“This is my eight-year-old dream come true,” says Mandy Greer, surveying her home studio, which her husband (artist Paul Margolis) recently built with a friend in a space adjoining the laundry room. Countless clear plastic tubs are packed to bursting with colorful fabrics. Sparkly garments hang from hooks, as does a furry wolf head and an elaborate headdress. Spools of thread and boxes of beads abound. The industrial window rolls open above a steep decline and onto high backyard branches.
This magical tree house in Columbia City is perfect for Greer, a multi-disciplinary installation artist who says, “Everything I do now comes from things I did as a kid.” She remembers always wanting to be an artist; making doll clothes, crocheting chains and attending a particularly thrilling arts-and-crafts camp, where she learned how to weave on a loom, carve wood, use a hammer and drill, and make rag rugs. Now married and raising a 7-year-old boy, her life isn’t all that different.
For her work—stunning in both scale and detail—Greer relies largely on crocheted fiber and solid papier mache forms, the latter of which she embraced two years after a “clay meltdown” she had while pursuing her MFA in ceramics at the University of Washington (“I loved the visceral quality of clay,” she recalls, “but I hated the firing.”). She shreds old t-shirts and found fabric, crochets and hand sews it, or adorns it with a blend of expensive and cheap trinkets. She crafts animal figures and costumes with papier mache made from junk mail, phone book pages and wallpaper paste.
It’s work that might be precious if done by another 38-year-old, but in Greer’s hands it becomes something striking, primal and a little frightening. Her 2006 show at Bumbershoot, Small But Mighty Wandering Pearl, featured a life-sized white stag, pristine and peaceful except for the yards of blood-red crocheted and embellished entrails spilling from its belly. In 2008’s Dare alla Luce at Bellevue Arts Museum, Greer’s looming and ropy organic forms recalled Spanish moss that appeared to be encroaching and decaying all at once.
“My work explores that human fear and fascination with dissolving into the earth,” she says. Her current project, Solstenen, takes this concept even further. She’s crafting “stone clothing”—by crocheting fiber around stones—which she and her husband will don for photographs and videos made during a spring 2012 residency in Iceland. “We’ll be wearing non-wearable garments,” she says with anticipation. Greer, who was a double major in ceramics and English at the University of Georgia (1996), often finds inspiration in literature and myth. The idea for Solstenen came in part from an A.S. Byatt story, “The Stone Woman,” in which the title character’s body begins blooming with minerals. Frightened, she seeks out the best spot in which to petrify. “Becoming a part of the landscape is all about death,” Greer says, “But in the Byatt story, it’s also an exhilarating prospect—you get to be a part of all this when you die.”
Perhaps it’s the allure of being part of a larger life force that draws Greer to collaborative projects. She’s worked with local dancers, musicians and filmmakers, and for Solstenen, she invited the public to participate via regular “crochet parties” at The Project Room on Capitol Hill, where she’s been working in an open studio environment since mid-July. People come in, pick up a crochet hook, sit on the floor and add silvery-gray strands to the emerging creation. Sounds like an eight-year-old’s dream come true.