Brooklyn-based artist Elana Adler has created a collection of cross-stitch samplers titled “You Are My Duchess”, combining the delicate and the crass into one project including over 40 individual works.
“Each captures a moment, giving these words a visual presence, a power, and a state of concreteness,” Ms. Adler says on her website. “These words were hurled casually and heard quickly but required hours of time-consuming, careful stitching.”
A solitary sampler may be almost amusing, but as viewers wade through the collection, they must confront the reality of regular verbal assault.
Was there a moment of inspiration after a specific instance of street harassment that led you to create this collection?
The project started out as a collection of things people would holler at me. I get catcalled all of the time, most women do–once I started getting more interesting ‘calls, I started texting them to myself and thus the collection began. At first I wasn’t sure what to do with them. I started cross-stitching them. I wanted to laboriously give attention to all these phrases that were verbally thrown at me in a moment. Needlepoint made sense to me because of its connotations and how it historically references women’s work. I also liked the idea of how it tested my perseverance. That these statements would stick to me or be in my mind for a very long time.
Do you think that the samplers will open a productive discussion about verbal assault?
A discussion is definitely brewing. I think that is exciting, art should provoke conversation. The series informs some and resonates with others. I think it is very relatable, most have experienced this behavior. Perhaps it will cause people to think more about what they are saying and how they are saying it before it is said, hopefully concluding with less objectification.
You say the collection is the “beautification of an assault.” Were these pieces particularly cathartic to create as a way of dealing with harassment?
I would say yes, cathartic and also, meditative. Sitting with a statement you get to know it, and imagine how it could resonate with others. I think that making the work in the way I did was a healthy response. I do encourage women to harness negative feelings into positive work. Personal experience is great fuel for life and art. In this instance, “assault” is referring to the hurling of the statement. Yes, some are more violent and disgusting, but not all of them.
Do you think that New Yorkers have a responsibility to work together to stop catcalling? Is “You Are My Duchess” a contribution to this effort?
Of course I promote the notions “think before [you] speak” and “if you have nothing good to say, maybe you shouldn’t say anything at all.” But this work is my way of dealing with my own experience. Its is more about my own art, and what I consider to be engaging and inventive in my own practice (which I think many artists strive for).
That being said, if it sparks more thought or conversation–which it seems to be–around how humans treat one another I will take that as a very positive result.
On Friday, October 24, Elana Adler’s work, along with five other local artists, will be on display in the Calico Gallery in Brooklyn for the exhibit Shape Scapes.
***This interview has been edited and condensed.