Opening on First Friday, Nov. 4, Docey Lewis’s Living Threads will take the viewer on a journey of contradiction. Said the artist, this technologically enhanced culture facilitates our ability to see and create both real and virtual connection while relentlessly making us more aware of the threats humanity faces. Seeking balance, we alternatively seesaw between retreating to our cocoons and interconnecting.
She noted that among the many threats we face is species loss. The exhibit will highlight several extinct or threatened species in Posey County. The pre-human ecosystem in the Southwestern Indiana area was abundantly populated and in natural balance. After man settled along the Wabash and elsewhere, this utopian equilibrium eroded to the point of dystopia. The world now faces environmental, social and economic catastrophe, while our perverted material culture still spreads an unrealistic ethos of fossil fuel powered unlimited growth, fast fashion, junk food and surveillance capitalism.
The materials used in creating artworks for Living Threads have as much meaning as the pieces themselves. “I have been entangled for many years in the cultures, natural materials and co-creations of faraway communities who have had to pivot from utilitarian and ritual use of their materials and techniques to making salable products for a global market,’ Lewis said. “Along the way, a large body of samples and materials have piled up in my studio. During the pandemic, I began to untangle the accumulation and recycle it into artwork. Many hands have touched the raw materials, and I celebrate the living farmers and artisans whose participation has made this work possible. Connections with communities and all living things are represented in this collaborative body of work.”
Lewis had her first solo exhibition in the late 1960s – not in a gallery or museum, but in a library 30 miles south of San Francisco. She showed a selection of hand-woven, abstract textiles she had made on a hand-built loom. The show sold out.
Yet rather than pursuing an art practice, Lewis made a series of unexpected choices that led her on a serpentine, half-century journey around the globe. While mastering the innumerable methods humans have concocted to make textiles, and empowering hundreds of other women artisans in the weaving workshops she set up in the Philippines, Nepal, Morocco, Indonesia, and Bangladesh, Lewis dined with royalty, collaborated with legends, and built an entrepreneurial empire.
Now in her 70s, Lewis has returned to the art studio, but not in one of the worldwide locales she has variously called home. Instead, she now works in a modest, light-filled studio above a locally celebrated wine bar and coffee shop in a historic building in New Harmony. Amid wafts of fresh soups and sounds of evening cheer, Lewis tries to make peace with her past, weaving intricate, layered abstractions that literally pull at the threads of her personal history.
Among the many ironies of Lewis’s story is that her ancestors, namely Robert Owen, embarked on a mission to establish a Utopia in New Harmony, based on the moral principles of education and total equality. This concept of fostering the best qualities of humanity has been passed down from generation to generation ever since and is embedded in Lewis’s life. With her exhibition, Living Threads, Lewis is drawing our attention to the natural world, our relationship to the environment as caretakers and our ability to alter it.
Open through Dec. 11, the exhibit is part of the Tube Factory’s Social Alchemy project. With this multifaceted, multiyear project tje Big Car Collaborative is partnering with the University of Southern Indiana, Indiana State Museum, Historic New Harmony, the New Harmony Gallery of Contemporary Art to create a series of radio shows, exhibits, and conversations exploring, learning, and sharing how utopia has informed places and pursuits over time.
Social Alchemy explores historical and contemporary examples of utopian experiments, fictional utopias and dystopias, and social and cooperative-living design projects (linking back to our affordable artist housing program on our block in Indianapolis). Through a variety of public programs — made possible with support from Indiana Humanities and Efroymson Family Fund — it offers a deeper understanding of the relationship between the built environment and social good.
ARTWORK ABOVE: Warbler Quilt by Docey Lewis, to be on exhibit at the Tube Factory artspace.