On New Year's Eve 2016, sculptor Elaine Bradford and poet Sara Cress decided to merge their talents and embark on a year-long project together. Neither could have anticipated the political and personal events of 2017 that would inspire a collection of 52 works, now known as Routine Fables, on display at the Lawndale Art Center through July 29.
Through the connection of mutual friends and some good ol’ social media stalking, Cress and Bradford met and began their partnership practically as strangers. They decided after weeks of deliberation to create one sculpture and one complementary poem every week for a year.
Bradford handpicked obscure items on her trips to the thrift store and antique shops—recycling trash into her own sculpture. With an apparent theme of replacing the body parts of ceramic dolls with crocheted fabric, Bradford created thought-provoking sculptures that demand the attention of observers. Think: Sid from Toy Story if he channeled his passionate nature into creating art rather than torturing toys.
Bradford didn’t claim to be in the driver’s seat while sculpting, though. “They tell me what they want to be,” she explains. “They tell me how they want to be attached together and what they want to look like.”
Once each sculpture was finished, Bradford passed the baton to Cress via a photo of the sculpture. After examining the piece, Cress would then craft a poem that married how the sculpture made her feel with the current political and personal events of that week—something the former journalist has long practiced with her separate Breaking Poems project based on the day's headlines.
Often the sculptures and poems implicitly reflected hot political topics in 2017 like President Donald Trump, Hurricane Harvey, and the #MeToo movement.
“The beginning of the year started a little more lighthearted, and then as the year went on it got more and more heavy,” Bradford says. “Although the sculptures still look pretty lighthearted and fun and colorful, the subject matter is all pretty heavy when you read into it. I like that juxtaposition.”
A piece that hits particularly close to home and still sparks a rush of emotion in Cress is the one titled Moored. The sculpture, bound together by several shades of blue crocheted yarn, features piano keys and a piece of ceramic that were pulled from the remains of Cress’s home after it was submerged in 33 inches of water during Harvey. The poem accompanying the sculpture offers only a glimpse into the devastation Cress felt during those waterlogged months.
“I think there’s an intensity that comes through in the poetry, at least throughout the end of the year, because I was so emotionally raw,” explains Cress, who just recently returned to her home after 10 months of renovation. At Lawndale, the works inspired by Hurricane Harvey are placed at 33 inches—mimicking the 33 inches of floodwater that forced Cress from her home.
What began as a project to simply generate work, steadily transformed into an emotional documentation of Houston’s historical heartbreak, celebrations, and cultural shifts. Cress and Bradford will hold a talk and poetry reading on Sunday, July 15, at Lawndale Art Center from 2 to 3 p.m. You can also order a book copy of the collection here.
Routine Fables, thru July 29. Free. Lawndale Art Center, 4912 S Main St. 713-528-5858. More info at lawndaleartcenter.org.