Anne Stoddard hangs laundry.
She also photographs laundry, saturates it with polyester resin, draws it, and whirls it around on her "New Age Drying Rack: Wind Machine Number One."
"I was inspired by clothes-trees," says the 4l-year-old artist. "I like the shapes the wind makes in the clothes -- the abstract forms. 'Laundry Rites' developed as a continuation of my formal concerns with large sculptural shapes that suggest movement. I wanted to create a whole, a community, out of isolated parts. I wanted to narrow the distance between artist and viewer -- to involve the viewer in real space. Putting resin on the materials creates these open, arcing shapes."
Stoddard's use of these materials to alter space in this way is the culmination of a series of drawings, paintings and sculptures that have occupied her for some years. Beginning with careful line-drawings of plant foliage (she is an excellent draftsman), she became more and more concerned with how organic forms functioned as purely abstract planes, until they literally left the paper, coming out at the viewer in the form of cutouts and applique's. It was a short step from this to completely releasing the forms to hang out on their own, first as tar-paper cutouts, then cheesecloth and, finally, laundry.
Her Northwest studio is a walk-in sculpture, crisscrossed with clotheslines, hung with gaily colored swatches of material, old shirts and bedding. These billowing, draping, folding fabrics serve two artistic functions. First, as sculptural forms the seemingly random, two-dimensional planes slice and redefine space, creating a sort of frozen motion, and the colors of the materials enhance the swirling environment. The title of the series, "Laundry Rites," indicates the second function of the work -- the narrative.
"When I began photographing laundry, I began to see that there are all different ways of hanging it," Stoddard says. "Different women have different styles -- and they all think their way is the right way. The way they hang it tells you something about that person. So I began to photograph the different styles. That's the continuity in my work -- I continue to photograph and draw.
"Hanging laundry is a social experience. Everybody hangs out their personal life on a clothesline. Now that so many people have tumble-driers, you see less people hanging laundry. There are even quaint laws about where you can hang your laundry. In Greenbelt you can hang your clothes in the front yard, but not in the back. So your private life is out there for everyone to see -- the stains, everything. In a way, having laundry hanging is a class statement. It is also a traditionally female occupation. I have pictures of laundry from all over the U.S. and Canada. My knowledge of hanging laundry comes from speaking with the people who hung the laundry."
It must be admitted that a viewer may have difficulty accepting hanging laundry as fine art. In a piece entitled "Sounding," a window installation at Lansburgh's in 1982, Stoddard effectively hung various materials -- not laundry -- to create an intriguing, almost magical environment. The piece achieved an effect of great depth, the reflections on the window adding yet another, unreachable dimension. The oddly shaped pieces of cloth and scrim read as amorphous abstract forms. But once one recognizes an object as old laundry -- even given the intended social references -- it is harder to appreciate the piece esthetically.
Stoddard has an answer to this criticism: "I am interested in opening up a range of interpretations. Names and labels are safe. I've become very uninterested in labels as opposed to mysteries that a person has to work out for themselves."
In her most recent installation, at the Studio Gallery downtown, one saw not only laundry hung on the walls and whipping around on the "Wind Machine," but was initiated to the artist's intentions by a series of photographs documenting the hanging of laundry and by explanatory material written on the walls of the gallery. Even this, though, failed to make the laundry "mysterious."
Anne Stoddard's work may be seen in her studio by appointment, or by contacting the Studio Gallery.