Atlanta artist and animator Aubrey Longley-Cook's exhibition Serving Face centers on a brief animation of RuPaul created from 35 individual cross-stitch portraits of the famous drag performer. With the organizational help of local arts organization WonderRoot, Longley-Cook led a months-long workshop in which he instructed a group of volunteer participants how to cross-stitch. Each stitcher was then assigned an individual template based on stills from a clip of RuPaul's Supermodel video.
The final animation's unveiling as a looping video, along with a showing of the original frames and other works by Longley-Cook including a nine-frame animation of Atlanta drag artist Lavonia Elberton and several still portraits of Atlanta drag queens, will take place this Saturday evening at the Erikson Clock building in Atlanta's Castleberry Hill neighborhood. The celebratory evening will also feature themed performances from drag artists Lavonia Elberton, Ellisorous Rex, Cayenne Rouge, Xee Xee Bow Dong, and Brigitte Bidet and music from Club MSIF.
We caught up with Longley-Cook in advance of the big night to ask about the recent completion of the show's central work.
Do you know the cumulative number of hours it took to complete all the cross-stitch frames?
Everyone worked at a different pace. Some people said it took 100 hours to stitch their frame; one person said it took 300 hours. It's enough work that most people can't really gauge it accurately. I estimate - it's certainly not perfect - about 150 hours per frame, 35 frames, so about 5000 hours of work, something like that. It's almost a half million stitches.
I was happily surprised that it worked, and it wasn't complete chaos. It wasn't disorienting or overwhelming visually. I was worried how the color schemes and the handwork would combine. I'm not sure if it was specific to the group or specific to the process, but it's successful. It works.
Were you terrified the first time you hit play?
A little bit. I've been having anxiety attacks just because so many people devoted so much time to this. It's not really the type of project you can test. It really wasn't until I saw it that I knew it worked. Really, it was just about trusting that animation works.
What were people's experiences stitching? Any surprises there?
It's not surprising to me, but most people were surprised by how long it took. It really demanded a lot from everyone, and it shows in the final work. The frames could have been smaller in scale, and it would have taken less time, but then you would have lost a lot of detail ... There was a lot of interesting travel. Some of the frames made it around the world. Jane Garver had a residency in Portugal and then in Germany, with a little travel in between. Ru went with her on that. My friends Adrienne and Nathaniel also did a bunch of travel, they went to a couple places in Europe and also to Portland and back. It was the perfect project to take on a road trip or even on a flight. Chris Sealy works downtown and he would work on his frame in the cafeteria at lunchtime, and the ladies who work there would always ask him, "Oh, how's Ru coming along?"
Asking this much from people was certainly a lot. But the workshop is set up so that the artwork goes back to the people after it's done [Each participant keeps their frame]. It's playing with the idea of artists' assistants. They're not really assistants because I'm not paying them. But it's an experiment in how you can create community-based work and do it in a way that you're hopefully not taking advantage of the participants but instead empowering them with this endangered technique. It's promoting this craft that I'm excited to see some of the participants continue to do or to teach other people to do. I think that's really exciting. The participants also hopefully become part of this larger thing. It's empowering Atlanta artists to seek out community, to seek out collaboration. All of that is a really good part of it, part of the goals of what I've been trying to promote with this project. I hope that when everyone from the workshop sees it at the show that they're excited and happy they were a part of it. I hope the people like it. I hope Ru likes it. I hope the queens like it.
Everyone chose their own color scheme which certainly gives each frame its own personality but could you also see individual personality in the style of the stitches themselves?
Yeah. Mike Stasny's piece has very masculine stitches. From far away it looks perfect. It's interesting. I don't know how he did it. His stitches are really personal. And then there's also tightness. Brooke Hatfield's stitches are really tight. Her frame animated beautifully. Ashley Anderson planned how the back would look. It's beautiful. He's a master through and through. I hope people will take the time to look at each individual frame at the show. It probably will be the last time that can happen. Once these frames leave the show, it will be all but impossible to get them back together. Some people have moved away from Atlanta: one frame will be mailed to England, one's going to Texas, one's going to New York, one's going to North Carolina.
Certainly the connection to Atlanta was important [RuPaul Charles originally began performing in Atlanta's drag, punk and underground scenes of the 1980s before moving to New York and achieving worldwide fame]. Over the course of the project so many people hearing about this would tell me stories about their interactions with RuPaul over the years. I guess that legacy was really interesting, how much she impacted Atlanta and how much she was a part of people's lives here. Another part of it is that I wanted someone approachable, someone that anyone would have heard of. Another part of it became important as I started to see this kaleidoscopic effect. This type of portrait made a lot of sense for RuPaul. The kaleidoscopic effect plays off how she always says, "I believe in using every color in the crayon box." It really speaks to her own ideals.
Barbara Archer Gallery & Erikson Clock co-present Aubrey Longley-Cook's "Serving Face" from December 14 through January 4 at Erikson Clock (a Goat Farm Satellite), 364 Nelson Street. The public is invited to the free opening reception on Saturday, December 14, beginning at 7 p.m. Performances begin at 8 p.m. and run intermittently throughout the evening.
Participants in the workshop include Ashley Anderson, Paul Bazen, Kimberly Binns, Jess Bernhart, Katherine Bernhart, Rachel Burnstein, Clay Butterworth, Shay Buckley, Kaitlin Commiskey, Olisa Corcoran, Lauren Cunningham, Jared Dawson, Kate Doubler, Sarah Durning, Jane Garver, Maggie Ginestra, Sally Hansell, Brooke Hatfield , Tricia Hersey-Patrick, Andre Keichian, Taryn Kelly, Christina León, Adrienne Lowe, Romy Aura Maloon, Lauren McDonald, Amy Salley , Steve Sauer, Chris Seely, Nathan Sharratt, Nathaniel Smith, Christa Tinsley Spaht, Mike Stasny, Drew Watts and Elizabeth Yates.
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