The Beauty in Trauma, the Bittersweet of Healing - Caroline Wayne at A.I.R. Gallery
Dec 09, 2019
In March of this year I had a studio visit with Caroline Wayne, an artist whose work I had been admiring through social media and whose work fascinated me to no end. Her beadwork textile sculptures, so finely detailed, the patterns on each work made up of different types of beads and sequins, the three-dimensionality of each pattern and design makes a viewer want to examine each angle of work closer, making you wonder how it must feel. But I wondered what inspired each piece? What was/is this artist’s journey to now?
It was in that visit that I discovered the dark inspirations and life lessons that Wayne has learned to live with, process, heal, and even create beauty from.
Wayne’s work is centered around her own sexual trauma and abuse, her struggles to come to terms with that past, trying to not only live with those memories but to understand how those memories and that trauma have continued to affect her and her understanding of the world. Her work is a reflection and testament to what every survivor must endure every day. Depicting the emotional labor and journey of navigating the world day on the never-ending spiral like trajectory of healing that takes place.(i)
It was these understandings in mind that I made the trek to Brooklyn on a chilly Thursday evening to have Wayne walk me through her second solo exhibition titled, Grown Cyclone.(ii)
Her works are displayed in the intimate Gallery 2, adjacent to the larger A.I.R. Gallery space. Entering the space you are immediately confronted with wall-sized drawing, created out of thousands of drawn circles. Similar in size, various sunrise tones creating an overall design that while looking at it I could feel my own nervous and anxiety filled energy heighten.
It’s her large scale drawing that frames three of her totem-like felt sculptures of survival and growth, Compulsion to Heal, 2018, Pole Reversal, 2019 and Holding Pattern, (Formerly Tickbait), 2019. Each of these felt and beaded sculptures are intricate, detailed, made through hours and months of focused work. Each bead or sequin is placed not haphazardly on a whim, but has a certain place, a purpose.
Holding Pattern, (Formerly Tickbait), 2019, personifies this thoughtfulness and planning. It is also the work that for me shows the healing process of relooking at past memories and coming to terms with them, can eventually bring. In the center of the sculpture is the repeated pattern of small legs being pulled to a bright circle by bodiless arms, a reflection of recurring dream and memory Wayne has of being a small child pulled up towards a flashing light by just one of her legs. This circle of legs and arms are haloed of bound arms, the arms posed pulled into a sexual submission that was a favorite position of one of Wayne’s past lovers(iii) to see her in. These kinky memories of a past lover and childhood trauma are seen on a floating cloud consisting of the flowering plant Daucus carota, or more commonly known as ‘Queen Anne’s lace’ that’s on closer examination has the realistic deadly depiction of ticks within its white flowers.
The botanical Queen’s lace that cradles Wayne’s early and more recent memories, were not chosen by chance, but is an active element in healing process. While growing up in Connecticut, Queen Anne’s Lace could be seen in the trees that made a path from Wayne’s backyard to her family’s north pasture. Wayne was scared of Queen Anne’s Lace because of how ticks so often made this plant their home. It was only later when examining old memories that she looked up the history of this plant and discovered how it was named after Queen Anne of Britain, because the flower resembled lace, a popular textile of the time, and the red flower in the center came to represent a single droplet of blood from Queen Anne from a needle prick while making this delicate textile. Once discovering the feminine and historical textile roots to this plant, Wayne was able to appreciate and even like, this previously fear inducing foliage.
Finally, when turning away from Holding Pattern, (Formerly Tickbait), 2019, I am challenged by 9 pairs of eyes peering at me from the center black slit of Deep Creep, 2019, placed alone on wall. Deep Creep was inspired by Wayne’s own personal history of being stalked online through social media sites, the eyes like the many users that can gaze at you through multiple social accounts, surrounded by bright and friendly waves like the Wi-Fi signal one sees on your phone. Yet, Deep Creep, goes beyond Wayne commenting on living surrounded by the gaze of the others, but how she turns that gaze right back.
Wayne described to me something that everyone that has been stalked online (and IRL(iv)) does, check constantly to make sure that stalker, that creep, isn’t still looking at and keeping tabs on you. So in reaction you must start looking and gazing and keeping tabs on them.
Those 9 pair of unblinking eyes staring at me were not the eyes of the people that Wayne has and continues to be harassed by. Instead it is her eyes, confronting the viewer, her stalkers, and showing that she has taken the power of their gazes and turned back on them.
It is this work, the layering of social media and how one is not only creeped out by others gaze, but having to become a creep yourself just to feel safe, that continues to haunt me. Because as any survivor will tell you, all of one’s actions have, the way we navigate the world, has and continues to be formed by the memories of the past, the creeps in our lives, and how we must continue to navigate those memories and to not to become a creep ourselves.
The obsessive meticulous nature of Caroline Wayne’s artwork is seen in its rawest repetitive form in her large wall drawings. This obsessive need to re-examine, and repeat an action is similar to how someone processes trauma, the need to re-look, to try and understand, to do the same action again and again, hoping with circle, every new color used, a new deeper understanding of yourself can be obtained.
It is this raw need and energy, to make sense from chaos, to find beauty when you feel broken inside, that Wayne is able to harness in her beaded works, and it is this unsaid element that make you gasp in their intricate bittersweet beauty.
Those elements combined with the heavy personal significance of each work, one leaves the gallery space thinking of one’s own personal history and understanding of trauma and abuse. How have I come to terms with the traumatic events in my life? What have I learned? Have I been able to grow and understand how Wayne has?
Regardless of the answers one thing is clear. Wayne’s work reminds us that healing, especially in terms of trauma and abuse, is a process that continues on into adulthood. And when I asked Wayne what she was hoping to accomplish with her show, she wrote,
“I wanted to provide a space for contemplating what it's like to navigate adulthood after complex trauma. With storytelling, symbolism, and an exposed process that all take place well after the traumatic event itself I want those who also live in this to feel like they're not alone, and those who haven't feel a little empathy.”
With tears rolling down my cheeks, I can only say she accomplished her goal, and it feels so good to no longer be alone.
(i) To have a better understanding of a sexual/emotional abuse survivors story read Grown Cyclone by Caroline Wayne.
(ii)The title, A Grown Cyclone, references Wayne’s overall concept of her exhibition and her personal understanding of how healing is shaped over time, in a spiral-like trajectory. “A slow, cyclical, often chaotic, labor-intensive, and redundant process mirrored both in the work itself and the narrative layout of the book.” – as quoted by the artist, 2019
(iii)“Enrique wasn’t particularly rough in the ways I had experiences for most of my twenties. He was just big. He fucked with force. He played around with constriction. One move I particularly liked was when he held my arms behind my back while I rode on top of him.” – Caroline Wayne, Grown Cyclone (2019), pgs. 40-41.
(iv)IRL – In Real Life, referencing events and people that occur in person rather than virtually online.
Caroline Wayne is a fiber artist and narrative essayist living in Brooklyn, New York. She received her BFA in fiber and material studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and was awarded a Fellowship at A.I.R. Gallery in 2018. Her work is currently on display at The Wing locations was recently included in the Phillip Johnson Glass House Annual Summer Gala. Wayne is also a professional couture milliner.
Image courtesy of the artist