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March 20, 2014 to April 27, 2014

Caroline Lathan-Stiefel: “Greenhouse Mix”

Greenhouse Mix is a site-specific textile installation inside the Wetherill Mansion inspired by Philadelphia’s rich history as a center of horticulture. Greenhouse Mix comprises three distinct components: two gallery installations and a project in the grand stairway of the PAA.

Responding to the period room details of the PAA galleries, Lathan-Stiefel will reconfigure her piece green-house, inspired by the form and pattern of the stacked stones of botanist John Bartram’s Philadelphia greenhouse which he built himself. Victorian-style ferneries and the idea of a “jungle in the salon” influence the second installation, Hothouse, which will contain both textile and real ferns, along with a recorded sound piece. Lathan-Stiefel’s project in the stairway of the PAA, Frakturing, echoes the shapes and colors of both Pennsylvania Dutch Fraktur designs and the original 1905 stained glass window which features botanical imagery and plant forms. This piece will also invite viewers to think about issues of plant diversity and sustainability in an age of fracking.

Her project in the PAA’s grand stairway, a hanging tapestry-style work, is designed to echo the patterns, shapes and colors of the original 1905 stained glass window, which features botanical imagery and plant forms. This piece will also invite viewers to think about issues of plant diversity in the 21st century. The stairway installation will take shape as a community project in which families are invited to help construct the finished product while they learn about the artist’s technique, which makes spectacular use of unassuming materials such as pipe cleaners, cloth, and plastic, as well as some of the plants and flowers that inspire her work. Lathan-Stiefel’s residency will thus transform, before visitors’ eyes, into an exhibition.

A native of Georgia, Caroline Lathan-Stiefel grew up hiking the “Bartram trail” near her home, only to discover when she moved to the Philadelphia area that she was living in Bartram’s backyard. John Bartram was born in Pennsylvania in 1699 to a Quaker farming family, and achieved renown in his lifetime for sending seeds from the New World to European gardeners, particularly English aristocrats. Despite being entirely self-taught, Bartram was one of the first practicing Linnaean botanists in North America. His son, William Bartram, was a botanical artist and the explorer who created the Bartram trail.

She writes: “I have been making room-sized sculptural installations consisting of materials such as pipe cleaners, plastic shopping bags, fabric, straight pins, yarn, wire, and lead weights since 2001. My work involves both the slow, plodding movement of patching pieces of cloth and plastic to linear structures made of pipe cleaners, as well as quicker, more gestural actions that connect all of the parts into systems, making large suspended sculptures. The installations are drawings-in-space that cover, divide, encircle, and fill the spaces in which they are situated. Monumental in scale and intensely colored and textured, the work aims to physically affect the body of the viewer. The installations take various forms: parasitic-like growths that cover interior architectural elements and outdoors structures; hanging tent forms that immerse the viewer; suspended walls that curve and divide spaces; excessive, organic masses that transform rooms into caves. I see my work as being in flux—ever-changing, mutable, and replicating various states of proliferating growth.”

Tags: fiber, installation