“I always need something to procrastinate on and something to run towards,” multidisciplinary artist Melissa Vandenberg says as she is surrounded by stacks upon stacks of secondhand ribbon and loaded sewing machines. They are materials she is using during In Residence, a three month summer residency program at the Loudoun House.
This collection, Vandenberg says, has provided the perfect outlet for her while she prepares to apply for tenure as an assistant art professor at Eastern Kentucky University.
“As an academic I’m ready to hit the ground running with projects I’ve spent all year dreaming about," says Vandenberg, who is sharing the first floor of the Loudoun House with painter Lori Larusso. Both are Kentucky-based artists who routinely exhibit their work around the country. They will reveal their new works at the end of the summer in a public exhibition. For now, viewers can watch their work-in-progress each Tuesday during open studio hours.
Vandenberg is not interested in providing one singular message through her work, but rather in sparking the notion of activism. Through her current collection, made partly from or inspired by politically driven paraphernalia, she hopes to open a discussion about political doctrine, no matter ones ideology.
“I’m fascinated by the reasons why people align themselves left or right, red or blue…those colors are repeated throughout the works,” she said.
For much of her artwork Vandenberg uses actual US flags, which may be construed as controversial, but she feels otherwise. All flags used in her work are either dirty or damaged to begin with, so she views this repurposing as a sort of rescue.
Vandenberg often works with found objects and everyday domestic goods and is interested by the sentimentality of materials. “It’s incredibly human, but at the same time awfully silly to project these feelings on a piece of cloth.”
“Does the quilt bleed when I cut it?” she says.
Vandenberg is partly inspired by Eastern philosophy, so much of her current work speaks to those themes. One installation piece, made entirely out of used handkerchiefs, is made to mirror the Buddhist flags hanging in the mountains of Tibet around Mt. Everest. These flags are gilded with silkscreened prayers that are said to fly to the heavens with the blowing of the wind.
Vandenberg’s piece focuses on mortality and impermanence. The handkerchiefs, collected from family members who have passed on and also from estate sales from across the country, symbolize the impermanence of material life, while also being a physical embodiment of what a person leaves behind. A handkerchief is carried with a person, accumulating the literal sweat, snot and tears caused by everyday life.
Don’t forget to stop by the Loudoun House on Tuesdays between 10am and 4pm to experience Melissa Vandenberg and Lori Larusso in action as they create their artwork. In Residence opens September 5th.