SPOTLIGHT ON AFH 3D DESIGN MENTOR HANNAH
Each month, we interview one of Artists For Humanity’s mentors in an effort to highlight their commitment to their craft and to their work at AFH. AFH’s model reinforces the reciprocal value of pairing working artists and designers (who we call ‘mentors’) with teen artists and designers (who we call ‘youth participants’ or ‘apprentices’) to find creative solutions for client projects. This month, we hear from 3D Design Studio mentor Hannah Fallon.
AFH 3D mentor Hannah Fallon exhibits handmade flags at the Distillery Gallery’s first exhibition of 2018.
Name: Hannah Fallon
Studio: 3D Design Studio
1. What inspired this body of work?
When I was a kid, my brother’s friend had a pirate flag that I coveted. It was faded, ripped, and worn — and I thought it was beautiful. As an adult, I started thinking to myself, “I am going to make my own pirate flag like his, but I’ll sew it by hand.” I carried that idea with me for a few years while I waited for the imagery to come to me.
Finally, one day last year, I realized my flag had to do with eternity. So many of us struggle with the problems of everyday life. The very idea of eternity shrinks those problems and puts them into perspective. I have been thinking about cycles a lot this year: things that go on forever. So the endless loop (or the eternal return, as I like to call it) was the first image I used on a flag. The endless loop continues to appear in the flags I make and has become an important thread which runs through each of them.
2. Tell us about the process of making these pieces.
Hunting for the perfect material to work with is really fun for me. All of my fabric is recycled, which means I scour thrift stores, then rip apart the pieces I find before I begin to reshape them. I use 100% cotton for the flags, and 100% silk for the imagery I apply to the flag. I cut the silk into the shapes I am imagining, and then the next part is the best–and worst–part: the stitching. I make hundreds of tiny stitches by hand–which takes a really long time–especially if I am spelling out a word in the silk.
I have always excelled at repetitive, almost obsessive, work. It lifts me out of myself and puts me in another place in a positive way. My mind wanders without the boundaries of conversation. I almost feel as if the thoughts that come to me in those moments are some of the clearest or best I have. It’s all like a kind of ascension.
3. What were some of the challenges you encountered and how did you respond to these challenges?
Since I grew up hand sewing everything, the process was fairly straightforward for me. The one area in which I struggled was with the silk. Silk is a woven fiber, and it naturally wants to unravel, but I don’t want it to! It’s important to me that the edges of my shapes look clean, especially because I use visible mending on other parts of the pieces which is intentionally a little rough.
I had to figure out how to charm the silk into doing what I want. I came up with an idea about a lightweight material which could be fused to the back of the silk to hold those fibers together. I had used something similar years ago when I made a wool jacket. I visited YouTube and started watching videos about applique and, sure enough, there were people on there suggesting a similar material. I tried it, and so far I am happy with the results!
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4. The exhibition you showed in at Distillery Gallery is called "Practice: An Assertion of Sympathetic Magic." Tell us about the exhibition's theme and how your work relates to this theme.
The concept of sympathetic magic is that a person can be affected by actions performed towards something that resembles or represents said person. In other words, by infusing a meaning or purpose into a physical object, you can affect or alter the state of things for somebody. In a sense, I felt as if I didn’t have to do much to qualify my work for this show.
The pieces I chose to show at “Practice” focus on the areas in which I tend to struggle. If you repeatedly struggle with something, it will probably continue to happen until you examine your behavior and decide to take action to rectify it, right? I see a correlation between that idea, the idea of sympathetic magic, and what I did when I made those particular flags. Action in the name of change can look different for everybody. For me, artistically, it was about placing my struggles alongside the great concept of eternity.
5. What is the relationship between your personal making practice and your mentorship role in the 3D studio?
I feel fortunate that I experienced my first feelings of achievement and success through the creative process early on. The challenge of imagining something in my mind and then using creative problem solving to figure out how to fabricate it gave me a deep feeling of agency. I believe that the cultivation of my sense of confidence is directly related to this experience.
As a mentor in the 3D studio, what I hope I can impart to each of the young people I work with is the conviction that there is always a solution to the problem they are facing and, with confidence, each of them has the ability to uncover that solution. Everyone benefits from that skill and everyone can take it with them wherever they choose to go.
6. Can you offer a piece of advice to AFH teens as to how they can work on projects like this on their own time?
Like a lot of young people, when working on projects on my own time, I had limited resources and had to rely on ingenuity and patience. I had to be willing to try to create what I wanted with what was available to me. The key to working on your own project is engaging fully in what you are doing. All teens at AFH have taken a big step forward by recognizing the unique opportunity this organization provides. My advice to them is to continue to seek out opportunity, seize it, and engage in it fully.
7. What would be your dream project to create in Boston (or elsewhere) and why?
When I was young, I would have given anything to have a resource like AFH available to me. There is a synergy between the adult staff and the young people that everyone benefits from. We are here to foster that synergy, but we could not do what we do without our young artists and designers.
This is a place where young people are valued for what they can and do contribute. To feel valued is a treasure. Self-esteem is born of this affirmation. What we are doing here and what we will continue to do with this expansion is a dream project. It would be hard to top that! I am very excited to be a part of it.
8. How would you respond to people who don’t believe creatives can make a career and a living by doing what they love?
In my early twenties, I became interested in the life of artist Tasha Tudor who illustrated children’s books and led a very unconventional, yet compelling lifestyle. I remember watching a documentary about her in which she quoted Henry David Thoreau's Walden. The quote made a lot of sense to me and has stuck with me since. The quote was this: “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.”
To experience the alchemy of our mentorship model in person, join us
at the next edition of AFH Open Studios at the EpiCenter.