I believe words are the most powerful things in human societies. Anything, and anyone, can be built or destroyed with words. This tenet is the foundation of my work in poetry, in art, and as a curator.
Through my daily practice I identify barriers to living out loud with an open heart. My artworks are emblems of my commitment to engage the breadth of my own and others’ humanity.
I am in love with the physical manifestation of things—their color, smell, texture, size—the entire visceral world. More than anything, I’ve come to see the universe as a place constantly in motion so that there is no fixed truth, no absolute, immutable reality. My worldview is infinitely flexible, dedicated to probing what is before me precisely because it is so fleeting.
The heart of my practice is working beyond fear; more specifically, living outside the fear–state that is the centrifugal force of much of American culture. This state is induced by the proliferation of violent public images and language, narrowly defined scripts for relationship, silences around racial and gender aggression, and a stunning disrespect for the natural world.
My mission as an artist is to tell the sometimes brutal truth about what I see around me, and to honor and celebrate my own and others’ ability to thrive, sometimes in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
I commit to one creative act every day, and have devoted my life to remaining rapturously curious. I am a ferocious champion of every human being's right to celebrate their life as a singular miracle.
THE TWIN PEEKS DRESS
Work on Japanese rice paper
I fashion my dress collages as a way of exploring aspects of agency, spirit, beauty, and history. Each collage has its own unique energy. Even after twenty years and almost three hundred dress collages, I find they still surprise me with their dark humor and visual verve. I use French journals from the 1900s, rice and origami papers, and comic books to create each dress collage. Early ones were simpler, more abstract. Now, I include more and more text to emphasize the personal and political choices women face every day.
The text on the scroll comes from my recent chapbook Said I Meant, a play on the word sediment. Made of ink on Japanese rice paper, the dramatic length of the scroll, and the dark gray and pale gray text provide an unusual way to consider poetry. By design, I've made the poem more tactile, more like visual art. As I hand stenciled the words, I entered them in a more meditative fashion, and I hope the viewer experiences the text as an incantation. As with all of my artwork and writing, the poem is about how to be most alive moment to moment. Accepting death, loss, and grief, which figure prominently in the poem, can allow us to truly treasure our own lives, day to day.
JoAnne McFarland is an artist, poet, and curator. She is the Artistic Director of Artpoetica Project Space in Gowanus, Brooklyn which focuses on work that is both literary and highly visual. McFarland has exhibited widely, both nationally and internationally, for more than thirty years.
Her artwork is in the permanent collections of the Library of Congress, the Columbus Museum of Art, the Department of State, and Dynegy, Inc. among many others. She is the author of eighteen poetry books and libretti, including a recent series of innovative digital bookworks.
Co–curated with Sasha Chavchavadze, her yearslong project, SALLY, a title referencing Sarah ‘Sally’ Hemings, explores how contemporary conceptions of white/black, male/female, young/old, rich/poor reflect or disrupt earlier cultural norms.
In her work McFarland treats violence and creativity as diametrically opposed: each act of making thwarts violence’s aim to destroy.