Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit at the Fabric Workshop and Museum
The staff of the FWM come out from the shadows and hold a show to memorialize museum founder Kippy Stroud. -- Artblog editor

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There is no artist whom I associate more deeply with the Fabric Workshop and Museum (FWM) than Will Stokes, Jr. His colorful, all-over compositions featuring humans, animals, and natural elements figure prominently in my mind’s eye when I think about this museum and its history. Stokes’ drawings have been translated onto objects and fabrics for decades and sold as yardage, bags, and other items in the always-intriguing museum shop. But no matter their presentation, as stuffed animals or in the original mixed-media works on paper, Stokes’ jittery images are always energetic, alive. This vitality is a welcome and fitting element in FWM’s current all-staff memorial group show Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit, an exhibition in memory of Marion “Kippy” Boulton Stroud, the FWM’s founder who passed away suddenly and tragically in 2015, taking her own life and leaving a shocked staff and art community. For this show, Stokes submitted three works, each of which combines surprising mashups of cultural icons, from Lady Gaga to the Tasmanian Devil to Ice Cube.

rabbit rabbit rabbit installation view fabric workshop
Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit (installation view), 2015. Seventh-Floor Gallery at the Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia. Photo credit: Carlos Avendaño.

The FWM has organized all-staff shows in the past, but there hasn’t until now been one in the current building and location at 1214 Arch St. in Philadelphia. Stephanie Alison Greene, Acting Managing Director/Head of Exhibitions and Publications, told me in a phone call that the possibility of a staff show was in consideration prior to Stroud’s passing; the loss hastened the process and the exhibition moved forward with the support of the board and staff. The call for artwork was sent to all departments from development to education. Twenty-seven artists chose to contribute; the exhibition contains over 40 works installed in the first and seventh floors of the building. Among all contributors, Will Stokes Jr. is the artist with the longest association with this institution and with Kippy Stroud. The two initially crossed paths when he was a high school student participating in a printmaking workshop with Prints in Progress, an art education program which began in 1960 and was directed by Stroud.

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit is a large show of varied works by artists who are most often behind the scenes promoting, administering, manufacturing, and educating in support of the renowned artist-in-residence program or other contemporary exhibitions held at the museum. Greene described this exhibition as evidence of “the collaboration that takes place throughout the institution and within the different programs”. Screenprinting is a mainstay production method at the FWM and is, as Greene described, “a medium built upon multiple artists working to create”. The execution of this show also depended upon the honed collaboration skills typical of the working methods here.

rabbit rabbit rabbit installation view fabric workshop
Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit (installation view), 2015. First-Floor Gallery at The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia. Photo credit: Carlos Avendaño.

Will Stokes, Jr. may be the artist with the longest relationship with the FWM, but Brittany Rafalak is the newest staff member. Her video “Consumption” (2015) is a short film about an imagined society which has banned the eating of anything other than a nutritional supplement. Despite this dystopian premise, the film is sensual and lush, almost Edenic in its presentation of two young women eating together in a natural, overgrown setting. Another video, “Catharsis” (2014) by Carlos Avendaῇo, is a film of a car moving through a carwash, shot from the vantage point of the car’s front windshield. As the title suggests, the experience of progressing through this sloshing and soapy storm and finally out into the light is purifying. And for me, this less-than-three minute film reawakens a childhood obsession with the carwash, with the leaving of the everyday to enter into the machine-like inner workings of a new world. I would like to suggest that this carwash catharsis is somehow a metaphor for this memorial exhibition imagery and subject matter that implies a moving through, repositioning, or transformation. But it may be more apt to think about this show as the opening-up of this museum, an invitation to meet the always-behind-the-scenes staff members as artists in their own right.

rabbit rabbit rabbit installation view fabric workshop
Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit (installation view), 2015. First Floor Lounge at The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia. Photo credit: Carlos Avendaño.

There are, however, several examples of transformation and change in other works of art here. Paige Fetchen’s “Medium-Good Stuff” (2015), is a standout for the way the artist has fashioned a lowbrow, black trash bag into a sophisticated-looking, upholstered cushion complete with soft stuffing held in place with upholstery buttons. Other works highlight how we ourselves may be subjects of constant alteration. Petra Floyd’s ink-on-paper “Self-Portraits” (2011), are a series of small portraits of someone who may or may not be the artist. In the gallery notes, Floyd states, “I am sure I have been all, more than, or none of these things.” These supposed self-portraits refuse to be fixed into any one identity; the loose, sketchy contour lines suggest that these faces are observed and obscured at the same time and subject to modification at any moment.

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit marks a distinct moment and memorial for the dynamic Kippy Stroud, but in the few weeks I spent considering the show, the museum hired a new interim director, Susan Lubowsky Talbott, who will usher in the upcoming spring season, which will include collaborative works by artist Janine Antoni; choreographer, theater, and community artist Anna Halprin; and the choreographer Stephen Petronio.

But for now, Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit remains on view through March 13 at the Fabric Workshop and Museum .

Tags

Brittany Rafalak, fabric workshop and museum, Kippy Stroud, Paige Fetchen, rabbit rabbit rabbit, Stephanie Alison Greene, will stokes jr

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