The tableaux I create are inspired by relationships. They evolve from personal mythologies. I work with vintage, printed fabrics and found embroideries made by women of previous and more modest eras. I act as a collaborator, modernizing their traditional work and altering its original purpose. The fabric becomes the foundation for a fantastical exploration. - Orly Cogan
AT: As an artist working within fiber for over twenty years, what first interested you in utilizing vintage and found fabrics as the base for your work?
OC: Some of the first materials I worked with in early childhood were fiber based. I went to a Waldorf School where toys found in the classroom were made from natural fiber materials to nourish the senses. I learned to knit and crochet in the early years of grade school. There is a nostalgic kind of intimacy connected with fiber materials. It has a history everyone can connect with and inherently appreciate the human labor that went into the creation. Growing up my mother collected old samplers and quilts. The samplers often had moral sayings, warning to girls about being polite, tidy, “pure" and the like. My mother appreciated the labor that went into these pieces by nameless woman and girls and enjoyed the messages ironically. I majored in painting in art school and years after graduating I happened to take a one day workshop at The Museum of Folk Art which my mother had signed herself up for but last minute wasn’t able to attend so I took her place. That day I created a quilt square fairly quickly and with the extra time I had I embroidered between the seams a little nude figure. As it came naturally to mix yesteryears quaintness and conservatism with my own brand of sex-positive feminism with a dash of post modern perversity. The elderly women in that class were enchanted with my piece and the rest is history. Thereafter I started thinking about connecting my love of narrative with the homey feminine materials I grew up with using the wit of feminist social commentary. As time went on my stories became more political and personal. Some figures are portraits, others are playing rolls within the story line. The layering of thread drawings resemble children’s coloring book illustrations along with areas of dense needle work and complexity.
AT: As a pioneer in not only fiber art, but contemporary feminist art, what motifs and themes have become priority in the narrative of your work?
OC: Embroidery to me had a history that was based in a kind of patriarchy where giving women needle and thread to pass the time beautifying the home was something good for idol hands and would keep them out of trouble so to speak. These women may have spent hours working on a doily to go behind the back of a chair so the chair wouldn’t get stained from sitters sweaty heads. There was a repressive sexless grannie identity associated with hand work or a kind of cute craftiness about embroidery, it wasn’t considered high Art with a capital “A” when I was coming of age even with the woman’s movement of the 60’s and 70’s. I began to research more about woman’s long tradition of art making rooted in craft practices and I knew I was on the right path to continue with my work in the evolution of craft from a domestic practice into a higher form of feminist art.
AT: Your new solo show, Don't Call Me Princess, was inspired by your daughter and continue your narrative of the complex dichotomies of femininity, how has this new selection of work developed and evolved? Are there new themes you are exploring?
OC: The work is expanding in scale and I’ve incorporated a bit more overtly political elements in some pieces for this show. In particular in one piece which will be on view at The Brattleboro Museum (October 2018 - March 2019) titled POW (Power of Woman). It’s message is positive with several portraits of strong women, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stacey Abrams, Judy Chicago, Alice Neel and Freda Kahlo to name a few.
American women have grown up with fairy tales in our heads, and somehow that “happily ever after” idea is instilled early on. With my own daughter I saw how strongly princesses infiltrated her play, although she had no direct exposure to Disney movies or theme parks. I edited the few fairy tales we had, changing the sexist stories to empowering ones for my child’s ears. Whenever I went out with my daughter, people would call her “princess.” It was meant as a nice thing to say, and for a while she and I took it as such. But as she grew older, she rejected the title. She would frown and respond, “I’m not a princess, I’m just a regular girl!” I hope my work inspires people, to question, to see the humor in things, to recognize the beauty in the mundane and to continue the dialogue .
AT: What is something you would like to accomplish with your work in the future? Anything you would like to explore or experiment with?
OC: I am starting to explore the process of making my narratives a bit more ambiguous and introducing abstract elements with more texture that comes off the picture plane. Also I’ve been experimenting with mixing ceramics and other found materials in my site specific installations. I’m pleased with how much exposure my work has received recently and I hope for more such opportunities through varying venues.