Sanford Biggers Cracks the Code of Quilts


LOUISVILLE, KY — Billed as a “survey of quilt-based mostly works,” Sanford Biggers: Codeswitch at the Velocity Artwork Museum feels significantly less like an overview of one specific part of the multidisciplinary artist’s oeuvre and a lot more like a report of his resourceful procedure in general — tactile proof of the evolution of creative tips fields of interest that have held his fascination visual motifs that have appeared, in many guises and permutations, during his career. The demonstrate incorporates 33 quilt performs courting from 2012 to 2020 (the catalogue files an amazing complete of 100 these kinds of parts), together with two online video functions from 2000 and 2014.

Biggers, who is acknowledged for sculpture, movie, installation, audio, and effectiveness, commenced the Codex collection in 2009, after he was gifted about 50 19th-century American quilts in different levels of disrepair. These acquainted with his artistic output will figure out some of his other artworks in their quilted counterparts: “Blossom Study” (2014), a sq. quilt of little, hexagonal patchwork onto which he has painted the outline of a grand piano bursting with bouquets, is a sketch of his 2007 sculptural and sound set up “Blossom,” in which he fused an 18-foot-tall replica of a tree with the tummy of a grand piano, its unattended keys enjoying his recording of “Strange Fruit.”

Sanford Biggers, “Blossom Study” (2014), antique quilt, assorted textiles, acrylic, spray paint, 86 1/2  x 84 1/2 inches (picture © Sanford Biggers and Baldwin Gallery, courtesy the artist and Baldwin Gallery, Aspen)

Very similar surrogates are current, these as “Floral Seated Warrior” (2017), a portrait-oriented quilt of chunky grey and beige blocks with a blue, floral-print silhouette of Biggers’s “BAM (Seated Warrior)” sculpture (2017). Representations of “Lotus” (2007) — his flower shaped from repetitions of a slave ship diagram — and the broad, legendary purple lips of “Cheshire” (2008) surface routinely. “Incognito” (2014), for instance, is a square piece composed of bow-tie sections of two distinctive quilts, a cacophony of sample and coloration onto which Biggers has additional the smudged outline of a Cheshire grin, its sly smile somewhat concealed below improvised dashes of gold, blue, orange, pink, and lavender paint. The prospers are, most likely, vestiges of the artist’s graffiti days (Biggers grew up in Los Angeles, where he participated in the street artwork scene). As with all his elaborations, they impart a new and distinctive layer of that means to the antique quilts.

That Biggers is doing the job with quilts is important, as they are, by definition, layered objects — most generally, a piece of batting sandwiched involving two items of material and stitched with each other. When he to start with started the Codex sequence, he was intrigued by the contested legend that quilts experienced been applied as coded objects to tutorial individuals escaping slavery in the southern United States via the Underground Railroad. In the artist’s fingers, the quilts turn out to be palimpsests: historical messages reanimated through the addition of up to date signifiers, symbols, and codes, these kinds of as graffiti.

Sanford Biggers, “Floral Seated Warrior” (2017), antique quilt, assorted textiles, burnt cork, 71 x 39 inches (picture © Sanford Biggers and Marianne Boesky Gallery, courtesy the artist andMarianne Boesky Gallery, Aspen and New York)

A codex, the earliest variety of the modern day reserve, was also held collectively by stitching, and enabled a quantum leap forward, understanding-smart, by allowing random obtain to reference product, vs . the sequential obtain expected by a scroll. In quite a few means, Codeswitch looks to celebrate and revel in understanding, its references revealing a voracious, eclectic, and frequently mischievous intellect. Motifs have double meanings (a Cheshire grin remembers both of those a 19th-century English novel and an American blackface minstrel exhibit a tree signifies the two enlightenment and lynchings) titles consist of clever puns (“Big Dada”), witty wordplay (“Kubrick’s Rube”), and other shibboleths of a very learned and cultured mind (“Quo Vadis” “Chorus for Paul Mooney”) visual influences include things like such a motley crew as Hiroshige, Sigmar Polke, and Robert Rauschenberg.

