Mending as Metaphor: Mary Addison Hackett at Seed Space, Nashville

By May 23, 2016

“Do you have something that needs mending?” Mary Addison Hackett says on opening night of “The Repair Project (And Other Affairs of Just Plain Living)” at Nashville’s Seed Space.

Rafael Soldi: A body in transit is now on view at the Frost Museum, Miami through December 4

A man named Jeremy pulls a button-down plaid shirt from his bag. “I do,” he says. The shirt is thin from many years of wear. You can tell it’s his go-to shirt, the one he washes irregularly because he hates to be without it.

Hackett opens up a binder that’s full of embroidery floss, each skein wound neatly around cardboard, organized by color and shade. “Do you have any color preference?” she asks.

As she and Jeremy chat, she closes a hole under the collar of his shirt with thick, bright green stitches of embroidery floss. Right outside the door, another gallery-goer shows off his newly mended camel sweater, the hole in the elbow now stitched around the edges in red thread.

For the month of May, the Nashville-based painter and videographer is keeping regular hours at Seed Space doing only this: mending clothes for passersby. Hackett has set up the gallery like an upscale boutique. Individual articles of clothes hang on wooden hangers, displayed on the walls like works of art. On a single rack, a tablecloth drapes over the hanging rod beside some sweaters, and a quilt and afghan sit atop, folded tidily on a shelf.

Rafael Soldi: A body in transit is now on view at the Frost Museum, Miami through December 4

The majority of the garments are Hackett’s work clothes: overalls splattered with paint, a long flannel bathrobe that’s stitched together in various places and with various threads; a blue work jumpsuit, its torso stiff with paint and one knee patched. A Lilly Pulitzer summer frock from Hackett’s bridal trousseau is both smeared with paint and stitched along its seams for reinforcement with forest green thread. It’s almost tempting to think Hackett is somewhat of a romantic — especially when she tells you that one paint-splattered work shirt is her slightly altered kindergarten smock — but there’s much more going on. Hackett’s work clothes and her presence in the gallery are multifaceted.

She writes in her exhibition statement, “It’s something of a badge of honor to have patches and threadbare jeans as a reminder that you’ve been in it for the long haul. I retired my first pair of paint jeans when they were no longer wearable. They had a second life as studio rags, and eventually, to prove how tough and unsentimental I was, I let them go completely.” Tough. Unsentimental. You get that from Hackett, and that’s why it’s such a pleasure to look through her eyes.

As a painter and videographer, she brings to light how artistic practices relate to familiar, everyday objects, demystifying the capital-A artist. In a 2014 solo show called “Crazy Eyes” at David Lusk Gallery in Nashville, Hackett showed artifacts of her daily life in oil paintings of her studio and home: the view from her studio window, foregrounded with personal effects; a flashlight and mirror hanging in the garage; a drawer holding bars of hotel soap and sundry items. These are so well composed that you’d think she carefully arranged the elements, as one would for a still life. But she didn’t. She painted her intimate, visual world just as it lay before her each morning, and we get a sense of the way she frames her world. The effect is a feeling of stopped time, of the artist listening in on the situation of the chair and teapot, or the flashlight and mirror. It’s diaristic, but universal.

Much like this series of paintings, her videos record everyday affairs: she scrapes wallpaper from the dining room in her family home, finishes a grilled cheese sandwich, plays a game of chess alone in her studio. They are short, observational bursts of edited footage showing the artist as she maintains her life, in all of its aspects. Hackett’s blog Process, which dates back to 2005, works in much same way. As the title suggests, she blogs about her work, but her process is just as much about living — books she’s reading, thoughts she’s having, and the little surprises of daily life.

Throughout her work, she looks for the places where the processes of art-making and living overlap — the physical spaces and the emotional ones. Since Hackett’s studio is also her home, she herself is mirrored in her personal effects. We are reminded that laboring in a place for an extended period of time changes the place. The Repair Project brings the labor of art making to bear on our understanding of the artist. She’s been preparing for the project for months, amassing a mend pile from friends and neighbors. The project asks us to question the use-value of a garment that’s been worn so well that it needs mending. In turn, we consider the value of the person doing the mending, in this case, the artist.

It’s a twin inquiry into artist’s labor and women’s work, with a critique on consumerism to boot. The beauty of Hackett’s paintings is that they appear effortless, so we fail to realize the intense physical labor of her art making. Because her paintings and video are about the home, we are reminded of other unseen labor: the unpaid, undervalued domestic work usually completed by women. Like domestic work, mending is supposed to go unseen. Instead, Hackett accentuates the imperfections in the clothes, drawing attention to the task itself in a way that asks us to consider the life of the object. It is so easy to throw away a garment and get another on the sale rack. But through mending, we honor the garment, the hands that made it, and the labor we enacted to purchase it, and we’re better stewards to our environment.

Hackett’s somewhat threadbare work clothes are evidence of her labor, and her unique mends acknowledge the original labor of the garments’ creation. The delight of “The Repair Project” is in realizing that Hackett’s life is a practice in itself. And why can’t ours be as well?

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