Anatomy of an Anatomy

Wearable Art show a perfect venue for Anchorage artist

Posted: Thursday, February 05, 2004

Editor's note • This is the second in a four-part series looking ahead to the Wearable Art show. The show, the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council's main fund-raiser, is open to artists of all media. Completed entry applications are due at 5 p.m. Friday, Feb. 6, and are available at www.juneauartscouncil.org or at the JAHC office, 206 N. Franklin St. Throughout February, the Juneau-Douglas City Museum will host an exhibition of pieces from last year's show. The opening reception, 4:30-7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 6, will include some modeling.

Anchorage sculptor Carla Potter enjoys performing, entertaining and, apparently, creating surreal and incongruous party garments.

How else would you explain her 2002 Wearable Art appearance, when she came up to Juneau from Ketchikan and hit the catwalk in a formal dress covered in 250 plastic cockroaches?

"With the cockroach gown, it was about how we (as a society) decide that butterflies are appropriate to adorn a dress and cockroaches aren't," Potter said.

Potter couldn't make the trip down from Anchorage last year, but she was well-represented at the 2003 Wearable Art show with a twisted - both literally and figuratively - cocktail dress topped off with orange velvet sea cucumbers. Of course, she had an explanation for this too.

"The sea cucumber is slimy, and the idea of making a cocktail dress, or something fancy, out of something slimy has this paradox about it," Potter said. "I like to put things where they're not supposed to be and challenge assumptions and beliefs."

For this year's show - Rampaging Imagination: the Fourth Annual Wearable Art Extravaganza, 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 20, at ANB Hall - Potter is eschewing the dresses in favor of a sheer pink satin top and pantsuit.

As you read this, she is likely stitching the human muscle system - ankles to collarbone (and cartilage) - into the satin in fine lines of purple, pink, orange, yellow and green thread. Potter also is making an ankle-length fake-fur coat that she plans on covering up with, before whipping off in mid-strut. The piece is called "Under My Skin."

"I'm not really a super anti-fur person, especially living here in Anchorage, where (selling fur) is a viable part of life," Potter said. "It was just the idea of pulling off the skin to create the idea of how we dress up and have this fashion thing with fur, but yet something lost its skin for the suit."

If you've seen Potter's pottery, you wouldn't be surprised at her labor-intensive dedication to detail. She put on a solo exhibition last fall at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, "Deviant Biology," full of ceramic sea-creatures and sea-croppings so lifelike they appeared to be caught in a current.

"What you will find are curving, tentacled, ruffled and encrusted creations that look as though they were pulled from a shipwreck far beneath the sea," wrote Julie Decker in the Oct. 30, 2003, Anchorage Press. "To even attempt such pieces takes a certain fearlessness."

Still, "Under My Skin" is daunting. From mid-December to Feb. 1, Potter had spent 60 hours a week on the project, used more than 20 spools of thread and wasn't close to finished.

"Generally my work is pretty detailed, but I must say, this is the most extreme I've ever gotten," she said. "I didn't know it would take so much time or I probably wouldn't have done it."

Potter, a former Ketchikan resident, has participated in the Ketchikan Wearable Art show for years.

"I've watched kids go from making stuff out of plastic bags to making really involved outfits," she said.

She plans to show "Under My Skin" at the 18th annual Ketchikan show, Feb. 6 to 8, at the Ted Ferry Civic Center. Potter moved to Anchorage 212 years ago.

This year's project began three or four years ago, when Potter found the pink satin fabric at a craft store in Ketchikan.

"It reminded me of that shimmery sheen you see on meat," she said. "For some reason, it just struck me. But I wasn't really sure what I was going to do with it."

Potter eventually came up with the idea of using quilting stitching to define the different muscle groups. But she didn't know how to fit the satin, cut the patterns for a suit, or stitch into the satin without making it warp. In the spring of 2003, she met book illustrator Amy Meissner, a former fashion designer who used to customize wedding gowns in Vancouver, British Columbia.

"I told her about this show, and she said, 'Oh God, I'd love to help you with that,' " Potter said. "I never would have been able to do without her. It was just too technical."

Potter has lined her satin suit to give it some body, so she's stitching through two layers of fabric. She's used light and dark lines to delineate different kinds of muscles and has stitched cartilage with a light, fluorescent yellow color. She found a musculature chart at an education source store and has used it as a reference.

"I enjoy the Wearable Art show," Potter said. "I enjoy performing, and I like to entertain people and generally, the pieces have some sort of social statement. I'm an artist. I get these ideas in my head, and I have to get them out."

• Korry Keeker can be reached at korry.keeker@juneauempire.com.



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