Reed Esslinger

Reed Esslinger

source: reedesslinger
Several years ago I brought my body into contact with the salty air and sun-drenched soil of Reunion Island, situated about 500 miles east of Madagascar, 21 degrees south of the equator. I have a history of propelling my body into the abyss of “otherness,” leaving my thoughts very little time to catch up. The further the extension into the unknown the more exhilarating the sensory absorption; the more enticing the intellectual leap; the more profound the potential transformation. I set out with the imprecise goal of immersion- I wanted to loose my ability to speak, codeswitch my world-view for another, and acquiesce to a routine of cultural mimesis. During my three years living in this former French colony in the Indian Ocean, I learned about the political, cultural, and linguistic history of the Reunionese. A “creative response for survival” born out of the abrupt contact of 3 or more languages and cultures, the linguistic definition of “creole” plucked at my own experiences of adaptation and assimilation. The fracturing instances of inter-class violence and their link to the inherited ills of slavery muddled with my own feelings of vulnerability. Groping my way through the process of transformation, I drew on my identity as a weaver to pull the threads into order.

I weave because weaving is at once integrative and transformational. The most direct and powerful metaphor lies within weaving’s function: to gather multitudes of fibrous entities, too fragile on their own, into an interlocking wholeness. The threads form a membrane; a wall, a skin, or a garment to envelop the body. Like the accumulative sequence of words into sentences, the fabric tells the story of its creation. My intrigue with weaving, however, lies primarily in the process: the machine itself provides order, establishes structure, and serves as a threshold through which the materials must pass in order to become part of something. The end product of my current body of work, therefore, is not self contained or archival, like a tapestry or blanket, but is literally moving.

Threads pierce, unravel, and dissolve the architecture of the space and of sculptural components (including abstracted versions of the loom itself) in order to elicit what architect Juhani Pallasmaa refers to as the embodied wisdom in architecture. Just as Pallasmaa points out “Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy [that] the human body [is] at the centre of the experiential world” I aim to create environments which materialize and perform the embodied experiences of adaptation, resistance, and transformation (Pallasmaa, 40). Although there is a performer causing the action in the space, the “body” exists more within the narrative and the architecture than within the identity of the performer.

The confusion that churns while living for an extended period abroad, especially as one realizes that one is neither insider nor outsider, but somewhere in the nebulous in between can “have several existential repercussions” (Stoller, 3). Living in the margins is exclusive in its sense of both alienation and privilege. While not really fitting in to either social group one also has access to each- her body’s presence or mouth’s narration fabricating a bridge between disparate communities. I write ethnographic texts based on my time living immersed in Reunionese culture as much for its value as an analytical tool as an added texture in the sensory experience of the space.

Language functions on several levels in my work because of its paradoxically concrete and inaccurate nature. Like the basic building blocks of language, the components of my installations function as symbols whose active engagement creates meaning. Like words, or even sounds, the context in which the threads, membranes, residues exist reveals their purpose. Weaving therefore becomes a liminal act, communicating from one end of the loom to the other the nature of its cloth. Like a body through a crowd or a conversation over time, the threads tug, shift, pluck, and slip in and out of a sense of belonging.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
source: northquadumichedu
Reed Esslinger’s work takes many forms, (sculpture, installation, video, writing, etc.) but almost always involves fibers and theatre. Having spent 3 years living on Réunion Island, an Outer Seas Department of France in the Indian Ocean, Reed’s interest in the island’s linguistic and cultural creolization have led to visual metaphors for the elusive process of relinquishing, adding, and transforming parts of one’s identity. She ultimately loves stories- whether absorbing, recording, or recounting them, and sees teaching as a natural occasion for mutual authorship and exploration.