Sailors on the high seas might consider tying knots as an art form. It’s certainly part of the process for Liz Miller, a fiber artist who’s probably knotted more in the past 15 years than anyone in the Navy.
After earning her BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and her MFA from the University of Minnesota, she branched out into producing large-scale installations for commercial and industrial spaces. His creations looked like giant mobiles and required countless knots to keep them aloft and in place.
Eventually, those knots and how she was able to weave fabrics and reinvent uses for abandoned parts of the built environment (think parts of fences, bed frames and stove grates) with rope, rope and other textile materials led to a new variation of her. art.
The latest examples will be on display from November 8 to December 16 as part of “Anecdotal Architecture” at the Alice R. Rogers Art Center and Target Galleries of Saint John in Collegeville. Miller has been the subject of more than 30 solo exhibitions since 2009, including as a McKnight Fellow last year in Minneapolis and dozens of other exhibitions across the country.
“I started with drawing and painting, then I moved to collage, then the collage came off the wall,” said Miller, an instructor in the art department at Minnesota State University at Mankato since 2005. “The installations started flat and on the wall. then I started hanging them with fishing line and different types of paracord. This work, with all the knotting elements, was in a way the result from my review of all the knots I was doing, I’ve been doing thousands and thousands of knots for 15 years, so the installation work has taken me back to making pieces like the ones that will be on display in Saint John’s.
His installation art is sometimes so large that perhaps a single piece could fit in a space like SJU Gallery. Most of the works she has created for Anecdotal Architecture are the size of a large painting and would easily display on a wall, even in a residential setting.
“For much of my career, installations have been central to my practice as an artist,” said Miller, whose work has hung at the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the Walker Art Center. “Recently, in the last four or five years, I have been concentrating on these murals. The armature is in the work – the metal and wooden parts are all remnants of home consumer culture that have been abandoned or discarded. These are things that end up in thrift stores or other places where you would find second-hand things. As I saw some of these items, I identified items that were similar or that you have seen over and over again. I could use the headboards of the beds or those cheap plastic shelves you might have used in a closet, and I take them and sometimes modify them with spray paint. I weave paracord and rope through them and recombine other materials to produce a topography that hopefully elevates these objects and gives them a new story.
She said she tries to capitalize on structural elements and gravitates toward things that are porous that provide a framework for weaving. The cord and the cord then introduce an “organic movement”, where the weight of the work exceeds the armature to define it.
“It’s all these different vernaculars of found material coming together,” she said. “There is also an element with the rope and the cord which have different uses, from decorative to utilitarian. The textile material is incredibly strong. Even though it is the soft material of the work, it is stronger than some metal components.
Miller lives in Good Thunder, Minnesota, where she drew her artistic inspiration from the fences of the rural landscape. She said she was interested in the intersection of what people think of as “art” and what non-artists would call “craft”.
“I deal with abstraction or non-objective work,” said Miller, who began her teaching career as a drawing teacher and more recently was asked to lead an art program in facility. “There is no image or message that is obvious. I hope there are several entry points that the viewer can find. For the person who scans the gallery quickly or has no artistic background, they may recognize the materiality of it, like “Oh, I have a bed frame like that”, or they recognize some other material element. Maybe they know about knotting and it might get their attention. But I hope that the viewer who spends more time will see in the works a logic, a system or a story that is forming.
Miller resists the idea that her works are a commentary on consumer culture, but there’s no denying how much she wants to find new use for small elements of architecture that become obsolete or easily discarded.
“I like trying to create some intentionality,” Miller said. “With a lot of non-objective work, I’ll hear people say, ‘Well, the viewer can think whatever they want.’ I always feel like it makes things too easy for the artist. I want to create things that are a bit hard for people to understand. Sometimes the color pattern might not be entirely pleasing. There has tension or dissonance in some parts of the work.
And where there is tension, there is often a knot to bring the different parts together.
SJU Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Miller, who will appear at an artists’ reception from 5 to 7 p.m. on Nov. 10, says she’s not sure how her art will evolve next, but thinks it will.
“As an artist, I believe if you think you know exactly what you’re going to do, that’s where you have trouble,” she said.
Above is an example of Liz Miller’s fiber art creations that will be on display at SJU.