Rena Detrixhe’s artwork in our Shifting Landscapes show has been a source of wonder and puzzlement since the exhibition opened in late February. Visitors have posited that the rug pattern filling a large swath of the floor in our upper galleries is made from ceramic, leather, silk and even cocoa powder. It’s actually loose dirt from Detrixhe’s current home state of Oklahoma, stamped with old shoe soles to form a trompe l’oeil tapestry. The piece, titled Red Dirt Rug, took the top jury prize in the show. Detrixhe’s work is also receiving accolades across the digital landscape. The popular art blog Colossal just posted about her work:
“This rich red earth is the land of the dust bowl, the end of the Trail of Tears, land runs and pipelines, deep fault-lines and hydraulic fracturing,” said Detrixhe in her artist statement. “There is immense beauty and pride in this place and also profound sorrow. The refining and sifting of the soil and the imprinting of the pattern is a meditation on this past, a gesture of sensitivity, and the desire for understanding. It is a meticulous and solitary act.” By using this fleeting form Detrixhe questions the permanent decisions that have been made to the region’s environment.
Alice Zrebiec, a curatorial consultant based in Santa Fe, also wrote favorably about Detrixhe’s work in a review for the Textile Society of America:
Its rich color has a visceral appeal while the delicate designs evoke textile traditions and traces of human passage. Installed without barriers, as Detrixhe prefers, the mutability and transitory nature inherent to Red Dirt Rug was readily evident.
Detrixhe discusses her work in the video above, and you can see images and read a full interview with the artist below. Shifting Landscapes is a juried show featuring members of the Surface Design Association, and its closing date has been extended to June 10. Make sure to come see Red Dirt Rug and other incredible fiber and fiber-inspired artworks in person!
Tell us about your work in Shifting Landscapes.
I’m here showing a recent work called Red Dirt Rug, which is an intersection of landscape, textiles, and research into the history of Oklahoma, where I’ve been in residence for the past year.
You’re exploring so many different layers of that history. What has this rich, red dirt come to represent to you and other Oklahomans?
I think that the dirt means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. It’s definitely symbolic of the region, and is related to a lot of these histories. I’m still finding out things all the time that I can bring into my work and talk about.
I’m still really not sure if it represents all of the many things that I want it to. But it’s a very new body of work for me. I’m interested in furthering my research and continuing my work to see how it grows.
You’ve created several dirt rugs previously. How was the experience of making the rug for Shifting Landscapes new or different?
It was interesting for me to be able to show this work in a different state. When I’ve shown it before, it was in Oklahoma. And in a lot of ways, the work is about Oklahoma, although I think a lot of the things I’m talking about are universal, or deal with the United States and colonialism and a lot of these histories that are very universal for us.
I think it has an interesting connection to New Mexico as well. This is a place that’s known for its landscapes, and its landscapes in art. And it’s also known for textiles and objects like rugs, and the sale of these objects. So I’m really interested in what it means for a piece like this to be shown here.
Your work is so ephemeral, as we learned last night at the reception when someone accidentally swept away the corner out of it [to see the smudge, view the video above]. What’s your reaction to moments like that?
I actually really love that smudge. I’m always aware that things are going to happen throughout the course of the show, because it’s going to be up for months and things will change over time. I love that there’s a little smudge in the corner, because it gives one more visual hint of how fragile and ephemeral the material is.
In a show called Shifting Landscapes, your work is truly the most shiftable.
It’s pretty literal, yeah.
Did that really resonate with you initially when you first read the title?
It really did. And not just the title, but the description of what the show was trying to be. It’s about different depictions of landscape, and all the different things that can mean. It’s open to literal representations and more conceptual depictions of landscape, and puts that into a contemporary context. It’s so important to talk about these issues and how they relate to the earth.
Could you describe your process, from shoveling the dirt all the way to creating the pattern?
I start by gathering buckets of dirt with a shovel, quite literally. Then I bring it back to my studio and process it, which means breaking it down to be fine, soft dust. I do it mortar and pestle style, breaking it down with a hammer and getting out the rocks. And then I sift it through various levels of screen, and then finally sift it through silk.
Once I have the very fine soil, I spread that out on a fine, flat sheet. The pattern is made by imprinting the pattern with little stamps that are made from isolating the patterns on shoe soles. I work from the center outwards.
I liken the process to the Tibetan sand mandalas. I think that’s the closest thing I can relate it to, both on a conceptual level of doing this meditative act, and also the time consuming quality of the work.
When you de-install one of these pieces, do you find that difficult?
Like mentally hard? No.
You’ve learned to let go.
Yeah, it’s kind of fun. This time I won’t be doing it myself, so that will be fun too. But I don’t know, maybe we can record it.
We did a time lapse when you installed it, and now we’ll do a time lapse of its destruction!
Yeah, and I’m still thinking about what ultimately will happen to the material. At this point, I’m saving the soil because I want to have the opportunity to show this work in different places.
I’m interested in how the monks, when they’re finished with a mandala, they deconstruct it and take the sand to a river and release it. It’s the end of the cycle. I’d like to do something like that, but I’m still thinking about what that might mean.
Click here to see other posts about Shifting Landscapes on our blog, and browse the whole show here. Come see the exhibition during the opening reception for our new show, Deliberate Acts: SITE Scholar Exhibition 2016/17, on Friday, April 28, 5-7 pm.