What is the Hygeia Loom? Last day Communal Weaving at BAM, Sept 15, 12-3pm / by Mandy Greer

Tomorrow is the last day to work on the Hygeia 5 person loom, in this iteration of it with my project “A Great Unbridgeable Distance. At Bellevue Arts Museum, 12pm - 3pm.

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Tonight, Paul and I ( 2/3rds of Fallow Collective) performed a bit of hand-work meditation with the loom at the Bellwether Opening, switching from using the loom as a teaching tool and a site of hands-on participation, to a site of opening and digging around for a personal rhythm of the body and hands in productive flow. As an artist, I’m always looking for full body movements where making becomes a kind of dance or song. It’s a very private playing, but tonight I let it unfold in public. It’s subtle, but I think for other people, watching someone else weave is soothing. Or watching someone do most anything with their hands — throw a pot, kneed bread, fold cloth or harvest vegetable — with the repetition, the hands with their own mind, find a dance.

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It reminded me of a conversation that happened around the loom at one of the Communal Weaving sessions, someone brought up about how some folk dance can be traced to the kind of labor often done in the community, and the dance is a way to heal or recuperate from that labor, to counteract the labor on the body and keep people healthy. This story and conversation is embedded in the weaving. So is my son listening to death metal. So is a mother taking a few moments to weave while her toddler hangs on the pegs, and two young sisters in a little competition about who could fill it faster. So is a dad teaching his daughter to tie a knot. So is my husband staying up watch all the seasons of ‘Survivor’ to get the weavings completed so we have them to use in our nightly performances. And many many other conversations, mundane and necessary have been woven in.


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One day weaving at BAM, a woman asked me kindly, “ so what is behind all of this, why are you doing this, what started it all.” I haven’t really explained much of that, except to anyone else but my collaborators I’m working with. Once the loom existed, it demanded action and to be set in motion. But to make it, I needed to know why.

It’s a long meandering story, because that’s all I seem to be able to do. But this woman graciously listened, and was excited to hear the rabbit warren of thoughts that brought me to the process, as most artists have a bizarre layer cake or what gets them to what finally gets made.

So on the eve of ending this process ( at least for these sky blue changing indigo mats), I thought I’d share, what is the Hygeia Loom, an excerpt from my dramaturgical research for this project.

It started with a drawing my child did as a toddler of us as a family of narwhals. Three whales of three sizes, swimming forward. One of his earliest recognizable drawings.



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And then seeing this Justin Gibbens’ painting, with Hazel, we both looked at each other and said “we have to buy this”. I had no money as I was preparing to travel to do a project and the funding had not come through. But I jumped at the chance to buy this painting with the last bit of room on my credit card, and I think I literally cried because I loved the painting so much…it felt like it was mine.


  Justin Gibbens , Monodons of the World Unite, 2013

Justin Gibbens, Monodons of the World Unite, 2013

I look at it everyday, and began to see it as this net of my family, that hold me up, or we all hold each other up when we need to, even if the net gets ripped or damaged. I would zone into the center of the pentagram as this powerful place.

I wanted to make a power object, something where other people could feel the strength that we all must provide for each other sometimes. Working together, Paul built the loom for me, like he always has when I have a bigger idea. Here’s how the loom came to be ——

During Bellwether, surrounding split-open blackened elm tables, for people to sit upon, will be layers of handwoven mats made of indigo-dyed blue fabric I’ve collected from my neighbors and friends, the color of water or the changing sky. These mats will be made upon a special communal peg loom I am building now, shaped with 5 sides referencing the central form of the the symbol Hugieia, meaning ‘soundness and wholeness’, for the minor Greek goddess Hygieia, who stood for health of the individual and also social welfare.

The symbol worked its way into my life with a bit of synchronicity; I impulsively bought a painting by Justin Gibbens of entwined narwhal whales whose horns form a hugieia, because my son had drawn our family as narwhals when he was a toddler. While none of this will register for anyone participating, the symbol has come to mean our support structure in my family of three, a net that I have broken, mended and fallen into in recent years of transitory health. The loom symbolizes the power and difficulty of asking for help when we are fragile, and how I now do most of my work as part of a collective of three. And building-in deeply personal symbology into my work - even the tools and processes — is what keeps me grounded in its purpose, something I have battled with the last few years, a need to maintain an awareness that my work should not be strip-mining my own body for the enjoyment of others, so the making of it becomes ritualized to support my need for this.

Weaving, usually a solitary act, this loom places people in a communion of sorts, like eating a meal, around the 5 foot longs sides. Creating this tool places me in a position to ask for help, an intentional practice and motif repeated in this process-based work. Throughout the summer, I’ll invite people to work with me in my studio on the loom, and bring it to both public and private locations to grow these mats. These forms are simple, functional and mundane but will require a great deal of labor - from the year long process to grow and create indigo dye, to my dyeing the fabric, the weaving of many people, even the making of the discarded textiles of nameless workers that I then cut apart. They might be seen as a minor role in the structure of this multi-night performative project, but that humbleness is the essence of what I want people to take note of.

Dyeing indigo is an alchemical-like process with a substance that is more like sourdough than paint— it must be nurtured and coaxed and rested. It’s a living culture and dipping the fabric in requires you to hold your breath and observe the bubbles going in, and the subtle changes of color to know when the bath needs to rest — it’s own kind of meditation. The importance of Indigo spans many cultures, and is both viewed as a sacred plant, and also has associations with manual laborers, as blue farmer and factory dungaree work clothes were once dyed with indigo.

I began indigo dyeing collected fabric from neighbors when I did a residency in Fiskars, Finland — the site of the original 1600’s irons works that produced the scissors. Living in former worker housing, I built a hanging loom out of downed trees from the forest, and asked my neighbors tohelp me weave a sail in a participatory installation, for a project called “We have rowed this boat together.” A reference to past labor performed, of an awareness that human community is necessary for the survival of all of us, and we all have a valued role to play. I see my hugieia loom as a continuation of this work.

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More about all the parts of “A Great Unbridgeable Distance” soon….

To see the schedule of events go here.

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