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The Fine Art of Taking Things Apart

by Lili Artel

image:The Fine Art of Taking Things Apart.Lili Artel.jpg

I'm a fibre sculptor, a late bloomer, not having come to art until I was 50 years old. Though I studied all the traditional techniques and materials, I work in papers, ropes, fabric, nylon hose, leather etc. I create art as a process to allow play and chance to infuse my work as my imagination converts straw into gold.

A fiber artist, using non-art-related materials, I consider my art the fine art of taking things apart.

A process artist, I make quirky forays into curiosity and play.


I can still hear her scream. Silently it reverberates in my memory in all its shrillness. Now I can hear the anguish. Then it was just a piercing sound that shook me out of my rapt playing with a doll.

I'm sitting atop a pile of coats on my parents' bed. The coats belong to my father's family. The woman who shrieks is my father's half sister, Aunt Jennie. Two hours ago she'd presented me with a doll; in my four years of living I'd never seen one like it before. She had real light brown hair in curls and blue eyes that opened and shut like mine. Her limbs flexed at the elbows and knees like mine.

For two hours I was under the doll's spell: brushing her hair, opening and shutting her eyes, bending her arms and legs, again and again? When Aunt Jennie came for her coat, there were bald spots on her head; the glassy eyes lay in the hollow of her head; the arms and legs hung limply.


I can't say that this incident presaged that I'd be an artist or a deconstructionist. Pablo Picasso was of the opinion that the artist destroys in order to create. What it implies is that I have a hefty component of curiosity in my makeup. I still take things apart out of curiosity. Curiosity is the catalyst of my creativity. In a taken apart cast-off garment, the shape of a part, a sleeve, or a zipper, stimulates my imagination. In a piece based on seeing the salt-evaporation ponds from an airplane, I began with the seat of a pair of sage-green corduroy slacks. This I call "Eye-magination" which is a perceptive eye capable of seeing other possibilities in reality link up with imaginative impulses.

Curiosity initiates the process: what if?what if?what if I tear the paper instead of cutting it? What is I glue papers together and then tear them apart? What if I run my car over wet paper? What if?


Albert Einstein believed that play (the ability to play like a child) is highly relevant to the scientist's process. In my art process, from rip to stitch, play plays as significant part. I seek images not only for pictorial value but also for emotional impact. Sometimes it calls for exploring the unknown. I'd always seen vines laden with grape clusters. I wanted to do a vine sending forth its first growth in the Spring. I visualized myself as such a vine. I flailed my arms around as if they were shoots springing forth. This kinetic approach proved right. I went to see a vineyard in the Spring. The vines were sending out whip-like branches from the stock.

The sculptor Alberto Giacometti once said, "One must create a vision, not merely something that one knows to exist." It is reassuring for me that something like the idea of a vision can exist.

Play allows me to incorporate the random in my pieces. Random implies chance/disorder. The way I obtain materials certainly indicates disorder. Recently, I went to my wicker trunk to get some velvet cloth I'd stored there. It was haphazardly wrinkled from the pressures of other heavier items in the trunk. I tightly stitched the wrinkles following the random pattern to get a textured dimensionality.

I've devised a random game. I take a shoe box and throw into it the detritus of my daily life: cracked egg shells, a length of sisal string and red gift tie, a torn envelope, a crumpled shopping list, a worn-down bar of soap. I make one control: an object with a shiny, reflective surface; in this case a Christmas ball ornament. Then I play with the stuff. I don't get a masterpiece. It's an exercise for strengthening my muscles to cope with the randomness of life itself.

A facet of play I also employ is daydreaming. Inner play! It is relaxing and allows new associations and connections to come to me. I can imagine with abandon, giving my creativity a massage.

image:The Fine Art of Taking Things Apart.Lili Artel2.jpg

Lili Artel with her art at the Sun Gallery, March 26th, 2002

We wish all of you happiness and success!