Local Topography, 2010

The corner of Selby and Western avenues is a vibrant microcosm of the city of St. Paul—an intersection of race, class, culture, age, origin, history and ethnicity. In approaching this project, I asked: How do we understand community?

At the core of the installation are 30 silhouettes of people who live, work and go to school in this neighborhood. My process involved meeting people and drawing their silhouettes, then running those drawings through an unthreaded sewing machine. The resulting patterns of holes, created by the needle, allowed me to use them as stencils. I sifted powdered charcoal through the stencil holes onto windows and walls. Here, I’m also “pouring” light through the holes. I overlap and combine these images to create anew—a human map, topography of the neighborhood, a terrain of community.

Sewing is an age-old practice that connects materials for protection, decoration and comfort. The use of a mark that originates from sewing acknowledges our yearning for cohesion and attachment. I like to think this richness can be suggested visually through the mark that comes from my sewing machine, referencing the loose yet essential ways in which a community is “held together.” The ambiguity of the mark symbolizes how connection is possible though not certain, which I intend as an expression of hope and as recognition of the need for human action to make true, meaningful connections.