2019 Kuhlman Fiber Arts & Wearable Arts Scholarship
It was a long time before X could set the note aside, let alone lift Esme's father's wristwatch out of the box. When he did finally lift it out, he saw that its crystal had been broken in transit. He wondered if the watch was otherwise undamaged, but he hadn't the courage to wind it and find out. He just sat with it in his hand for another long period. Then, suddenly, almost ecstatically, he felt sleepy. You take a really sleepy man, Esme, and he always stands a chance of again becoming a man with all his fac- with all his f-a-c-u- 1-t-i-e-s intact.
MODELED BY: GRACE RICKERT, PHOTOGRAPHED BY: GRACE ANDERSON
When reflecting upon this year’s Kuhlman theme, Full Circle, I was inspired by the trope of time as a cyclical force in so many literary works. Though intangible and transcendent, time serves as a catalyst for introspection and a vehicle for growth. In particular, I sought to pay homage to my favorite short story, JD Salinger’s For Esmé— With Love and Squalor (anthologized today in Nine Stories). As World War II faded into a romanticized memory in post-war America, the publication of the piece (1950) brought to national attention the adversity of war veterans’ return to civilian life. The story recounts the relationship between an orphan, Esmé, whose father passed in battle, and Sergeant X, an enlisted American soldier in England. They form a friendship over mutual solitude as as he enters battle after battle. At the end of the piece, the now disillusioned Sergeant X just survived V-E day but at the cost of his sanity and sense of purpose. He is frozen in this state of spiritual vacancy when he receives a package from Esmé: her father’s war watch, now shattered in transit.
I reread this piece over and over again throughout my design process, examining the force of time in the context of X’s mental and physical deterioration. Time seems to function as a circle, traveling passively as a constant lull. His cycle of battles are not a linear trajectory of events, but, rather, a recurring series of ebbs and flows— combat, overcoming, and healing. Ultimately, as loss, grief, guilt, and a waning sense of purpose culminate, post-traumatic stress disorder consumes X’s conscience. He is fractured beyond repair, left with no sense of time or self, nothing but Esmé’s broken watch. Ultimately, trauma is the only force capable of disrupting the circular nature of time.
My piece explores the tension between the cycle of time and the force of trauma. Its architecture juxtaposes circular, organic forms with stark structure; the bodice is a fluid, roundabout path of lace hand-embroidered with broken clockwork from the 1950s that shifts into a mosaic of mirror shards, a trite talisman for a broken image of self. The gradience seeks to engage the viewer to follow the circular path of clockwork around the form, which leads to a fractured reflection of their own selves in the mosaic of mirrors.
Paradoxically, the harsh mirror remnants, though disrupting the intricate brocade of clockwork, continue to move in a circular path, indicating a path toward healing and recovery. Behind the garment, swirls of shards coated in clockwork spiral on the walls in a similar form. In between the mosaics are analog photos I took in a clock factory this summer. I superimposed film of window reflections, production parts, clock dials, and the facility’s architecture onto one another to create an abstract representation of the broken pieces utilized in producing a working clock. The interplay between the circular path of clockwork and broken mirrors throughout the installation seeks to convey the numbing effect of disrupted time, raising questions on one’s sense of self in the face of trauma, and the hope of rewinding as one reclaims their sense of time.