Marie Watt: Singing Everything : 299 Grand Street, New York, New York.
Marc Strauss second solo show exhibition, Singing Everything, owith interdisciplinary American artist Marie Watt. A member of the Seneca Nation, Watt also has German-Scott ancestry. Her layered and complex influences include Indigenous knowledge and Iroquois proto-feminism, the matriarchal structures of certain Native American nations, the rise of social activism throughout the 20th century, and the anti-war and anti-hate content of the 1960s and 1970s music scene.
Central to the exhibition are three Sewing Circle pieces that were initiated at communal gatherings at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2022. Watt’s sewing circles are cross generational, multicultural gatherings that she has been organizing for over a decade. Inspired by poet laurate Joy Harjo’s (Mvskoke/Creek) poem Singing Everything, Watt collects words from the participants of her sewing circles with the prompt, “what do you want to sing a song for in this moment?” The submitted words are then embroidered or sewn onto patches of fabric during the sewing circle. For the Whitney Sewing Circle, with over 300 participants, Watt, for the first time, used all the submitted words. Each panel is patterned in a way that stays true to the original hand. She thinks of ones handwriting as an extension of the cadence of one’s voice and in this project, it becomes part of a larger chorus. By composing large-scale wall works from these pieces of fabric, Watt creates collaborative artworks that interweave many individual handwritings, touches, and the stories that were exchanged in a shared space.
When entering the gallery, the visitor is greeted by a sweeping, 24-foot-long neon sign spelling out the words “deer, skywalker, heron, bass, great lake, woodland, beaver, turtle, wolf, lowly, muskrat, rat” in various hues that evoke the sky on the horizon during sunset and sunrise. While the piece represents a new direction in Watt’s work, she views neon as an extension of beadwork. The glass itself is at once thread and bead, and both neon and beads have a relationship to trade. They both envelop light, color, and sound, embodying sunrises and sunsets on the horizon.
Two blanket towers, her signature sculptural works, appear in the show but now with tin bells or jingles added to the reclaimed wool blankets. This choice of added material felt like a natural extension to Watt.
She writes: “Blankets are danced and so are jingles, there is something healing about them both. They are objects of comfort” – by way of touch or sound. “Jingles acknowledge the Jingle Dress Dance which began as a healing ritual in the Ojibwe tribe in the 1910s during the influenza pandemic. The Jingle Dress Dance was also a radical act. In 1883, the United States banned Indigenous ceremonial gatherings. Though the ban was repealed in 1978 with the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, during its century-long prohibition the Jingle Dress Dance was shared with other tribal communities. Today it is a pow-wow dance and continues to be associated with healing. The relevance of this dance extends beyond pandemics.” By including jingles Watt brings the potential of sound into her work, adding to their visual and tactile aspects.
While drawing from long craft traditions such as textile or glass work, Watt is expanding her work by including contemporary stories and both individual and collective experiences. Her primary interest is to think about art as more experiential, rather than only visual, a direction she plans to explore further.
Marie Watt holds an MFA in painting and printmaking from Yale University, and she attended Willamette University and the Institute of American Indian Arts. In 2016, she was awarded an honorary doctorate from Willamette University. Watt’s work has recently been shown at The Whitney Museum in the exhibition Making Knowing: Craft in Art, 1950–2019; the Seattle Art Museum in the exhibition American Art: The Stories We Carry; the Yale University Art Gallery in Place, Nations, Generations, Beings: 200 Years of Indigenous North American Art; the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists, amongst others. Upcoming shows include Many Wests: Artists Shape an American Idea at the Smithsonian American Art Museum this summer. Watt was born and raised in Seattle, Washington, and currently resides in Portland, Oregon.
Watt’s work is part of major museum collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Whitney Museum of American Art; the National Gallery of Art; Cornell University; Yale Art Gallery; Princeton University; the Portland Art Museum; the Smithsonian; Seattle Art Museum; US Library of Congress; Denver Art Museum; Crystal Bridges Museum; Rose Art Museum; the Heard Museum; the National Gallery of Canada; the Detroit Art Institute; amongst many others.