Ashley Garner, Sanctuary, Installation detail: Work-in-progress, 2020.
A sanctuary is a place of refuge or safety.
“Space can be tangible, a material geography created through processes of mapping and demarcation. Space can be impalpable, sustained by ideas, beliefs, and practices that define identities and establish invisible, yet powerful boundaries. Space is everywhere. It surrounds us like air and, just as organically inhaling and exhaling, establishes the dynamic expansive and constricting context for life and death. Human beings attempt to locate and structure space as space locates and structures human beings.”
Aimee Meredith Cox, Gender: Space (2018)
For as long as I can remember, my spaces where I create work have always had an intense impact on the work that I make. Being stuck in my apartment over the duration of this quarantine is no exception to that. As much as I transform spaces, spaces transform me.
Neill and I moved into our 3rd floor apartment on 13th Street in Center City Philadelphia in June of 2019, and the apartment (to our benefit!) has ten foot ceilings and eight large five-foot windows. We decided not to purchase window curtains because of the added cost. Curtains would have also blocked our view of the mural Sanctuary by artist (and PAFA Alumni) James Burns that can be seen from six of our eight windows.
James Burns, Sanctuary, Mural: 13th and Chancellor Streets,
Center City Philadelphia, Mural Arts Philadelphia, 2016. (View from my apartment)
This wellness mural was designed to raise mental health awareness in the community and to help support clarity of the mind and movement of the hand. Being my sole view for the past 29 days, this mural has had an impact on my day to day experience and my work. I often feel that I am very lucky to have such a great view from my apartment; I could have easily been stuck staring at a brick wall. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. With over 3,600 murals within the city of Philadelphia, this mural was placed in my life for a reason, and now I’m beginning to pay attention to it.
In the midst of this pandemic, those of us who are fortunate enough to have a space, find ourselves at home, in our own sanctuaries. They are keeping us safe.
In response, and in addition to my other projects, I have begun creating a new installation of "curtains” in my apartment. These "wing curtains" are to act as a mediator; a mediator between the interior and exterior; between sun and shade; between object and wind; between trapped and escaped; between reality and imagination; between the outside world and me. A mediator between sanctuary and freedom. Redefining the security of a window as a place of passage. The wing as an icon for freedom; the space as sanctuary.
Ideally I would envision this installation to be displayed in window frames with the windows open or missing; the "wing curtain" as a symbol for freedom existing between sanctuary and the outside world. The installation is a collision between my own desires and the elements of my space. I've decided to also title this in-progress work Sanctuary because of the direct conversation it is having with Burns' mural, and because it accurately describes the space in which I find myself, and possible the space in which many of us find ourselves at this time.
This installation was originally conceived to be displayed in a domestic space, but it is my hope that the dynamic of the work allows it to exist in any space. In this time, I have given a lot of thought as to what it would mean for this work to exist outside of my apartment. Ideally (and hopefully sometime soon) I would like to reach out and make pieces of this project accessible to others and to people and places that do not normally have access to artwork, especially at this time. It could act as a reminder that they are not alone – that their wing window is one of many; a community of people recognizing their separation from the world we knew within their own sanctuary, with a hope for safe passage in the future.
As I was preparing to start making these “curtains” I felt a shift in the way that I address my materials take place. Normally, I shop for the right colors and fabrics to use; using them “out of the tube” so to speak. This time, I felt a sense of needing ownership over my materials. I’m starting to think more about the fabrics I am using; how they look, how they move, how they work together or against each other, how these particular fabrics work with the space, etc. In earlier installations, I was mostly concerned with color and shape. I do not have control over what is happening in the world, but I do have control over how I decide to make my work. I recall a studio critique I had with artist Elizabeth Jaeger last year; she had encouraged me to dye my own fabrics; take ownership over every aspect of my work; communicate what my fabrics might look like.
This piece will represent a sanctuary wherever it is displayed. A safe space riddled with longing for what lies on the outside. It does not always have to be in direct contact with the mural - but I like recognizing that the mural was a part of the inspiration for the work - a part of the space it was conceived in. I am hoping that work can take on a life of its own as it evolves - also retaining a notion of the time period in which it was made; a time when the outside world was so desirable, but so unpredictable and scary. Our homes our prisons, but also our safe spaces.
I think it’s important not to discount small things that affect moments of our lives. I could say it is coincidence that I landed in this apartment with this particular wellness based mural at a time when we are all struggling with our mental health states in our own little sanctuaries. But I believe in connections; in threads coming together to form a certain thing. I’m trying to recognize those threads and allow them to communicate through my work. As we are in places of limited inspiration and experiences, I encourage others to find inspiration in the small things that happen day to day; they could add up to something meaningful if you allow them a chance to grow.
This all comes to say, that I’m glad we never bought curtains; and, despite the circumstances, I’m excited to be working on something new in a space that I never thought I would be making art in. :)
Ashley Garner, Sanctuary, Digital Installation Sketch, 2020.