Interview with artist Millicent Kennedy!

Interview with artist Millicent Kennedy!

I met today's artist in a screenprinting class that I was taking & they were teaching. Millicent is a practicing contemporary artist who materially works a lot with textiles, printmaking, & dyeing fabrics. I will let you read the interview to discover more about them!

How do you get ideas for your work? Can you describe your creative process? 
I frequently make artworks that include found objects that are hand sewn into fabric that I have printed and dyed. Because there are many parts to the physical process, the direction of planning my work can start from quite a few directions.

In my practice I am continually drawn to materials, and think a lot about how commonplace items can have their context shifted, and make us think about something differently.
Sometimes my process starts with found objects, usually ones that speak to what's happening in my life at that moment, or have a history that I am interested in discussing. Or conversely, I might have a textile that I have screenprinted and dyed that I’m looking for the right object to sew it into. In the studio there are times of play, and times of completing something more concrete, which needs a dedicated structure. I spend a lot of time researching and reading as well, and that often comes into the work, even if it takes time. 
Sculpture of forceps sewn into a dark mauve fabric in a box
What do you do if you feel stuck / fresh out of ideas?
In my first class in art school the instructor assigned us to write 100 ideas for an artwork. It was a sculpture class so they were 100 ideas for sculptures, and that’s a practice that I have continued since. I write down all my ideas, even if they are silly, or not something I know how to do yet, like welding. I find it very helpful when I feel stuck to look back at ideas that I wrote down when I was too busy doing other things. Even if none of those ideas are speaking to me at the moment, I can put myself back in the headspace I was in then. Also I think just being present in your daily life will surprise you, changing one thing in my routine can frequently lead me to new ideas.
You said you work with a lot of fabric, stitching & dyeing. Can you tell us about that process? 
I print on fabric with dye, as well as print with mordants (it's a metallic salt, like alum, which is also used in food pickling) that are then put into a dye bath. The magic of that is that the dye will only attach to places in the fabric that have the mordant, because they have a material affinity to one another. Usually this is something that I build up with several layers over time, and when the textile feels complete I will stitch found objects into it. The textile and object usually have a relationship, and I spend a lot of time finding the right match for each item I’m working with.
I have a background as a printmaker, and have in some projects printed on fabric for use in my stitched works. But when I started to learn more about natural dyes and printing with them on fabric, something really opened up for me. The process has a slowness and transformative quality that I think also reflects how I feel about sewing objects into fabric, that the possibility for change is in the material itself, that we can think about broken things differently.
Sculpture of screwdriver sewn into pink fabric in a box


Your recent body of work seems to touch on themes of work & rest & death (eternal rest?) & safety. Can you describe the work & explain the ideas behind it? 
This year I’m working on two bodies of work. The first one, “Resting Places for Objects of Labor”, quilts broken and worn tools into cushioned compositions. These are housed in custom made boxes that are archival, but seemingly coffin-like. Increasingly, I’m looking to talk with workers about their jobs and what investing in rest would look like for them, and I would like to have these stories as part of an exhibition about this work. My practice frequently utilizes the process of hand quilting around objects as an affectionate hold, and archival shroud. To hold an item and its story is an act of love. In this project I intend to hold this space for the makers of Chicago. 


Sculpture of a vice sewn into fabric in a box
Sculpture of a tape measure sewn into mint green fabric in a triangular box

The second project I’m working on this year is “Boundaries”, which include window panes, window bars, security gates, etc. that are the membranes of protecting private property. These are sewn into fabric that often have imagery of tools and broken possessions, printed with dye. With this series, I’m thinking a lot about the facades of protection that we put up around us, and how we can make that membrane visible as something we think about. In art history, related to painting, there is a lot written about drawing back the curtain and painting being a window. I’m very interested in subverting that with these works that are both a window but also hindering your ability to see through them. 


Sculpture of window bars sewn into screenprinted & hand-dyed fabric

Sculpture of window bars sewn into screenprinted & hand-dyed fabric
This obviously relates to the first question, but do you have any general thoughts on inspiration for our readers?
Pay attention to what you notice that other people don’t. This is your observational superpower, and can lead you to new directions and ideas. Trust the process when you try something new, and after you learn the rules of a medium, find new ways to break them to make them work for you. And make the things that you want to exist in the world, those are the building blocks of making the world that we want. 



Who’s a contemporary artist you are looking at right now? 

Currently thinking a lot about Selva Aparicio’s work (who has a show opening March 14th at Depaul Art Museum), Elizabeth Atterbury and Andi Crist. Also, I have artists that I always return to, a few are Anne Hamilton, Miranda July and Doris Salcedo.


Millicent's website:

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