Christine Chin’s Patterned GardenOctober 14, 2016
When Parent Grant resident Christine Chin arrived at WSW, she brought an acorn squash from her home garden to the silkscreen studio and while it has sat on a shelf unchanged through the length of her residency, the other plants she’s chosen are more perishable. The green pepper, lined with red draping tape, has shriveled into itself and the mushroom was discarded within a day. The onion, however, has started to grow leaves.
A photographer and digital media artist, Christine is stepping away from her usual practice to explore her interest in sewing by making patterns for vegetables. Each plant is draped with paper, traced, and flattened into its most essential, irregular shapes. Christine then sews a replica of each vegetable with cotton muslin to see how closely the pattern mimics its form. When she’s satisfied with the pattern, she cuts out the shapes, organizes them into a medallion arrangement, burns the pattern onto a screen, and then prints on muslin and paper.
This two-part process of making a sculpture to use as the subject of two-dimensional work comes from how Christine works in the digital world, constructing objects and installations for the sole purpose of photographing them. In her previous work she created a futuristic, fictional narrative where advances in biology have humorously distorted the technology available to the general public.
In the series of photographs and videos Sentient Kitchen, home goods such as spoons and teacups are genetically morphed with human body parts, blinking eyes, and wiggling tongues to evoke both unease and comedy. Her most recent work, Pocket Organs, imagines a future world where human tissue and internal organs can be grown at home to easily supplement bodily needs; in this absurd alternate reality, DIY culture could allow people to wear an auxiliary stomach as a backpack. Christine went as far as adopting a Youtube persona, OrganGirl DIY, to put a face on the fictional society.
“If life hadn’t pulled me the way it did, I would have worked in the sciences,” she says, explaining how absurd, biomorphic technology has been a recurrent theme throughout the span of her artistic career.
Following her interest in creating bizarre and unlikely juxtapositions, Christine is now tackling sewing, another DIY method and a personal side project, by coupling it with produce. Though she first learned to sew as a teenager, she renewed her interest when she started a family and began making clothes for herself and her children. “Sewing―I think a lot of people have found this―is liberating,” she says. Knowing she wanted to incorporate the visual language and tactile experience of sewing into her art practice, she decided branch out into experimental patternmaking while at WSW.
In this new project, Christine began by tracing an acorn squash, assuming that because the object was small, the pattern wouldn’t be too large or difficult to print—but instead it required the largest screens in the studio. Since then, she’s focused on even smaller vegetables, such as a head of garlic and a green pepper, to scale down the size of project. The result is an inedible harvest: five small, sewn sculptures, five prints of each on white muslin and brown paper.
The impracticality of Christine’s DIY vegetables is reminiscent of the avant-garde sculpture of the early 20th-century, as artists like Meret Oppenheim altered ordinary objects not through the abstraction of their forms, as painting would, but by emphasizing unusual materials and the context of the viewing environment. Functional objects were rendered unusable, the commonplace became fine art, and the strange was considered provocative.
Removed from their normal context, materially transformed, and simplified to their basic shapes, Christine’s vegetables become a puzzle to the viewer. The squash is now a sunburst; the mushroom, a star; and the onion becomes a flower lined in red stitching marks. Though Christine may not ask viewers to literally follow her patterns and stitch together their food, she certainly challenges them to analyze the shapes, the radial symmetry, and the visual language of pattern making to reassemble the produce mentally.
As she concentrates on pulling the prints and finishing the edition, Christine fights her instinct set up her camera and photograph her progress. Still, unlike her original vegetables, this fabric food will not rot away. Warning us not to be surprised if they reappear in later photographic work, she says, “I have visions of a felted, Dutch-style still life in the future.”
Christine is a conceptual artist and Associate Professor of Art in photography and new media at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, NY. She holds a BA in English Literature from Princeton University, MA in Art from Purdue University, and MFA from the University of New Mexico. Find more of her work on her website, her blog, or our Flickr and follow Organ Girl DIY on Youtube.