Hi there! Welcome to Godshomemovies.org. I’m currently working on transitioning this site http://www.shelbyskumanich.com/. While this site still has a fair amount of content, it will no longer be updated and will redirect by the beginning of June.
If I could have chosen where God would hide his heaven,
I would wish for it to be in the salt and swell of the ocean.
Carried by the currents to all continents’ shores.
Reaching into depths where the sun’s light has never shown.
While piecing this quilt in the summer of 2016, I wrote: “I haven’t touched salt waters of the ocean for a long time. I dream of its depths on occasion, the way light filters down until it is blotted out by the blackness. I dream of being swallowed whole by the powerful waters, my weightless body pulled down, watching the sky above grow dark through a watery lens. I dream of this, surrounded in waking life by high, dry country as far as I can see.”
This quilt is titled after lyrics from The Ocean by band Against Me!, a song that is part meditation, part daydream about what happens when your internal life and your external life do not match. I cannot say that I relate to Grace’s experience of being a transwoman and I would not dare to claim that as my own. But I have found a lot of solace and understanding of myself in the way she has written about her life. I’ve related to the shame, guilt, desire to hide, to be someone else she often expresses in her work.
While I have been a fan since I was an awkward, orange haired punk, I revisit her music on occasion, finding my love of that music as voracious and all consuming as it was when I was a teenager. When I worked on this quilt, I used her music as means to blot out the external world through large Seinheiser headphones. I spent 75 hours over the course of 6 weeks sitting at my sewing machine, feeding bits of fabric under the presser foot and trimming pieces to be the right size. I was trying to stop myself from drowning, pulled down by something I couldn’t name.
If Quilt no. 021 is about anxiety, this quilt is about depression. Composed entirely of seemingly disparate scraps, I was taken by the idea of using tiny pieces with minor variation to create dense areas of dark and light. I built this quilt. I started with two rows of light and two rows of dark and filled in between them two rows at a time. Viewed from afar, it looks like black or near black solid fabric. Up close, however, the variety of the fabric adds texture and visual interest. The darkness always creeping up into the light, the light always filtering down into the darkness, the in-between muddied and chaotic.
Quilts are a means to make composition with color and value, a way to explore the possibilities of surface. This feels very different than the way I was formally trained to make work, in photography. With photography, I was always seeking outward, looking into the world, hoping to find a reflection of myself. With quilts, they are born nearly whole from my internal life, looking into myself, finding my own mirror.
I started this quilt in the days and weeks after the terrorist attacks on November 15, 2015. I thought back to the days after 9/11, the day of my 17th birthday and what I was doing then, how I soothed myself as a teenager.
I crafted a play list called Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent (put that on shuffle), filled with the music that I listened to as a teenager, music that has always reflected my rage, my sorrow back to me. I chose fabrics without much thought, selecting a huge range of values, in complimentary colors. I pulled from my stash, cut strips without a ruler and started sewing. My pace was fast and my actions were deliberate. Bands like Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill and Refused the soundtrack to my making, simultaneously nostalgic and yet completely relevant.
I had been contemplating Chinese Coin quilts for awhile, enamored by their simple construction and endless variations. I re-purposed those vertical compositions while playing with my strip sets and found this while figuring out how to use as much of the those strip sets as possible. Here, light and dark move towards and away from one another. The eye travels both up and down, rests in the grey at the bottom and is then pulled back in by the thin light colored bands that dangle into the expanse of negative space.
The asymmetry and dense hand quilting combine to make a subtle, textural design element. This quilt has wool batting, a first and something I will be revisiting. It is dreamy to hand quilt though and gives this quilt serious texture.
I realized while taking these photos and while finishing two other quilts something fundamentally important to my making. By pushing the traditional quilt pattern into the unexpected, the quilt evolves into a vessel for self-expression and contemplation. I’ve been thinking about that in planning new pieces, which mostly live in my head at this point in my life.
