On a third-floor hallway in Gatewood Studio Arts Building, Stacy Bloom Rexrode sits on a stool in front of her latest creation, carefully looping cranberry-colored yarn though a crochet hook.
She’s a second-year MFA student at UNCG, and sculpture is her preferred form of expression. But this piece, it’s different. Personal.
“My grandparents, they had a farm. All day my grandmother would work in the barn, and at night she would come in and work on a real delicate doily or afghan,” she recalls. “Everyone in my family has one of my grandmother’s afghans.
“I learned how to crochet when I was a child. I don’t always work in it, but I keep coming back to it.”
Later this week, Rexrode’s crochet sculpture will be one of 36 pieces of visual and performance art featured in Greensboro’s first “Art in Odd Places” public art festival along South Elm Street downtown. Anyone who fancies themselves an artist – or not – can add to her piece, which will be woven into the vines alongside the building that is home to Thousands O’ Prints.
The tags incorporated in the piece thus far tell a staggering story:
“97% of rapists will never go to jail.”
“44% of sexual assault victims are under the age of 18”
“3 of my family members have been raped”
“I’m hoping it will be an impetus for healing and awareness,” Rexrode says.
Artist and assistant professor Sheryl Oring is the impetus for bringing AiOP to Greensboro. In 2010, Oring participated for the first time in the popular New York City festival founded by artist Ed Woodham. Two years later, she met Woodham at a conference and learned he planned to stage a version of AiOP at a college in Massachusetts.
“I had just come to UNCG and I felt like Greensboro was a place that really supported the arts,” she recalls. “I thought it would be really exciting to find a way to bring this festival to UNCG and to Greensboro.”
Lawrence Jenkens, head of the Art Department, proved to be an enthusiastic supporter. When Oring mentioned the idea to him, Jenkens countered: “How can we do that?”
In Jenkens’ mind, bringing AiOP to Greensboro calls widespread attention to the fact that UNCG is a strong advocate for educating art students in social practice. And it’s a collaborative effort that brings different constituencies in our community into the dialogue that is contemporary art.
“It’s not the older idea of public art which says, here is my art and I’m going to put this on the street corner and you are going to enjoy it,” he explains. “What social practice does is reach out to communities and give them a voice through the art-making practice. It’s important because it gives contemporary art a real relevance and purpose.”
Oring, a co-curator of the festival with Xandra Eden of Weatherspoon Art Museum, is excited about the opportunity AiOP gives young artists like Rexrode.
“It helps build their portfolio, it helps them understand some of the challenges that go with creating work that is being presented in a public realm,” she says. “It’s a real, hands-on learning opportunity for them.”
With Oring’s support, and a little prodding, Rexrode took on the challenge and hasn’t looked back.
“She has been a tremendous mentor to me as well as a teacher. It was Sheryl who encouraged me to put together a proposal for AiOP. Previously my work was object-based, either as paintings or traditional sculpture. I really had to get out of my comfort zone and try something completely new.”
There’s no denying the influence of Rexrode’s grandmother on this project, too. The broomstick stitch from her afghans. The circular patterns she used to create her doilies.
But this piece, it’s different.
“I let it grow organically. It’s not planned out,” the artist explains. “I’ve actually learned that here in school. I would have an idea and be really rigid. I’ve learned to react to the piece, not dictate what the piece should become.”
Art in Odd Places, which will take place Nov. 1-2, is made possible with support from the Southeast College Art Conference in collaboration with Downtown Greensboro Inc. and Elsewhere Collaborative. For more information, visit http://www.artinoddplaces.org/greensboro.
Story by Betsi Robinson, University Relations
Photography by David Wilson, University Relations