Enter into the art storage area of any gallery or institution and you’ll find moving blankets everywhere. They line cardboard bins where sculptures are swaddled, and paintings are wrapped. They’re rolled into rectangular pads to keep decorative frames from unforgiving floors while arranging a gallery layout. They’re tucked behind the top edges of those same works where they lean against the walls to protect a fresh coat of paint. Of course, most of us associate these rugged but soft quilted blankets with our own moving adventures and home storage areas where they protect fragile and expensive objects which are usually only priceless in their sentimental value. Regardless, storage blankets always remain strictly utilitarian, plain and unadorned. Artist Nick Fagan borrows from Joseph Beuys with Labor and Its Large Souls—a display of works made from found textiles that spotlights the lowly moving blanket. For Fagan these scarred and stained squares of fabric, padding and thread are charged with the values—financial, aesthetic, emotional—of their protective tasks, and with the sweat and physical energies of countless movers, art handlers, dorm-bound college freshmen, and grieving families collecting family heirlooms, keeping them safe for the next generation.
The idea that the energies of art pieces and people can be transferred into a moving blanket echoes the occult notion of sympathetic magic which holds that an item of clothing or even a lock of hair obtained from a person will always be connected to that person, providing a medium through which a love spell or a curse might affect them. Science explains this phenomenon as quantum entanglement which occurs when a number of subatomic particles are generated and interact or share space in a manner that makes their quantum states become indistinguishable from one another. Even after they separate, the entanglement persists, confirming a phenomenon Albert Einstein predicted and called “spooky action at a distance.”
Nick Fagan spotlights this phenomenon through an act of creative alchemy, transforming battered blankets into a work of art like the show’s centerpiece, “Breaking Faith.” This large collage of circles and squiggles cut from moving blankets of various colors reads like an early modernist mural: chromatic geometrical shapes and energetic forms bounce in an ebullient choreography across a massive, rough and ragged tapestry.
“Breaking Faith” measures 240 by 114 by 1 inch. I’d love to see it fully stretched-out on a large gallery wall, but the close quarters at Coop find the work covering the back wall of the gallery and draping past corners where it spills on to the walls on either side. It’s an attention-grabber in its own right but it also reads like a theatrical backdrop to “Soul Eater”—a shou sugi ban (burned and waxed) wooden sculpture of a head topped by a candle holder. The head has a surprised expression and a long spike of a nose and it puts us in mind of the pre-Disney horrors of Carlo Collodi’s original Adventures of Pinocchio novel published in 1883. The head sits on a dirty blanket that’s been decorated with swirls of bleach and witchy-looking sigils branded into its surface. “Breaking Faith” and “Soul Eater” interact to create the sense of an altar in a cave, doubling down on Fagan’s magical themes.
My favorite works in the show are “Wax Figure” and “Manic High.” Both pieces find Fagan incorporating colorful, found crocheted blankets with his moving blankets to create painterly textures and depth. These are the most formally beautiful pieces in the show, and the inclusion of found homemade crocheted blankets is particularly bittersweet. Who made them? Who received them? Who gave them away? How were they lost?
Nick Fagan: Labor and It’s Large Souls is on view at COOP Gallery in Nashville, TN through October 1, 2021.