Graduate Alumni Work > Advanced Fiber Studio (Highlights)

Alex Barnawell (Spring 2014)
Alex Barnawell (Spring 2014)


Prepositions suggest a specificity of locations: across a beginning space and an ending, over or beyond one side and its correlating “other,” but these words do not seek to define those places. This lack of specificity allows my identity and my work to span across disciplines- fibers, ceramics, printmaking, bookmaking, light metals and paper manipulation. A lack of specificity means that I pull my work across subject matters- geological, biological, physical, political, didactic, emotional and poetic, to reveal the many overlapping truths.

Humans have what is called “Theory of Mind.” Which is the capability to recognize thought and experience in others that differs from one’s own perspective. The capacity to believe in another being’s complexity without knowing that complexity. The capacity to know what others know and conceive of what they might not know. These faculties are not perhaps unique to humans, but the inherent desire to reach out beyond our own limited experience and make connections with others- to transcend those differences, is the power of human imagination!

The world we have created for ourselves does not reflect our abilities of tenderness and understanding. If we examine the ways people treat each other, we see patterns of beliefs about superiority that mold hierarchies of access, value, and importance of lives. By living within this social order I have been indoctrinated with the practices of shame, the acts of “othering”, and the thirst to be valued above others. These value systems reflect a species-wide ability to turn our empathetic cognition “off” when we see systems of unfairness that benefit us. I want to challenge this “off switch” of emotion. Untangling and unlearning negative stigmas and behaviors is a kind of criticality that requires the utmost generosity and devotion.

When I examine the natural world, I see the overwhelming smallness of everything, especially my human self. In recognizing this smallness, I see the care which small things require to sustain themselves. I seek to bring an empathy to my work that allows an audience to absorb some feeling of this kind of tenderness. I seek to use natural metaphors (mountains, lichens, bodies and identities) and trans-disciplinary work in fibers, ceramics, printmaking, bookmaking, light metals and paper manipulation to open up the possibilities that the theory of mind allows us to believe and explore. To bring human-ness to inanimate objects, and to enrich the human-ness we perceive in others. Doing the work to expand empathy to the very edges of the universe. To allow my own vulnerability come up against the vulnerability of others. To do the work of feeling.