In this edition of Member Monday, TSA News speaks to Assistant Professor Gabrielle Duggan about their ambitious textile installation hosted by the Greenville Parks and Recreation in October 2020 in Greenville, NC. Prof. Duggan explores textile structures through installations that visualize the tension between the human and the beyond human world.
Can you tell us about being the Artist in Residence at Wildside, City for the Greenville Recreation and Parks in Greenville, NC and your project, EITHERWAY?
EITHERWAY was a large, temporary installation constructed across an inlet of water on Tuscarora/Skaruhreh land.DSM Dyneema® strands were improvisationally intertwined via basic crochet methods to hold each other under tension across a horizontal plane. Working aboard a kayak over two weeks, this webbed plane eventually materialized large letters that spelled out “EITHERWAY.”
What were your goals for this project?
My goals felt both simple and ambitious. I wanted to continue pursuing my work with water and connect with a landscape that was new to me since relocating to Greenville in August 2019. I sought to experiment with technical, site-specific ideas that had been in development for several years—most significantly from my work, obsolescence in 2018, and others dating back to 2002. As physical labor is very important in my practice, this project was also a way to stay active, particularly during a year of virtual work and isolation. It provided both a challenge and a needed diversion as the Fall 2020 semester began.
In obsolescence (2018), you explore creating tension suspended above water. Could you tell us more about what inspired you to explore this concept of a tenuous plane and what role text plays in EITHERWAY?
The phrase ‘either way’ came to mind in 2020 as a reflection of the resiliency demanded by this challenging year, the recent years leading up to it, and that which can be learned from other species’ survival of our own (also see: The World Without Us, Alan Weisman).
The sentiment ‘either way’ perhaps offers an initial impression of a stern tenacity but to me has felt more like inevitable facts: there will always be oppressed lives that survive their oppressor; there will always be ideas that survive the oppressed and cannot be contained.
Through the act of surviving, we find ourselves bound to an inescapable desire to live, to find beauty, to not give up- strange convulsions pulling us forward unexpectedly, supernaturally. These sometimes alien impulses mirror biological demonstrations in which life refuses to give up on us even if we are beyond ready to give up on it.
So this ‘either way’ phrase symbolizes to me a non-negotiable survival instinct that includes the wisdom and reckoning that results from experiences of survival. The meaning of the text has now also absorbed the impact of what transpired in the completion of this work—its near destruction and stubborn continuation—the work came to embody this idea physically.
The pensive nature of this phrase’s format draws attention to the power of the oppressed, particularly when their oppressor is confronted with the fact of their survival.
Installing this on a water bank seems like it would have provided many logistical challenges. What challenges did you experience creating an installation in this location and were there any additional precautions needed due to the land’s sporting use?
I received approval for the use of this site and secured a loaned,12 ft. X 52 lb. kayak, which I transported on and off site daily. This commute included navigating down the 15-foot bank to launch and back up to lash to the car and transport home daily. I was told that this site was out of the way from public use and that hunters and fishers used it regularly; I was sure to wear flagging colors.
The site had a canopy of young and old trees with some breaks to the sky. This was a natural habitat for a large variety of insects including ticks, mosquitos, and a range of large spiders (Dolomedes tenebrosus, Pholcus phalangiodes); water snakes and amphibians; blue herons; and mullet. Small fire ants burrowed into deep moss on the banks. When climbing out of the kayak, my hands would land in the moss, wrapping around roots as handles, and ants would bite without my knowing. On at least two different occasions, just one of these bites rendered my hand dysfunctional for 24 hours.
After over two weeks of work, I scheduled a drone to document the piece on a Saturday and went out on Friday to finalize details. After a full day of virtual meetings, I arrived to find the piece essentially destroyed. Two of six anchor points had been cut and about 85% of the work had sunk underwater and had been swept into a pile on the side of one bank. It was not clear who had cut the work or their motivations. It was incredibly disappointing that it had been transformed into an environmental hazard by these cuts.
This type of work does not exist without documentation. Even I could not know this piece except by drone; I had not truly seen the work myself yet.
Stepping into stunned-triage actions, I began collecting the edges that I could from the visually impenetrable liquid—a river from which I had observed various small heads emerging over these weeks, presumably turtle or snake. I worked to gather and resituate the slack into a sort of tension in order to at least secure a controlled deinstall. My concern over the piece as a now-rendered fishing net was immediately validated as I reconnected the first anchor point and found a small turtle entangled.
The sight struck me with fear and sorrow and anger. A few gasps escaped my body as it began to sob as the damage was so clearly huge and only more traumatic to the one trapped. In this moment, I became most literally spider-like; my body was a bridge between the unmanaged materials, and multiple points of contact were needed to balance boat, turtle, scissors, and multiple angles of material. A water snake watched us from a nearby branch. After successfully freeing the turtle, I worked to pull the rest of the piece above the surface of the water before the daylight was completely gone and scanned for anyone else that might have been trapped in this slack.
An artist friend checked on me that night and I explained my situation over the phone. They encouraged me to not cancel documentation but to embrace this moment as part of the piece. They also suggested the danger in encountering the vandal(s) and asked me to not work alone at the site any longer.
I had lifted the piece away from harming any others but had to release my expectations- original vision or hope of repair before documentation.
This piece creates such a delicate visual in the documentation yet speaks so clearly of tension. What did this work teach you that you will take forward for future work?
I see this work as a test for new challenges. It taught me to advocate for clearer communication with the public about this type of work. Despite securing proper planning and approval, public education and clearer communication for the project could have prevented the destruction that occurred. It has made me more clearly aware of the tenuous nature of public projects, even those ‘tucked away’ and unannounced.
I am considering ways to further the explorations begun in this work: ways to go bigger, higher; differences in contexts such as suspension above water or in the sky.
Gabe Duggan (b. Buffalo, New York) has taught fibers/textiles at the University of North Texas, Georgia State University, and North Carolina State University before assuming his current position as an assistant professor at East Carolina University.