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The Space Between: MFA Thesis Project

by Ashley on May 2nd, 2012


I have a tendency to zone out. Wander off to another place for a minute. Maybe a quarter-hour. I guess I get it from Ms. Jannie. Probably Mom too. People say Ms. Jannie could go into space. Even when she was out with family having dinner. People watching. Examining the latest fashions. Inspecting posture and cleanliness. Those things can tell you a lot. It’s anthropological. Observation only.

Public transit perfects the zone out. Everyone is a stranger. To keep occupied, I move outside myself. Take in surroundings. I let my brain overstimulate. Give my eyes permission to stare. Behind whatever sounds speakers jam into my ear canals, someone laughs way too loud. Was it really that funny or you just wanna impress the girl next to you?

Then there’s the asshole who interrupts. Throws the balance off and causes a mental trip. What did he just say to me? Called me a WHAT? Doe-eyed idiot. The 8-track in my brain skips. Sometimes I manage a fuck you! Or present an elegant middle finger (also inherited from Ms. Jannie). Never as good as what I come up with after I switch to the bus or stand stewing in the elevator.

My best lines come back home in my tiny living quarter. 298 square feet of coulda-woulda-shoulda. I want to punch something. Break something. Scream. But I don’t. Don’t want to damage stuff I’ve used hard-earned cash to pay for. Get kicked out of my apartment. Have the bratty co-ed next door think I’m nuts. 

I take it out on pillows. Poor pillows. They’ve done nothing wrong. ‘Cept being malleable. Suppose the next step would be a punching bag, but that would look weird in the middle of my living-/dining-/bedroom/office.

Typed in iPhone Notes App.
Late afternoon, February 13, 2012.
Northbound Red Line, Chicago, IL.

Translating the personal into public for conceptual action and art has been my focus as a graduate student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In particular, I investigate identity formation and societal pre-judgments. I am interested in how tightly point of view is rooted in identity—a unique combination of traits and experience, both familial and cultural. Much of this is outside the individual’s control, yet defines what we see. Most recently, my work concerns itself with the tension of a personal sense of identity that conflicts with cultural expectations, and how that affects and limits personal and relational mobility. The work inquires into how identity navigates the bewildering space between polar opposites.

  • What + Where: Collection of text-laden pieces to be placed in public and private spaces, interiors and exteriors
  • How: Printing, bookbinding, and design + fiber objects + written works
  • Why: Present personal view of polarizations within contemporary American society to a broad audience • Address consequences of biology, environment, and society on development of personal identity • Convey the comfort/discomfort of these polarizations that is felt in public, but acted upon in private


Sculptural fiber-based pieces. These are multi-layered pillows that initially suggest comfort, but create a different sensation upon closer examination. The texts on the pillowcases are actual statements that have been said to me publicly by fellow black Americans in the Chicago area. The audience is encouraged to dismantle/reassemble the pillows and, in a performance setting, I will recite writings that correlate with each fiber piece.

Descriptive card and stereotype tags. The cards contain intimate texts coupled with explanations of how the pillows are used and what they represent. An offset printed tag is attached to each pillow, displaying a representation of the stereotype placed upon me by the original speaker of the statement, as well as the date and location in which the statement took place.

Exhibition. Fourteen pillows—each layered with hand-dyed, screen-printed pillowcases—are placed on a daybed and enclosed on two sides by dyed and screen-printed panels which represent the space between the societal opposites of “blackness” and “whiteness.” This creates a semi-personal space for viewers to interact with the pillow forms and discover the discomfort of polarizing or stereotype-based statements.

Future iterations. This is an on-going project, as statements and observations are made on a daily basis. The hope is to continue the production of the fiber pieces and their corresponding printed materials, in addition to publishing the written works, presenting them to broad audiences for inquiry.

For full documentation of the process for this work, please visit the SAIC 2012 Visual Communications MFA blog.

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