Red Hook at Bedford Terrace, installation view. Photograph by Jeff Derose.
The commission to create an installation for
Ann Johnson, who served as the Museum’s administrative assistant from 1984 to 2006, was funded by gifts from the members of the Museum’s Visiting Committee.
The exhibition is supported by the Museum of Art Program Fund and the Maxine Weil Kunstadter (class of 1924) Fund.
Ties that Bind:
Connectivity and Community
“I WORK LIKE THE SPIDER I never intended to be: building things within things—all the while risking erasure.” Artist Sheila Pepe's site-specific installations are handmade from ready-made materials meant to hold, tie, or connect. Shoelaces, a reminder of her grandfather, who owned a shoe repair shop in lower Manhattan, are crocheted into room-spanning nets and swags. Yarns, associated with feminine handiwork, are crocheted into lines and abstract forms. On a larger scale, Pepe deploys immense blue braids of nautical towline and, on occasion, gigantic rubber bands used to strap cargo. These domestic and industrial materials come together as the warp and weft of her installations, whose lines swing through space, dangle, coil, and pool.
This kind of connectivity is reflected not only in Pepe’s methods and materials but in the commission that led to the creation of Red Hook at Bedford Terrace. More than twenty years ago, Pepe worked for the Smith College Museum of Art, first as a gallery guard, then as a preparator’s assistant and later as a curatorial and administrative intern. She declared her intention to become an important voice in contemporary art, a bold aspiration that has since been realized. Pepe went on to earn her MFA at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in 1995, and moved to New York in 1999 to continue her career. Now the assistant chair of the fine arts department of Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and with more than fifty major public installations to her credit, Pepe has returned to Northampton and her first museum family to create an installation in honor of former staff member Ann Johnson. The installation, which will become part of SCMA’s permanent collection, refers in its title to Pepe’s current residence in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and to the Museum’s location at the top of Bedford Terrace.
Pepe considers her installation practice “as a place where the physicality and aesthetics of modernism could be un-ironically embraced through my own feminism and sense of community.” The installation for SCMA combines community in its most literal sense by incorporating elements created by Smith College students, staff, alumnae, and other volunteers. Each was given a small box enclosing a skein of orange or green yarn and simple knitting instructions. For example, the instructions geared for students directed the knitter to:
- Cast-on the number of credits you are carrying this semester.
- Listen to your favorite random mix of no more than 5 songs: knit rows for the duration of the first song, purl rows for the duration of the second song. Alternate knit/purl through the duration of each song until there is no more yarn.
Each knitted element, therefore, is different in appearance, and each is personally encoded for and by its maker.