Textile installation 'Casually Not Okay' celebrates transformation


For the first time since March, there’s art hanging in ShiftSpace, Wichita State’s downtown gallery.

Amy Huser installed hundreds of feet of weavings for her Master of Fine Arts thesis show “Casually Not Okay.” The brightly colored textiles are suspended from the ceiling with hooks and almost invisible line, almost like brushstrokes liberated from canvas.

The exhibition is the artist’s response to the amount of time she has wasted doubting herself, but it also reflects the triumph of a marathon finish line and an unexpected surgery in the final weeks of graduate school. Ultimately, it makes a statement about transformation.

Like all university entities, the gallery is closed to public gatherings until at least May 26. At some point this summer, ShiftSpace will hold a reception and gallery hours for “Casually Not Okay,” though they may be by appointment only.

In the meantime, Huser spends a lot of time in the gallery by herself with the work it took her years to create.

“I continue to learn more about becoming something new from seeing it hanging here,” she said. “‘Casually Not Okay’ is a celebration of the process of becoming more confident and free from self-doubt. It has evolved past where the ideas originated and what the process was. Now the space encourages movement, play and reflection.”

At the beginning of her graduate studies in fall 2017, Huser’s work explicitly addressed the pressure she felt to check the womanly boxes of marriage and family. For “Savasana,” an earlier work, she created a weaving using bridal textiles.

As research for her thesis, Huser reread the journals she wrote in daily for more than ten years. This writing practice functioned as prayer, meditation and documentation, and she estimates each entry took about an hour to complete. Many focused almost entirely the artist’s feelings of unhappiness about “not measuring up.” These totaled 730 entries, roughly equivalent to 730 hours of self-criticism.

“Instead of spending 730 hours in crippling self-doubt, I decided to spend it in thankfulness and joy over how life is working out,” she said. “I’m reclaiming all those hours.”

Huser marked each hour spent weaving with a red line, which signifies one journal entry. The only restraint she imposed on herself was the line for each hour, and the absence of solid red in the rest of the work.

The installation includes hand-dyed yarns woven into intricate patterns, which reflect the artist’s skill. Other parts are less refined, made from whatever she had at hand.

In some places, Huser refers to literal moments from her life, such as the plastic gear bag from her marathon, strips of which are woven into a section of one piece. In others, viewers may recognize visual references such as a 90s-era sweater or Chuck E. Cheese tchotchke.

Huser also repurposed the journals. She tore each page from the 14 Moleskine and spiral notebooks and fed them, one by one, through an electric shredder. The process took several days.

“Shredding those words was cathartic, but it needed to be done in order to move on,” Huser said. “It was also hard, because I had held onto them so long.”

She encased the shredded pages in packing tape and wove them into her work. One piece is almost entirely composed of her own destroyed words.

Plastic bags add texture to some pieces.

“It spoke about the idea of taking something seemingly throwaway and making it new,” she said.

Huser first used a loom as an undergraduate at the University of Kansas, where she earned a degree in art history with a studio emphasis in textiles in 2014.

Contemporary textile artists share a connection to the resurgence of craft in the 1960s and 70s, when women embraced textiles while simultaneously critiquing the concept of traditional women’s work.

“The connection to what was considered women’s work is why I kept weaving,” Huser said. “It feels tied to the pressures I felt as a woman, which is what got me started me down this road toward this installation.”

“Even before I discovered weaving, I’ve been into repetitive, meditative mark marking,” she said. “Weaving is a very intense repetition of putting down a line of thread and pulling all the different parts of the loom. It gets the whole body involved, and your mind can let loose a little bit and meditate as you weave, because it’s this simple, repetitive, bodily motion.”

She identifies with the textile and installation artist Ann Hamilton, who talks about how her mind “falls open” when she works with her loom.

In graduate school, Huser found another way to let her mind go when she took up walking and running.

“I found my art process spilling over into my entire life,” she said.

“No one in their right mind would run their first marathon their last semester in graduate school,” Huser acknowledged. She finished Orlando’s Walt Disney Marathon in January.

The artist says running has changed her relationship to pain.

“In running, we can go through pain because we know something on the other side is better and if we can go through this thing, we’ll get there,” she said. “Sometimes it’s worth it.”

That approach allowed her to go through the process of destroying her journals, and it helped her push through to the end of her thesis project when she was sidelined by foot surgery.

“The surgery wasn’t that big of a deal, it just meant I couldn’t use my loom in the last few weeks of grad school,” Huser said.

To finish her thesis work, Huser cut long pieces of yarn and plastic fringe, which she knotted onto a length of string. The swags are a “loose interpretation” of weaving, which is literally the process of attaching fibers together. The pieces also give the installation more lightness and movement.

The end result wasn’t what Huser expected, but she doesn’t see it as entirely finished, either.

“It’s one thing just as it is, but it also has the potential for growth,” she said.

“And that’s life.”