Nanette Yannuzzi: The Private & the Political

April 23, 2014 by

DSC_1826When Nanette Yannuzzi arrived at WSW, she visited Rosendale’s antique and vintage shops, where digging around in piles of linens yielded a small stash of old, hand-stitched handkerchiefs, tablecloths, and napkins–a nice supplement to the four- or five-dozen found and gifted linens she brought with her from Ohio. On one side of the silkscreen studio, her colorful textiles are strewn across her workspace, creating a sea of delicate embroidery and chunky crochet, gossamer lace and humble tablecloths.

“I use these pieces because there’s a history that comes with each one of them,” she says, “and because as objects they continue to have meaning in the lives of women.”

For over six years, and at times in collaboration with other artists, Nanette has used vintage textiles for screen prints that explore the home as a microcosm of contemporary anxieties, such as how information seeps into our personal spaces, how our privacy is invaded, and how the home is changing in the 21st century. In early pieces, she juxtaposes imagery of domesticity (thimbles, irons, kitchen utensils) with imagery of warfare and surveillance (TSA inspectors, tanks, snipers). Her work asks whether private, domestic spaces can exist when contemporary government, media, and society increasingly funnel fear into our daily lives.

photo (2)With a background in installation and performance art, Nanette employs a variety of mediums in her conceptually-driven practice, but her work is always rooted in a socio-political consciousness. She was involved with activist circles and reading groups in New York City after attending The Cooper Union, and was hugely influenced by Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party. Her early work was predominantly seated in response to women and the body; when she had children, her themes shifted toward the everyday, invisible routines women traditionally play out in domestic spaces.

“I was a mother of two kids, coming up for tenure and trying to keep it all together. Meanwhile, I was being told I wasn’t producing enough as an artist,” she explains. “I started to think, What is production? What is the labor that one does as a woman?” By 2005, Nanette found these questions temporarily resolved in House Works: A Chronicle of the Small which showed that models of production relative to women were extremely rich and varied, and that women’s production is “less about the product we’re producing and more about the perceived value of our labor.” 

DSC_1679When Nanette inherited textiles from her Mexican and Italian grandmothers, she was struck by the beauty of their details, the repetitive and hypnotic process of their creation, and their place in women’s lives across culture, geography, and time. On a residency in Turkey, Nanette was fascinated by Turkish women for whom sewing, making lace, and crocheting were “so integrated into their lives that they didn’t need time for it,” Nanette says. “They would be reading a paper and their hands would just be going and going at this intricate work.”

It was around this time that she began a collaborative body of textile prints, marrying quotidian domestic activity with the anxious images that seep into our private lives. Nanette recognizes the challenges inherent in using textiles that, it can be argued, are borne of traditions that are stereotypical of confining roles for women. “At the same time,” she adds, “it’s precisely because of this history, and the pseudo-value the textiles illicit within many of the cultures they’re produced, that I’m interested in using them.”

DSC_1841Printing oil rigs, cochleae, surveillance cameras, and First Amendment text, Nanette’s goal for her four-week Workspace Residency is to push the conceptual connections and juxtapositions in her work. In progress is a set of dinner napkins onto which she is printing famous whistleblowers like Anita Hill, Julian Assange, and Chelsea Manning, among others. Her flat swaths of ink contrast starkly with the undulating texture of the intricate needlework; the laboriousness of her textiles’ hand-stitching is underscored by her screen printing’s efficient, Warholian mode of production.

But working with found objects also poses aesthetic and conceptual challenges. “These textiles come with their own visual systems,” says Nanette, nodding at the saccharine bouquets, puppies, and bunnies populating some of her linens. “I’m working on a substrate that’s very well-articulated and totally not part of my vernacular, yet I have to and want to acknowledge it. The more narrative the linens are, the more difficult they are to work with.”

DSC_1638Yet Nanette has found a use for even the kitschiest of her textiles: she’s printing an image of the austere, intellectual US Supreme Court on the dandiest, most playful needlework she has at her disposal. “I’m feeling very critical about our Supreme Court”, she says with a smile.

Moving forward, Nanette hopes to collaborate with women who can contribute their own needlework to her series and help transform her second-hand textiles into sharp, critically informed pieces of art. “How do we as women bring value to our work without waiting for it to be given to us from the outside?” Nanette asks. “That’s ultimately the conversation I want to start.”

Nanette Yanuzzi is an Ohio-based visual artist who received her MFA from The University of California, San Diego, during which time she was also a fellow at the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program. She is currently an Associate Professor of Art Oberlin College & Conservatory. If she could sit down for coffee with any three women artists, she would choose installation artist Ann Hamilton, performance artist Andrea Fraser, and poet-activist Muriel Rukeyser. For more of Nanette’s work, check out