Fur Art’s Sake

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Bringing her fur textiles, print images and stories, artist Alexandra Emberley explained her art and process as the final visiting speaker in a three-part lecture series titled “Stories Unlimited: Layered Meaning and Process,” funded by the UCSC arts division.

In her presentation, “Fur Stories [you are not wild enough for me],” she discussed one of her projects, the fur archives. This multidisciplinary project ranged from installation art to drawing, from printmaking to textile work.

Art department administrative manager Hannah Pederson, who helped organize this lecture, expressed her excitement over these events and the education they provide.

“The hope is that we expose people to things that we don’t normally offer here, so they can get new experiences and hear from someone else,” Pederson said.

Emberley, whose work focuses strongly on narrative and personal stories, began with some anectodes about how she ended up where she was today, standing in front of her Santa Cruz audience.

She recalled a memory of one of her mentors sparking the ideas that would contribute to her future work. It began with a question she was asked after class in an elevator.

“She asked me, ‘What about methodology?’” Emberley said. “That question was really interesting because it’s not a question about what we’re talking about, but how we’re talking about it and what form is it going to take. What is the connection between the content and the form? She was giving me that task to do and a challenge.”

From there, she began to experiment with form. Some of the earlier projects she showcased included installation art, in which she put written stories from her students into specimen jars for part of an exhibit she created.

For this project, “Testimony of Echo,” the specimen jars showed the stories written inside as being observed and contained, which she considers one lens that people use to understand others. The project, among others, brought her to her current practices.

“The process I was learning was very important to me,” Emberley said. “I began to become an artist. At the end of that year there had been a lot of experimentation and play, but something was missing for me.”

Then came the Fur Archives. It began when she found a fur collar her mother had given her  for warmth, partially as a joke because she was moving to Edmonton, Canada, a location notorious for its icy winds.

“It was a beautiful object and I took it apart and used it as a drawing tool, scanning it, combining it with other things,” Emberley said. “I began to think of it with my earlier questions. Fur is very tactile and it reminded me a lot about some of the tensions around memory. At the same time, the fur is burdened by a lot of discourse, ideas and narratives. Trying to distill and create a reconnection of this object became a goal of mine. That was the beginning of the ‘Fur Archives.’”

UCSC art professor Frank Galuszka expressed his understanding of the tension between personal memory and the discourse of all narratives.

“[Her] work has a very strong hermetic quality,” Galuszka said. “It is extremely individual and internal. The contrast between society and the individual is what is found.”

Emberley created the “Fur Archives” through a series of projects. One, “Fable Failure” is made up of prints where she scanned the fur and layered it with drawings and text through many different processes. The effect is large prints with black and white scratches over text. Some contain a pelt pattern in the background, which has been blown up to look almost like rain, while another print has antlers surrounding the word “Alas!” Another print contains what looks like a bushy tail in gray and black with squiggles surrounding it.

One project in the archives, “Enlisted Dogs,” shows a series of dogs with bandages as shadowy figures drawn with graphite on paper. There are no outlines of the dogs, which makes them look blurry, yet striking, through the strong contrasts of black and gray on the light background.

In another medium, Emberley also made “The Fur Poems” using textiles. Through a combination of small fur samples, embroidery and text, she created square textile pictures with chunks of brown and yellow fur intertwined with phrases like “You are not wild enough for me.”

Through her multi-faceted work with all different materials, Emberley found much of the content in her work reflected in her materials and her process.

“There’s something about a craft and the constraints it gives you,” Emberley said. “It’s hard work but it’s a relationship. I want people to be open to moments, stories and affect. I want people to listen to other registers of human experience.”