The “Radical Elements” exhibition, organized by Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA), begins a five month showing at the National Academy of Sciences located at 2101 Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. Dates are May 20 – October 19, 2015, with hours between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays. Admission is free. The exhibition features 40 artists inspired by a different element from the periodic table. The show title plays on the combination of the theme and the use of non-conventional materials to create a “quilt”.
My piece, entitled “Cold Fire”, has phosphorus, the fifteenth element, as its inspiration. I selected it based on a grade school memory of studying combustion and learning phosphorus was the element that causes matches to ignite. Originally, I was going to incorporate matches into my piece. But as a London City and Guilds graduate, I follow a pattern of research, inspiration gathering, and materials sampling prior to finalizing a design and creating a piece, because I never know where the process will lead me.
A green glow emanating from white phosphorus moved its German discoverer Hennig Brand to name it “cold fire” and from which I took my title. People later referred to it as “the Devil’s element” for its use in explosives, poison, and nerve agents. Phosphorus gave the first matches the ability to ignite when struck against any surface. These properties of glowing, explosiveness, and combustibility inspired both my composition and materials.
A search for a material that glows led me to holographic vinyl, which is used for signs. While there are materials that glow in the dark, they aren’t feasible in a well-lit gallery. The vinyl is applied in a manner similar to appliqué, one of my favorite techniques. I chose red and black as the primary colors, because they are colors of phosphorus and red is the color of fire.
Although this non-traditional quilt could incorporate some fabric and thread, I challenged myself to complete the piece without either. I used clear Mylar over carbon fiber for their fabric-like drapeability. Carbon fiber’s surface also looks like fabric in texture and pattern. The reference to thread is in the edge finish. The metallic electrician’s tape “binding” is embossed with rows of “stitches.”
Radical Elements is SAQA’s first traveling exhibition to fully embrace the organization’s new definition of an art quilt, and the Gallery at the National Academy of Sciences is one of the first venues outside the quilt world to host one of SAQA’s exhibitions. NAS member and Nobel prize-winning chemist (1981) Roald Hoffman comments, “It’s not the scientific, chemical theme of ‘Radical Elements’ which draws this remarkable show of art quilts close to contemporary science. No, it is the twin spirits of experiment and ingenuity that suffuse the quilts before us, and shape the link between art and science.”