Mary Babcock

I am a visual and performance artist deeply interested in the intersection of art, contemplation and social activism. Mending is a central theme in my work, both as an actual reparative action, and as a metaphor for personal and social change. My work is driven by a need to understand, critique and speak about my culture, and is rooted in the desire to bridge two prevailing paradigms for art-making:  art as beauty and art as social criticism.
I obtained my MFA from the University of Arizona with a specialization in Fiber, BFA in Painting from the University of Oregon, and PhD in Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania.  Currently I chair the Graduate Program and Fibers Area in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Hawai?i at Manoa. My installation, fiber and mixed media work has been exhibited regionally, nationally and internationally, including Korea, Japan, Canada, France, Hungary and the Ukraine. I have performed across the United States and throughout Japan in individual and collaborative contexts, as well as in Italy, Poland and the Philippines.  I have lectured at numerous conferences on my work linking fiber, performance and peace and justice studies. My work is included in numerous public and private collections including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).
Hydorphilia -The Salvaged Net Series is one of my most significant bodies of work. It is comprised of a 10-year series of tapestries woven from refuse: abandoned fishing nets and lines. The nets are gathered across the Pacific: some are harvested by myself from Hawaiian shores, others are collected by local fisherman in recycling program in the American Northwest, others travel 1300 miles from Kure Atoll and the far reaches of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands via cleaning missions by NOAA and the Surfrider Association.
My work is an exploration of the qualities of water, its potentialities, its vulnerabilities, and its resilience. It is simultaneously an exploration of the qualities of Mind. The weaving process involves contemplation on the pattern of currents between land masses, those unpossessed passages that challenge our contemporary conceptions of ownership and control.

For years I have been interested in ways to gain access to a greater understanding of empathy, compassion, as well as our proclivity towards destruction: our enduring entanglement. My work quietly yet deeply questions the precarious mapping of our current consumptive practices against the complex topography of ecological sustainability and environmental degradation. The nets are very much teachers. I fell into them because they’re tactilely interesting; they became tactically interesting as well, serving as a vehicle for both exploring and communicating our inherent interconnection and entanglement.
I now live in Oceania - a place where water for centuries has been experienced as an agent of connection, not a barrier to be overcome. Having worked with the nets and walked the beaches for years, my understanding of myself has shifted. I now think about myself - all of us - as water. As we learn more about the water and its patterns around us, we learn about ourselves and our engagement with the social and material worlds. Learning about the workings of our (M)inds, we learn about those waterways; they are one and the same.
Originally, I titled the tapestries in accordance with the site of net collection to indicate where materials were sourced. I now title works after latitudes - geographical lines of connection - traveling through and beyond sites of particular ecological vulnerability. In example, the work 1° 55' 30 N references the Maldives, a gathering of atolls located in the Indian Ocean - a country that faces the threat of resubmergence back into the waters within our childrens’ lifetimes. 3° 47′ 20″ S runs through Solara 1, a commercial precious metal mining development 1,600m deep on the ocean floor off the coast of Papua New Guinea - an experiment crossing economic, political, cultural and ecosystemic boundaries without requisite consideration of the social/environmental impacts that stem from our need to nourish our cell phones. The inspiration point for 5°38'50"N was flood inundation maps of Kili Island, a geographically tiny atoll in the Marshall Islands with a tragic history that holds monumental global significance. The piece 38°30'00"N is a contemplation on the Great Pacific garbage patch—the thin soup of plastic refuse that concentrates in the Pacific and spreads throughout the planet’s interconnected waterways—our lifelines. In referencing the latitude lines, I want to point to broader issues, not just isolated sites. Latitude lines connect us all.




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