It seems appropriate that I finish this quilt (because pics or it didn’t happen) in the wake of the past week, the political climate of the United States ugly and toxic. In the decade and half since my 17th birthday, I have watched this country split and divide along party, class, race and gender lines. I have seen reality splinter, people moving away from one another because of those differences in order to keep themselves comfortable, so that they do not have to confront deeply held assumptions about the world. I can not and will not make a generic statement about our unity because it is naive to think such a thing was ever reality for so many people in this country.
“Anxiety, Anxiety you give me no mercy
Grind my teeth smooth and flat in my sleep.”
– Against Me!
No Mercy is a quilt about many things. It is a quilt about quilts. It talks about how basic construction and traditional blocks can be re-purposed to create new compositions and a means for self-expression.
We understand that, at a base level, a traditional quilt design is a usually compromised of uniform units (blocks) set into a grid. Sometimes it has smaller units (sashing) set between them to create separation and additional pattern. I played with that idea by taking the concept of a four patch block, altering it’s proportions and scale to provide the foundation for flexible patterning.
It speaks to quilters’ general propensity to use every last piece of fabric, as this entire quilt was pulled from my scrap box, one strip at a time. I used yellow, orange and orange-red fabric scraps leftover from other projects to construct the blocks, figured out how they fit together with scraps of white and off-white. To compose the quilt, I arranged those blocks across my design wall and opted to use pre-cut scrap fabrics as the sashing. I removed the blocks from the traditional grid, opting to play with the ever-pervasive modern alternative grid.
I also opted to face this quilt, the edges of it rolling over slightly to the back. This eliminates the border a binding gives a quilt and causes it to float when viewed. I have used a similar technique for my work before, opting to flush mount photographs instead of framing them.
This quilt is also about my very real, very ugly and ever pervasive issues with anxiety. It looks the way anxiety feels to me: an endless and circular loop of ever-firing thoughts, feelings and reactions.
I hear people describe themselves as laid back and I have often wondered what that means. For as far back as I can remember, I have always been high strung, high key, high energy, my brain bouncing from place to place. I have little capacity to chill. It drives me towards work. My past tells me I must worry, must fret, must consider every horrible thing could possibly happen and then to think about them over and over again.
But here is what anxiety has taught me: that something isn’t right. Be it the way I am living, what I am doing with my time, the secrets I am keeping. Anxiety tells me when something is wrong and that I should figure out what it is. Anxiety is, in a sense, a way of knowing for me. When I actually listen to what it’s saying, it tells me something I need to know.
I started this quilt in April of this year, brimming over with generalized anxiety about my life, its lack of direction, its lack of focus. I have felt like I’ve bobbed along, always reacting to circumstances, never weighing my options, never thinking. My life spent either being swept along by currents not of my choosing or reacting against them to get out of a situation that I accepted. It does not give one a sense of autonomy to live like this. There is no peace and there is no sense of accomplishment. There is, simply, worry.
It’s appropriate, then, that I finished this quilt the week while contemplating an incredibly difficult decision. It was fueled by such hideous things as unmet and lost needs, emotional distance and misplaced malice. There was deep disconnection, unsettled disagreements and heaps of resentment. It felt like drowning.
I returned to the east coast in late September, my favorite time of year to visit. I saw my family and made pierogies, a yearly ritual I cherish. I stayed with my parents, their house my second home. I spent time with my closest friends, in places that they call home. I ate delicious foods that I find to be lacking in Colorado, pastas heavy with sauce, soups thick with vegetables, hard cheeses dusting whatever appropriate. I walked the boardwalk of Asbury Park, the ocean air cool and salty.
Bathed in those comforts, I made that decision, despite an unknown future.
This time, however, I did not just react, did not just fight against the current. With a plan, I threw myself onto the shore and have been embraced by the community I’ve worked really hard to build. My anxiety has ebbed. I have washed up, dear reader, with as much grace as one who has spent their entire adult life scraping along the ocean bottom. I do not know where I am going to end up. Where ever it is will be okay, because it is entirely of my own deliberate choices.