I first discovered Reichek about six years ago, when I picked up a shopworn copy of her book When This You See..., beautifully documenting her show of the same name at the Museum of Modern Art in 2000. I was instantly struck with the conceptual similarities between her work and mine, even though hers was of course much smarter and better executed. I bought the book and read it thoroughly, with feverish awe and some jealousy (to be honest). Then I put it on my shelf and studiously avoided it, except for when I had to pack it for moving, when I would be re-acquainted with how brilliant Reichek's work is.
So, while leafing through a recent copy of the New Yorker, I saw that Reichek had a new show. I made a mental note to look it up online, and promptly forgot about it, as happens with mental notes. Two weeks later, leafing through the same New Yorker, I saw the notice again, and this time went and looked her up. The links are at the beginning of this post, and if you didn't check them out when you started reading, go and do it now. I'll wait. Go ahead and Google her as well if you like, since I know you will be amazed. I won't be offended if you don't see any similarity between her work and mine, either.
Remember how I have been talking about the idea of translation as one of the aspects of my exploration of the Codex Canadensis? Read Reichek's artist statement. Gah, I hadn't seen that until ten minutes ago, and there she is, talking about her concept of translation, in a much more coherent and thoughtful way than I ever have.
Here is a quote used at the beginning of When this You See...
Masters of embroidery know that it is not enough to follow faithfully the drawing traced: the expert needlewoman must be in possession of the nature of the drawing, to give to it with each stitch the appearance of life, sometimes life itself. The vibration of a wave lies not only in the perfect placing of the woolen thread, and the passing of the needle in the cloth follows an interior movement that is not exhausted by the mechanical gesture.- Marta Morazzoni, The Invention of Truth
Just as I was trying to say in my convoluted way in my last couple of postings. If I let myself dwell on it, it could be galling to keep encountering someone who does what I am trying to do, but just does it do much better.
It's not that I think I am as good as Elaine Reichek, or would have been were it not for life's circumstances. It's more like every time I encounter her work I get a good smack upside the head, and need to remind myself that it's not too surprising that similar strategies have appeared in both our work over the years: needlework, knitting, the use of found quotations, mirrored images, flying carpets, a combination of literary references and pattern, feminism and the idea of "women's work", interest in native North American culture, mythology, etc.
These similarities are perhaps not so surprising because we covered the same ground in our educations. Reichek studied under some of the greats of American post-expressionist art. I studied under the next generation of that same tradition, which gave me a similar theoretical groundwork. But I obviously didn't work as hard, nor was I as confident. And I fell off the career path long ago.
One of the interesting things about Reichek's work is that she has always positioned herself as a conceptual artist. None of this tiresome art versus craft debate. It would probably help my muddled thinking if I could be as clear about what I do as she is, and I wouldn't be getting so upset about silly contemporary embroidery books.
So, with that intention, I shall return to my embroidery frame with renewed energy and a great thanks to Elaine Reichek for doing what she does so very, very well.