Opening Reception for Downriver by Coulter Russell
Coulter Fussell: Downriver
July 21 – August 26, 2023
Opening Reception: Friday, July 21st, 5-8PM
Institute 193 is pleased to present Downriver, a series of multi-media works by Mississippi-based artist Coulter Fussell. In her own words:
I get into my studio every morning around 9:30. It’s an un-air-conditioned, unheated, ill-lit, twice-flooded, former geriatric medical supply storefront with no functioning running water and water-seeping, un-nailable concrete walls. And no Wi-Fi. Virginia Creeper grows from the ceiling on the inside. But it has a roof and a floor.
The place is around 100 feet long and 25 feet wide and is absolutely jam packed with thousands of textiles…all in various states of wholeness: clothes, bedsheets, curtains, carpets, blankets, quilts, pillows, t-shirts, beach towels, lawn chair cushions, drapes, sleeping bags, tents, parachutes, and tablecloths. There’s also a substantial number of antique sewing machines, from beautiful little household Singer Featherweights to industrial machines from mill town denim factories. If I use a machine, which is rare, I use a plastic Singer Simple. I want a machine I can beat up without regret and I want to be able to grab another one really quick when it breaks down. I’ll repair it later.
Everything in the studio was donated from friends or strangers: every chair, every pencil, every spool of thread, every table, every shelf and every needle. People sometimes leave piles of bulging trash bags at my studio door or they may keep it simple, like a single jar of black walnuts or some raccoon pelts. Or, like happened one time, when an old man in a pick-up truck drove up sideways to the parking spots out the front door and honked his horn to summon me out. When I got to the doorway of the studio, the man reached behind the cab of his truck, through the back window into the bed. He fished around and then tossed to me over the truck roof a single roll of 3-inch golden velvet trim. Then he drove off. No idea who it was. It turns out, we live in a material world and people have a lot to give.
The fact that my materials are donated to me is the main qualifying factor that gets a piece of fabric in a work. I’m looking for the path that got it to me, not necessarily what it’s “value” is. That is to say, I don’t care if you’re fine European linen tablecloth from 1870 or a brand-new Walmart t-shirt from Tupelo… Are you a good blue and I need a good blue? If so, you’re in. The quality of the fabric outside of its mere existence in my studio doesn’t ever come into consideration. I’m real democratic with my textiles in that way. Every piece is equal in the studio & they all stand an equal chance of making it into a work.
My goal every day in the studio is to tell personal stories with the physical remnants of others’ personal stories as my material. I do this in an effort to make connections. Sifting through these old fabrics is an exercise in archeology. I whole-heartedly believe that textiles tell those stories. Another way I go for connections is by grafting artforms. By this I mean having my pieces no more quilt than they are painting and no more sculpture than they are pillow. My work is not a quilt that looks like a painting or a painting that looks like a quilt. I want something else to be born like when you graft a plum branch to a peach tree to create a whole new fruit.
All my works ride on the foundations of traditional quilting and doll-making methods and that is my main vehicle. I sew first and last. What happens in the middle is up for grabs. Personally, I think craft is the beginning and end of all art, so that is my mind frame every day.
Other than all that, I work on the floor. I don’t sketch anything or plan ahead. I start a work when I see a piece of fabric that makes a spark––one that makes me think I can tell a story. I use a lot of scrap wood and take apart old furniture people give me to use in the works. I hand-sew most everything because it’s pretty and sensible and my main tools are needle, scissors, a jigsaw, and Velcro. Balancing pragmatism with wild abandon is my favorite thing. This is the quilter in me. I usually leave the studio everyday around 3 or 4 when the kids start texting me that they’re hungry and need rides places.
Outside of the studio, I read ceaselessly about various human histories so I can decipher what’s happening when I’m back in the studio among all the textiles. I see everything that’s ever happened through the lens of fabric.
About the artist:
Coulter Fussell (b. 1977, Columbus, GA) hails from a long line of seamstresses and quiltmakers who the artist cites for her love of textiles—particularly her grandmother who could “sew seams tight enough to hold water.” Using discarded and donated textiles as her sole materials, Fussell produces quilt-works that have been exhibited in galleries and museums across the United States including The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art (Charleston, South Carolina), The Wiregrass Museum of Art, (Dothan, AL), and the Alabama Contemporary Art Center (Mobile, AL). Fussell’s work is also in the permanent collections of Columbus Museum of Art (Georgia) and the Mississippi Museum of Art (Jackson, MS). In 2023 Fussell was a Mississippi Arts Commission Individual Artist Fellowship recipient and inducted into the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters.