s jewelry, Posts from the Drawing Center, Cogey’s Vintage Astrology Memes, Dan Schildkret’s Morning Altars, #creepiestobject which is the latest curator battle trying to find the world’s creepies museum piece.

Describe your practice space.  

Right now I am all about the sketchbook. I am in the process of setting up my sewing spot now at home, I can’t get to my studio at the moment because it’s located at my workplace, which is closed. My regular studio has three small workrooms, which is very cool. I call it my artpartment, and the biggert space has a sink and I use it as a changeable “project room,” the smallest room is drawing/material storage, and the other small room is sewing and fabricating. I’m making it sound larger than it is, but I am so lucky to have the space to work in. The sewing room has one window and gets good morning light, and I have white fiber board for pin up on two walls so it feels bright. 

I live in a partially renovated house without a single great option for a studio spot, and like many people am going through multiple life transitions…because of course other difficulties don’t smooth themselves out to accommodate the new worries of a pandemic. So I will set up my sewing machine in the corner of one room, and clear and set up the kitchen table.

What’s the last thing that made you laugh out loud? 

I texted my sister to report that my son told me that every other mother he knew let their kids stay up later than I did, so they were all better moms. She texted back, “true. We all rock. You just suck.” It hit me just right.

What is an important message you’ve recently received?

“The death of human empathy is one of the earliest and most telling signs of a culture about to fall into barbarism.” —Hannah Arendt

The entire book, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, is so great and feels like a funny and serious message about following your creative path. I usually gravitate towards the chapter, “Shitty First Drafts.” Seriously, get something out there. Perfectionism is the enemy. 

“You got this” texts from my girlfriends; “love you” texts from my family.  thank you, lovely humans. 

We can be heroes,
just for one day
We can be us,
just for one day

Andy Mauery is a Maine-based visual artist whose current work often focuses on species endangered in New England, or those having some type of protected or rare status recognized by government entities. Her work has appeared in national and international exhibitions, including the Chaves de la Rosa Cultural Complex (Peru); MOBIUS in Boston; SPACES gallery in Cleveland; and 3S Artspace in Portsmouth, NH. She’s been the grateful recipient of several grants including an A.R.T. Fund Individual Award from Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, a Good Idea from the Maine Arts Commission, and an individual fellowship from The American-Scandinavian Foundation.


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