Amanda Browder’s work, just like herself, is not shy. One of the self proclaimed ‘local loudmouths’ of the art podcast Bad at Sports, she is not afraid to get boisterous. She is mostly known for her large scale fabric installations which usually take over entire structures at a time (residential houses, trucks, music festivals etc.). During Dumbo Art Festival, I was fighting through the crowds on Front Street while simultaneously trying to navigate googlemaps to Old Dock Street, when Browder’s installation jutted out of the mayhem with incredible intensity. For this project, she used the skeletal Tobacco warehouse as an armature over which she draped a waterfall of fabric stripes in contrasting colors. This created a covering over the sidewalk for festival patrons on the outside of the building and soft stream of stripes on the interior, which hugged the the structure before splaying out on the ground diagonally from the corner. It is appropriately titled “Hello Niagara!” as if this is what you would yell if this were in fact a real waterfall of color.
I heard in color theory class once that an object’s true color is only authentic when seen outdoors in overcast weather. Lucky for me, the day I went to the festival was completely gray, since Browder’s work is made of pure color. The most exciting thing about seeing this work in a very crowded public space was watching other people interact with it. From the outside view of the building, most of the adults were predictably snapping photos of themselves in front of it, but the inside was filled with kids. It was all you could ever want as a child trapped in a busy overwhelming art festival – a soft, colorful, and climbable space that was larger than life. I wondered about the artist’s intentions and whether she knew that she had just created not only a visually striking public work, but also the perfect playground?
Last week, I stopped by Browder’s studio in Bushwick to see her work in progress. She creates from a modest size studio in 1717 Troutman, which hosts hundreds of artist spaces as well as galleries Regina Rex and Parallel Art Space. The walls of her space were packed floor to ceiling with colorful fabric, stuffed stalagmites made from band shirts, and some oversized lightning bolts. After talking to her for a while in her space, I learned something surprising about her work: she doesn’t necessarily identify as a fiber artist, fabric just seems to be the most effective way to cover the most ground.
The driving force behind Browder’s work is scale, as in the shift between the viewer’s body and expectations and the work itself. She is fully aware that since the installations are made out of fabric, they are inherently ephemeral. Most of the work I saw was through photographs, which doesn’t even come close to the same experience as being in their physical presence. She also talked about how minimalism and craft have shaped her body of work. She is engaged with both; simultaneously trying to achieve two seemingly disparate ideals, Browder combines them to surprise and delight.
The most engaging part of Amanda Browder’s work on many levels is the process that she goes through to make each piece. First she starts off with a proposal, this is usually a photograph of a very specific piece of architecture with very specific colorful shapes overtop (of which she has a stack ready to go if ever there is an opportunity). My favorite was the hypothetical Parisian bridge filled in with semi-circular fabric gradients. Beyond the proposal phase, there is the actual making of the object. For every large scale installation Browder creates, she will also host ‘public sewing days’ where the people of the local community are invited to come out and take part in the making of the piece. This could mean donating fabric, cutting, sewing or stuffing large scale works – a labor intensive job for such large pieces. From these public sewing days, the piece ends up taking on a new life completely. The shape and plan essentially remain the same, but there is suddenly meaning in its fabrication. The community is not only empowered that they have helped build such a visually monumental work, but they also have some ownership of it, since a lot of the materials are coming from inside their own homes.
She asserts that she makes contemporary public art, not community art. However, she also acknowledges that in this type of work, the two are not always separable. By creating these public works, she is making for the greater viewing public and by the greater viewing public. This is just a bit what she had to say about the relationship she hopes for with a viewer:
Sometimes when you talk to the greater public, you hear: “oh, I’m not creative” or some other excuse. With my work, I try to get into this idea that if you come to a public sewing day or see it, the physical intensity of it can be a positive thing, and that you could jump into your dream world. Everybody dreams. I feel like in our DNA we have creativity in some way, and that with people who don’t want to embrace that, there needs to be some sort of dislodging. I hope that my work kind of dislodges that in some way because it is approachable at the same time as being bright and colorful, but is also something that potentially an art history theorist would want to chat about in the future.
Tags: 1717 Troutman, Amanda Browder, art, artist, artwork, color, craft, Dumbo, Dumbo Arts Festival, Dumbo Tobacco Warehouse, fabric, fiber, fibers, Hello Niagara!, installation, minimalism, playground, public art, public sewing days, sculpture, textiles