In 2017, I completed a research-based studio project focused on Penelope, the fictional queen of Ithaca in Homer's Odyssey. My purpose was to develop, via a studio practice rooted in autotheory, a sense of how Penelope, with her ongoing practice of weaving and unweaving, successfully deceived and staved off a throng of menacing suitors for more than three years. In discovering the ways in which Penelope summons and wields her instruments of mysterious power, I sought to understand the nature of resilience regarding my own struggles with an ongoing cycle of constructing, unraveling, and rebuilding my artistic practice while coping with debilitating chronic illness.
The project is the focus of my upcoming book, Penelope Unweaving, which presents the project via journal entries in which I digest the day's studio sessions and examine the structures of my own power and powerlessness through the cyclical journeys between becoming and unbecoming and back again. The book documents my studio-based research and lays out my literary and textual analysis of Homer's Odyssey with a primary focus on the narrative of Penelope's experience, her predicament, and her functional role. Penelope Unweaving is slated for publication in 2022 by Dragonfood Press.
The autotheory of the project is based in a practice of weaving by day and unweaving by night, as Penelope did, on an ancient warp-weighted hanging loom which I constructed based on what we know of ancient loom designs. I performed these tasks every day and every night for a number of months, mirroring as closely as possible her practice as described in the Odyssey. I sought, by walking in Penelope's sandals for a while, to discern the sources of Penelope's power in order to better understand and integrate my own lived experience and its predicaments. This project therefore primarily contained elements of installation and performance: its plastic elements were a means to explicate my thesis rather than as works meant for exhibition. In keeping with a basis of autotheory and the form of the project as a secret practice of construction/destruction, the performance component was for my own benefit rather than the benefit of outside observers. However, I determined that at least a skeletal photo and video archive to visually document the project was proper: that visual documentation in its entirety is displayed here.
Penelope Unweaving combines potent elements of studio documentation, studio-based research, artistic process, memoir, metaphysics, mythology, and literary analysis to build a vivid and original portrait of an artist's search for transformation.