I work from a collection of 16 mm films that were de-accessioned from the Fashion Institute of Technology. These short films, dated between 1950 and 1980, focused on textiles as art, craft, industry, fashion, military camouflage, political expression, and scientific metaphor. After watching the movies, I cut and sew them into configurations based on popular American quilt motifs, dismantling the narratives of the historical films and re- interpreting them. The work is displayed in windows or framed light boxes, engaging the notion of filmic suture in reconfigured form.
The formal logic of my sewn designs are derived from popular American quilt motifs including log cabin squares, octagonal stars, and "string quilts," wherein long, thin fabric scraps left over from other projects are cut and sewn together. In processes that reference avant-garde filmmaking, printmaking, drawing, and quilt-making, I bleach, dye, scratch, draw, print and paint onto some of the film. In each work I combine footage to create a dialogue between the images inside the film frames and the patterns that emerge from the overall quilt designs.
As digital formats displace movie film, I draw from film history to create one possible future for celluloid. My work connects experimental filmmaking methods to the forgotten history of early cinema, which borrowed sewing machine mechanisms for advancing sprocket holes and employed women as editors because of their agile sewing fingers. Images of hands at work – weaving, dyeing cloth, feeding fabric into machines – are repeated throughout this body of work, reminders not only of my labor and the handcraft history of film editing, but also of the tactile quality of film.
Camouflage is constructed from two 16mm films, one de-accessioned from the Fashion Institute of Technology and the other purchased on eBay. I dismantled the narratives of the two historical films and re-interpreted their thematic concerns by sewing them into the traditional “sunshine and shadow” American quilt motif. The work contrasts dark footage from an industrial textile manufacturing film that shows how fabric was made at the Bradford Dyeing Association in Rhode Island with lighter footage from an instructional children’s film about shadows. Bradford Dyeing, which provided camouflage to the United States military, opened before the Civil War but closed in 2011 after years of labor rights abuses and environmental pollution. The film falsely paints a picture of happy workers. Shadows, Shadows Everywhere (1972) shows two children making shadow puppets in front of a piece of cloth and looking at shadows created by the sun. In combining the two films, I wanted to represent the idea of camouflage in multiple ways, and acknowledge that whenever you shed light on something, you also make a shadow.
Smithsonian American Art Museum purchase through the Barbara Coffey Quilt Endowment © 2009, Sabrina Gschwandtner 2013.1
Gift of Chris Rifkin in honor of the fortieth anniversary of the Renwick Gallery © 2010, Sabrina Gschwandtner 2013.2