Elizabeth working on her stars
Last week I briefly talked to Pilar Elizabeth about her work, Project Amend. I loved her idea of creating a piece with the help of the public, especially when the focus was on such an iconic image as the American flag. However, afraid of the possibility of “screwing up” the work, I denied the opportunity to sew on my own star. But as the week passed, I realized how much I regretted not taking part in her work. The mere concept of being a part of something bigger, especially an artwork being displayed in an actual gallery, is an opportunity most never even come close to. So when I found Elizabeth was continuing her work a week longer, I eagerly jumped at the idea of further talking to her about it and, this time, actually participating myself.
The sign at the entrance encourages people to take off their shoes; not only does this protect the work from dirty footprints, it seems to also make people step out of their comfort zone before becoming a part of the work
I watched her ritualistically set up a coffee maker for herself and her guests outside, showing she obviously had gotten comfortable in her gallery space and seemed to truly like bringing people together. She gave it more the vibe of an artsy, hipster coffeehouse than a gallery, eliminating some of the anxiety the stark white walls and gallery title seemed to produce. She welcomed me, offered me a pillow to sit on, and we both sat to sew.
It was incredibly different watching an artist create her work inside a gallery, but it was even more strange actually getting to participate in creating the work with her
As we began stitching on our stars, I talked to her about the beginnings of her work. She explained to me that many of her friends enjoyed creating “social ripples”, gathering at coffee shops and protesting many of the injustices America allows. And while she supported many of their causes, she seemed to never have the time to join them. So, combining her desire to speak out and her incredibly artistic vision, she decided to open a gallery in which she would sit and sew together an American flag. With suggestions from advisors, the project soon evolved into the present form in which, Elizabeth described, the artist becomes a catalyst, bringing people together to create something encompassing them all.
From looking at the flag, unfinished as it was, it was clear an immense amount of work went in to even creating its basic layout. She herself said she had not expected even laying out the pieces to take so much time and energy. And with a background in ceramics, she was most definitely out of her element – though you could barely tell from the extreme preciseness of her stripes and stars. However, she explained that she picked a cloth medium to make her work more accessible; she said while not everyone knows how to mold something with ceramics, nearly everyone knows how to sew, at least enough to mend their pants.
She found many of the men preferred to stand and watch while the women were more likely to sit down and join. However, Elizabeth encouraged everyone, even those lacking in sewing skills, to participate and at least try to sew a piece of the flag together. Perhaps this idea of strict gender roles is one of the hidden problems her project seeks to mend; with an evened playing field and no true expectations of great sewing skills, Elizabeth seemed to at least slightly bridge the gap America has created. She even seemed to like the crazy stars more, pointing out her favorite with various-sized stitches sewn randomly all over the middle of the star.
She mentioned that sewing actually brought people together; they talked, shared sewing tips, and laughed. And moreover, it was an incredibly calming experience. Even one guy from class who came into the gallery to sew – and admitted to having no real idea how – said it was very relaxing to tack down his star. His friend, though proclaiming to not really understand the point of art, seemed to actually find a slight interest in the subject when a group discussion pointed out that art includes many things – movies, books, doodles, scribbles, and even sports – not just paintings in galleries. It seems Elizabeth’s intention of peaceful protest evolved into a sort of group therapy, perhaps creating the perfect kind of gathering to reflect on and change the sometimes crumbling ideas the nations flag represents.
Elizabeth and the guys talking about art and things while they sew on stars
Elizabeth pointed out that we are all a part of this country, both its strengths and its flaws, and therefore we are the ones who can change it for the better. Maybe in this way, Elizabeth’s work is truly reconstructing America, offering people new views and the possibility to step outside their comfortable borders into a new world of – cheesy as it sounds – togetherness. She said she hopes to continue the project, maybe with other countries’ flags. Perhaps her movement can spread throughout the world and we can all take part in reshaping it together.
Despite its wonkiness, I felt accomplished when my star was finished. It’s still crazy to me to think I contributed to an artwork, and more than that, a movement to create a better America and hopefully a better world.
Thank you Pilar for this incredible opportunity. You seem to be a truly lovely person and it was a pleasure talking to you and being a part of your work. I wish you all the best in your works to come and hopefully we’ll see you in the galleries again soon!