To See the Words Unspoken exhibit weaves an image of the impact of words

Shannon Ludington's interactive textile thesis exhibit invites viewers to participate in her art

The ASU Art Museum’s Downtown Project Space will be hosting Shannon Ludington's textile-based exhibition, To See the Words Unspoken, from March 16 to April 20 with performances until April 6.

To See the Words Unspoken, part of Ludington's thesis project as an ASU art graduate student, is an interactive gallery where viewers are invited to join in the artistic process.

Ludington created five panels of fabric, each embroidered with words that have significant meaning to her. They are all words that have been said directly to her and helped shape her self-identity.

She will spend the first part of her performance unraveling her embroidery. Then she'll invite onlookers to help her re-embroider the words, hoping to encourage a comfortable space for viewers to engage in an open dialogue.

“I really like creating spaces where people can come together and have conversations that they might not normally have,” Ludington said.

She said her goal is to start a dialogue about how comments about an individual's identity, both internal and external, shape who that person ultimately becomes.

She chose include the words "empty and full," which she will use to create a discussion about motherhood. "With, without and within," were chosen to comment on being a part of a community.

Ludington said she was drawn to textile work because of its deep roots in the human experience.

“I think textiles, because they’re so intimately connected in our lives — we think about beds, sheets and towels — see and are part of the most intimate and secret times in our lives, as well as the most public, so we trust them more and relate to them,” she said.

Erika Lynne Hanson, an ASU Herberger Institute professor of fiber and socially engaged practices, explained the historical aspect of Ludington’s exhibition, citing Uzbek suzani as a source of inspiration for the performative aspects of the work.

Hanson said suzani are bed covers embroidered by groups of women to be used as a dowry when a woman was preparing to be married. These embroidery gatherings acted as a space for the women of that time to talk openly outside the confines of society — and Ludington’s exhibition hopes to provide the same.

“It becomes this giant collaborative community event where it’s a space to do something with your hands, have a conversation and move into a space where you can start talking about things you wouldn’t necessarily talk about on a strictly superficial level,” Hanson said.

Ludington said this exhibition is her first work that holds an immediate, concrete emotional message for her.

“I didn’t realize how hard it would be to talk about,” she said. “A lot of my work is more analytical, … and I can speak about this (exhibition) analytically, but I will tear up. It’s been interesting to have that emotional connection.”

This kind of artist experimentation is a central goal of the Project Space, said ASU Art Museum curator Julio Morales.

Read More: The Project Space: Where art lives in downtown Phoenix

"This (space) is more experimental," Morales said. "Artists aren’t pressured and don’t need to feel that they have finished work, in that sense. It’s all about the artist's process."

The Project Space is open to the public every Friday evening, but Ludington will be in the space
each Wednesday through Saturday during the running of the exhibition.

Ludington said viewers are invited to join her in embroidering on those days as well, but she wants them to email her first and let her know they'll be attending on those days.

To See the Words Unspoken is Ludington’s first exhibition at the Project Space. For more information on the exhibition, there is a Facebook event page with details about the gallery.

Clarification: A previous version of this article stated that the exhibition will run until April 6 - performances will end April 6, but the exhibit will still be open on April 13 and 20 - the article has been edited to reflect this change.


Reach the reporter at mrobbin9@asu.edu or follow @MelissaARobbins on Twitter.

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