Inside of a subset of functions, Biggers trades his familiar visual lexicon for a a lot more demanding exploration of abstraction and a further engagement with the quilt designs. In “Tyranny of Mirrors” (2017), he parts together segments of 3 various quilts, each and every that includes a very similar hexagonal sample, with a silver-leaf sample that would seem to recede into space, as if the viewer is seeking into a corridor of mirrors. The impact, not in contrast to op-art, is mesmerizing. In “Transition” (2018) and the onomatopoeically named “Ooo Oui” (2017), he incorporates sequins into very similar summary constructions with even much more bedazzling success.

Sanford Biggers, “Tyranny of Mirrors” (2017), antique quilt, assorted textiles, silver leaf, 73 x 75 inches (photograph © Sanford Biggers and Marianne Boesky Gallery, courtesy the artist and Marianne Boesky Gallery, Aspen and New York)

In another subseries, Biggers honors the trompe-l’oeil aspirations held by some quilt makers by adhering sections of cloth to geometric designs produced of plywood, which he joins to compose wall-mounted sculptures that resemble significant origami constructions. “Reconstruction” (2019), with its triangular panels of fabric that incorporate the United States flag, calls to head the rhythmic layering of triangles associated in folding a flag when viewed from a distance, it also evokes that previous Cheshire smile, a visible wink as wry as the double entendre of the piece’s title.

Two video will work spherical out the exhibition: the single-channel “Mandala of the B-Bodhisattva II” (2000) is projected on to a sq. display somewhat elevated from the flooring, replicating the overhead watch of a breakdance opposition. The dancers are competing on a floor that Biggers created from slice linoleum segments in a circular pattern, prefiguring his quilting job. In viewing the breakdancers from higher than, the concentrate moves from specific methods to the broader motion throughout the patterned flooring, substantially like the sewn traces that traverse a quilt’s pieced cloth. Seems of the cheering group mingle with the music, as if to affirm that what is sacred can also be celebratory. 

Sanford Biggers, “Moonrising,” detail (2014), film transferred to video, run time: 7:35 min. (photo © Sanford Biggers and Marianne Boesky Gallery, courtesy the artist and Marianne Boesky Gallery, Aspen and New York)

“Moonrising” (2014) is a 7-and-a-50 % minute video clip set to new music by Biggers’s band, Moon Medicin, and characteristics two Black gentlemen in a wooded place. They are variously naked robed in quilts, hoodies, or mantles of feathers (the artist’s 2006 “Ghettobird Tunic,” maybe?) or shirtless, donning denims, golden masks, and baseball caps as they roam the woods. Sung lyrics allude to the legend of coded quilts major enslaved persons to independence. 

Although QR codes on the museum walls deliver a glossary of themes, terms, and historic figures to aid the interpretation of the quilted will work, no supplemental written content is furnished for “Moonrising.” This follows the practical experience in the United States, where anti-literacy laws prohibited the penned transmission of information amongst enslaved persons, but they could change to the oral traditions of West African griots to express facts.

In reconnecting quilts with the overall body and their primal goal of bestowing warmth and defense, “Moonrising” appears to be to eschew intellectual understanding for that which can only be acknowledged via experience. As viewers, we may well not have all the codes to interpret the several conceptual levels of the quilted works, but we can observe adult males operating by means of the woods, concealed in quilts, before unfurling them in an open up discipline, and appear nearer to comprehending the tremendous anxiety and hazard of escape, as nicely as its likely for wonderful independence.

Sanford Biggers, “Incognito” (2014), antique quilt, assorted textiles, acrylic, spray paint, oil adhere, glitter, 45 x  45 inches (photograph © Sanford Biggers and David Castillo Gallery, courtesy the artist and David Castillo Gallery, Miami)

Sanford Biggers: Codeswitch continues at the Velocity Art Museum (2035 South Third Street, Louisville, Kentucky) by means of June 26. The exhibition was co-structured by the Bronx Museum of the Arts and Rivers Institute for Up to date Art & Assumed, and co-curated by Dr. Andrea Andersson and Antonio Sergio Bessa.


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