Alibi V.25 No.44 • Nov 3-9, 2016 

Culture Shock

Stitch in Time

Cecilia McKinnon's work explores home, memory and repair

Sewing Machine
Cecilia McKinnon

Cecilia McKinnon—“X-Files” fan, curator, musician, art history nerd and self-described “natural hoarder”—is perhaps first and foremost an artist—in the many definitions the word encompasses—whose works assume a full expression of concept, feeling and design. In a new body of work, titled Home Remedies, that will open at Small Engine Gallery on Nov. 4, McKinnon has constructed new works “built around the idea of repair and the act of homemaking,” as she put it. With found materials and through fiber arts, McKinnon doesn't so much nest as deconstruct the concepts and artifacts so closely associated with home life—literally and figuratively.

“I've been really playing with the idea of repairing things in a way that makes them useless,” she explained. “Like, I started out with these window screens and … I cut holes in them, obscuring them in the process so they stop being functional for their intended purpose.” In a world where our primary habitats—the interiors of our homes—are all built from mass produced materials and industrially manufactured, “we're all kind of alienated from our own spaces,” she explained. Reclaiming a little bit of that space in her own way, McKinnon alters these vestiges of home to cull forth the concept. “It's purely about aesthetic. It's not about function. It looks wrong, it looks incorrect. It looks like a human hand was involved … which is something we try to erase as much as possible from the built environment.” Through that intervention, McKinnon renews and re-imagines the relationship to home, industry and the act of homemaking—seeing it as both decoration and construction, but perhaps most poignantly as the human impulse to imbue our spaces and personal artifacts with significance, a meaning that is largely built through memory.

“I've been really playing with the idea of repairing things in a way that makes them useless,” she explained. “Like, I started out with these window screens and … I cut holes in them, obscuring them in the process so they stop being functional for their intended purpose.”

“Something that's less tangibly present about the work is my fixation on the entropy of memory and the way memory degrades … working with salvaged objects creates this opportunity to visualize what I think of as the processes of memory; [memories] building and accumulating on top of each other and wearing away in places,” she described. In many ways, the home is a manifestation of consciousness and memory, a way to recapture what's passed in the shape of tangible objects. “Home is … the place that holds your memories and the place that you attach [memories] to. When you spend that much time in a physical place, the things build up around you,” McKinnon described, and these objects take on varying shades of disrepair, disuse, novelty or timeworn glory.

The themes are largely tied together through weaving and embroidery—both mediums suffused with their own complicated history. “[It's] been a way for me to sort out my feelings about fiber arts as a form that is so rooted in craft that sometimes the work you do [in the medium] is disregarded,” she detailed—of course, fiber arts are also strongly associated with femininity and domesticity, another reason for the tendency to relegate them to something lesser than formal art.

“I have weird and conflicted feelings when it comes to my home … that I want to work through,” McKinnon said shortly before we packed our bags and headed out into the warming morning. Despite the numerous ideas saturating the works of Home Remedies, McKinnon's bright and articulate ways of enunciating them cut to the heart of what is sometimes thought of as the most mundane, but is actually the most intimate relationship we have with a piece of architecture—a relationship fraught with all the complexities of human habits, structures and emotions. These monuments and ruins of home are well worth a look. The opening reception for Home Remedies will take place at Small Engine Gallery (1413 Fourth Street SW) from 6-10pm on Friday, Nov. 4, and by appointment until Nov. 14 (contact mckinnoncecilia@gmail.com).