The line between old and new is faint in Elizabeth Lide’s show—old and weathered family keepsakes are enshrined next to drawings, textiles, and objects made from scrap material, culled from years of organic accumulation in the artist’s home and studio. In her artist statement, Lide roots her idea for the show, “Putting the House in Order,” in her experience sifting through her belongings, deciding what to keep and what to discard. The culmination of her Working Artist Project Fellowship, the exhibition sets into motion a reflection on the people and objects that have contributed to her personhood, her art, and how we as humans share our stories.
Lide says she uses mundane and found objects, but in the case of this show, they are also personally significant to her. Scrap or unused art supplies gleaned from her studio have been made meaningful by the artist’s pen or needle and their display alongside other more personal artifacts. These objects — ranging from mixed media drawings to hand-sewn textile pieces and family heirlooms to plaster casts of family dishware — have been collected and meticulously arranged and displayed, even in places where they appear strewn about.
The manner in which the exhibition is set up feels like a history museum “artifact timeline,” in which salvaged items are encased and displayed with informational captions. Personal keepsakes placed in cases, on hangers, and atop pedestals are interspersed throughout the gallery as they might be in a Henry Darger installation, but less claustrophobic and more tightly curated (by the artist). A home video, shot by the artist’s father, provides context for the objects in the room. It is projected high up on the wall; the reel skips and rattles a little, the colors faded. Objects in the cases include a portrait of her family, a stethoscope, embroidered handkerchiefs, gloves and lockets, scissors, a black lace fan, a ball and jacks, a book of pressed flowers, and squares of faded fabric collected by her grandfather. Like a Darger exhibition, Lide’s show requires curiosity and a second look to catch idiosyncratic subtleties.
Cloth and textiles — used, repurposed, and preserved — threads the show together. Even the line work of the artist’s drawings looks like stitching. Drawings on slightly crinkled paper of interlocking geometric patterns, like quilted blankets, hang around the room. Pinks, oranges, pale greens, and yellows on beige; polka dots and squares and triangles. The drawings appear as washed-out versions of their more vibrant origins, before being hung by a home’s sunny window.
Strips of scrap canvas, covered in dark, inky circles, are pinned up on the wall. The same inked circles are painted and stitched upon woven textiles that are piled on a pedestal, and dot the center of each of the 81 bronze papers covering the largest gallery wall in a shingle-like, overlapping pattern.
The paper of her drawings creases under the mark of the pen, the way cloth gathers to a stitch; the articles of clothing that hang about the room are thin like paper used for drawing. Old, peach-colored slips worn by age, pink shawls lined with lace on the shoulders, nightgowns, and a solitary trench coat are hung in groups on different walls, as if maternal branches of her family tree.
The objects that garner the most intrigue are the pale pastel vases, jugs, and “fine family china” cast in plaster, paper pulp, aluminum, and found materials. With rough contours (some chipped and cracked, as if excavated in pieces), they appear much more fragile than even the antiques on display across the room. Assorted materials, including locks of hair from the artist’s daughter, sprout out from the forms. The textured surfaces are somewhat grotesque, and shed a light on the peculiarity of memento mori.
Lide has repurposed other fabrics. A long shelf on the wall displays an array of small patchwork, hand-stitched material, little woven squares of gathered and collected scraps. Visitors are encouraged to touch, pick up, and turn over the squares, made from a “tattered quilted bedspread,” old socks, sewing scraps, and thread. The textile squares are thick with layers—cut, painted, stitched, and frayed at the edges.
Humankind collects. We keep and hoard arbitrary objects, we preserve personal mementos, and pass down heirlooms to remember and honor our loved ones. Most of these items don’t possess inherent worth — baby teeth, candy wrappers, a ticket stub, or a broken bracelet — but we collect them for their sentimental value. Lide’s exhibition embodies this human proclivity. It reveals what she, as an artist, mother, and daughter, has collected, from invaluable heirlooms to scraps of unused art supplies and textiles. Through weaving, drawing, painting, and stitching, she transforms otherwise insignificant items into art. Just as the people of her past have contributed to who she is as a person and artist, so too have their belongings become the inspiration and material for her artwork. “Putting the House in Order” is an intimate and relatable show that prompts viewers to consider the meaning and value of the things they collect.
“Putting the House in Order, WAP: Elizabeth Lide” is on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia through February 11.
Jac Kuntz is an arts writer, editor, journalist, and artist living in Atlanta. She is a recent graduate of the Masters of Arts Journalism program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She also holds a BA in Psychology and a BFA in Painting with a concentration in art history from Clemson University.