July 29, 2015

Concepts and Challenges: AAC Resident Artist Michele Colburn’s War Paths

Trip Wire Project, Panel 1, Deceased Soldiers at the Bush Library, Dallas, TX. 2014-15 . Vietnam-era surplus military trip wire. Dimensions variable
Trip Wire Project, Panel 1, Deceased Soldiers at the Bush Library, Dallas, TX. 2014-15 . Vietnam-era surplus military trip wire. Dimensions variable

AAC Resident Artist Michele Colburn opened War Paths, a solo exhibition, earlier this month, and between teaching classes and the nature of the project, she had her fair share of challenges to overcome.

Now, with her show underway, a Washington Post review, and an upcoming artist’s talk she’s already preparing for her next solo show later this year.

Part performance art, part sculpture, the centerpiece (the Trip Wire Project) of  both exhibitions is a knitted tripwire triptych documenting American casualties of war in the 21st Century. This piece is focused on changing the world – or at least how an artist’s hand has changed the purpose of materials traditionally used for violence.

Michele has performed the Trip Wire Project in politically-charged locations like the White House, military recruiting stations, and monuments and memorials like the Peace Monument. Because of this, she can expect to be questioned or watched by security. You can watch parts of Michele’s performance as documented and produced by Carrie Nelson and Hanna Stawicki.

We asked Michele to expound on the concept of her work, and to share with us some of the challenges she faces in producing a body of work for these shows:

What is the concept of the show?

War Paths installation shot at Charles Krause Reporting Fine Art, Main Room
War Paths installation shot at Charles Krause Reporting Fine Art, Main Room

I often work with diverse or what some would call non-traditional materials and readymades. The term “readymade” refers to manufactured items and was made famous by 20th century artist and master Dadaist Marcel Duchamps, who used them in his work and brought them into an art gallery setting.

The materiality of those sources is important to the context of my work. For this exhibition War Paths which is on view at Charles Krause Reporting Fine Art until August 9, and for the solo exhibition in the Wyatt Resident Artists Gallery at AAC in October, the center piece is a work titled the Trip Wire Project 2014-15*.

Conceived of and begun in April 2014, I set out to document deaths and wounded in the arenas of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. The work is knitted in three panels using Vietnam-era military trip wire, and documents our dead and wounded soldiers and noncombatant civilians with a stitch representing each person. I knit the piece in public places that often represent where decisions and justifications were made to enter these wars.

In addition to new fabric works in the exhibition, I am presenting a new grouping of works on paper–The Gunpowder Drawings. These are small to mid-sized abstract landscapes utilizing gunpowder as a ground. The explosive quality of the material is rendered useless in the drawings as part of my process.

What were the challenges of developing and mounting a solo show?

Trip Wire Project, Panel 3, Civilians at the Naval Peace Monument, Washington, DC. 2014-15. Vietnam-era surplus military trip wire. Dimensions variable
Trip Wire Project, Panel 3, Civilians at the Naval Peace Monument, Washington, DC. 2014-15. Vietnam-era surplus military trip wire. Dimensions variable

When I knit in public, which is anywhere from half an hour to four hours at a time, I am beholden to weather and elements. As the panels become longer and larger, they become heavier and more difficult to transport and carry on site.

The physicality of this work becomes imposing. Also, I have to wear protective gloves now to knit the wire, especially for extended lengths of time and the condition of the wire.

At this juncture, the work appears to have no end, as statistics continue to be added and updated to the DOD website. As conditions evolve in the Middle East, panels may need to be added, or this phase of the project will end, and another will begin. It is difficult to anticipate right now.


About the Artist:

Michele Colburn Cornered, 2015. Gunpowder, ink and bullet holes on tracing and Arches paper. 11 x 14 in.
Michele Colburn, Cornered, 2015. Gunpowder, ink and bullet holes on tracing and Arches paper. 11 x 14 in.

Born in Washington, DC, Michele studied drawing, ceramics, and mixed media sculpture at the Corcoran College of Art, and Photography and Graphic Design at Parsons School of Design, New School, NY, NY. Michele joined AAC’s resident artists in 2014.

Her work is socio-political in nature, and often explores themes of violence inside and outside our borders. Her work has been exhibited in DC and environs, Philadelphia, New York, and Los Angeles. Colburn earned her BA, Art History from Franklin and Marshall College, GCAT, Art Education Certification, 2003, American University, and an MFA, American University, 2012.


War Paths is on view until August 9, and there’s an artist’s talk with Michele July 29 (TODAY) 6:30 – 8 PM. For more information or to RSVP, please call 202-638-3612. Read about it in the Washington Post, In the galleries: Gunpowder and teddy bears Go to the talk, and see the show before it ends!

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*Funding has been made possible by the Puffin Foundation Ltd.

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