The Battlecoat Collaboration for Felt United (2010)

Participating artists
Althea Bilodeau, North Chittenden, Vermont, USA:
Victoria Clegg, Greensboro, North Carolina, USA
Dawn Edwards, Plainwell, Michigan, USA
Ginny French, Fairfield, Illinois, USA
Lisa Kaftori, Allonei Abba, Israel
Joni Cornell, Melbourne, Australia

‘A scapecoat is a coat that details in painting, writing and with all manner of things pinned, stitched to it all the name calling a woman has endured in her life, all the insults, all the slurs, all the traumas, all the wounds, all the scars.  It is her statement of her experience of being scapegoated’ (Estes: 1992, p.386).  Another name that Estes gives to the process is the Battlecoat, which I prefer, as it bears all the scars and is a signifier of both the injury and the healing.  With the exception of Lisa Kaftori at the time I had never met any of the contributing artists; and with Lisa as well, I hadn't seen her in the flesh since meeting her at an art workshop overseas in 1997 - so all the relationships depended upon the internet, particularly FaceBook for engagement and fulfillment.

Unlike the Estes’ version, which seems to be of impermanent form, for the Felt United project which is a virtual exhibition on line, I wanted to make a wearable art Battlecoat and have the process be therapeutic. 
The individual scars and the coat
 in pre felt before fulling began
I asked the other women to contribute a ‘scar’, which I would felt into the coat.  I envisioned the coat traveling to each contributor over time and indeed, the coat has travelled to Victoria in Greensboro, North Carolina;  to Ginny in Fairfield, Illinois; to Dawn in Plainwell, Michigan and is currently with Lisa who has since moved to Santa Barbara, California. The coat has been travelling since December 2010. 

Althea depicted a mother with arms outstretched trying to comfort her child with Bipolar Disorder. Dawn has an invisible scar that she likens to the scar on an old Table Mountain pine sapling. Ginny's self-portrait depicts not being pretty enough and the emotional scarring that it causes.  However, Ginny also has a physical facial scar that resulted from an operation that she now hides with her hair-do. Lisa's poem fragment highlights the thirsting, emptiness and silence that occurs when a woman puts her man's desires ahead of her own.  Lisa's story is one of self-sacrifice (Lisa usually refers to the coat as 'scapecoat').  Victoria found a lump in her breast that irrevocably changed the woman she was.  Victoria went from a sensualist to someone more spiritual.  My own story highlights the theme ‘Failed to launch’ (my mantra felted into the coat) and the game of ‘Snakes and Ladders’, feeling as at the mercy of the Gods, without control, without personal will and the backbone to change things.   The coat also bears what I call my ‘peacock eyes of envy’ – of others’ successes.  Making felt has been about my own recovery from burn out, as well as a place to hide from my perceived failures.

The scars felted or stitched into the coat
Each woman sent her scar through the post.  Lisa’s depiction was a little different – as she was unable to get materials in Israel, and those that I sent to her delayed in the mail.  A poem fragment which she would have embroidered and have me felt into the hem of the coat, was ‘written’ in fiber and felted onto the inside of the coat.  It was an interesting exercise for Lisa who for the first time saw her ‘text’ written large when she usually works small scale and with intimacy and discovery as central themes. 

Each ‘scar’ brought its own challenge to incorporate into the coat and surprisingly, the collaboration for me became a balance between aesthetics and psychodynamics.  At the back of my mind I wanted a beautiful object and found myself squirming with the thought – of working with ugly themes and scars and ending up with something hideous.  These are the things you let go of as a therapist because in the therapeutic encounter you are not making art – it is a different story as an artist. 

The finished coat

As I’d hoped the Battlecoat became a launching vehicle or carrier (pun on my scar theme!) for those involved to start to tell their stories.  The making of it and the individual contributions, conversations, we engaged in along the way have enabled me to see how in different ways, and small intimate ways, (a resonation with Lisa) I can ‘launch’, that I have launched, after all.  Althea brought my attention to it in one of our conversations, that the Battlecoat was a ‘brave example’ of launching.  It was also liberating to launch it on its adventures to the other women who participated in its making.  I’m sure they have also had their own ‘aha moments’ and insights in the process of making their scar contributions, and watching the making of the coat as a whole unfold on line.

When I first met my partner, I suggested to him that men preferred women to be more of a ‘mystery’.  ‘Bullocks’, he responded, ‘they just prefer them to keep their stories to themselves.’  I was peeved and shocked but over time, I’ve come around to the belief that he’s right.  Women have other women for support, regardless of how they choose to come together to share their stories, of pain, of worry, of longing, of joys and of their hopes and desires.  It can be over a sumptuous lunch, a passion for arts, or the making of a coat.

The coat with Neill Clegg Jnr in Greensboro

Seranaded by Neill Clegg Jnr in Greensboro

At Lake Michigan with Dawn         

                          (Reference to Clarissa Pinkola Estes, 1992, Women who run with the Wolves)

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