Central Florida artist Haley McCormick works at the intersection of artisanal craft and conceptual installation

The ties that bind

Central Florida artist Haley McCormick works at the intersection of artisanal craft and conceptual installation
Haley McCormick photo courtesy of the curator
Downtown Arts Collective, 643 Lexington Ave.

The last time Haley McCormick showcased her artwork in Orlando, it was a 2018 program of her short films – ethereal, glitched-out dreamscapes with an organic, analog texture and complementary soundtracks by soundscapers like Heart of Palm and Chelsea Bridge. The program included her most infamous work, Dancer, a film that repurposed and distorted imagery from Buffalo 66, almost getting her sued by one Vincent Gallo.

Two years later, and after stints living in Alaska and Chicago, McCormick returns with an exhibition of art in a very different and tactile medium: fiber. McCormick's new artistic obsession began out of economic necessity. McCormick was looking for a job after returning to her hometown of Daytona Beach after leaving Alaska, and spotted the Pioneer Fiber Mill in New Smyrna while driving. She spontaneously walked in to inquire about employment. Mill operators Steve and J.G. Williams were happy to take her on as an employee, encouraging her deep explorations into the textile craft.

Gigantic clusters and tangles of fiber fill the room, offering a myriad of textures and colors and touch.

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And thus began both gainful employment and an enduring artistic appreciation for the process of making fiber. "It immediately changed how much beauty I see in materials," remembers McCormick. "The process of making fiber is so intimate and beautiful. It's structural, but a very free kind of structure, and I wanted to highlight that."

McCormick's work exists at an intriguing confluence of artisanal craft and conceptual installation, with both sides given equal weight. Gigantic clusters and tangles of fiber – all made at the mill – will fill the room, offering a myriad of textures and colors and touch. "There's so much that you can tell from one piece of fiber," explains McCormick, "you can pretty much see the whole biological makeup of the animal, how it was raised, what it eats. I find that so fascinating and I wanted people to see that."

There's also an underlying statement in Fiber about the importance of being able to create beautiful things and useful things with your own hands, even in the age of automation and virtual everything. "Making films, I was always in total control," says McCormick. "If I didn't like something, I could just edit it. But fiber is exactly what it is. You can make it different but you really can't change the compounds that make it up. Working with fiber has taught me patience."

When viewing McCormick's fiber constructs, we're momentarily reminded of Andy Warhol's Silver Clouds or even a deconstructed Christo, until we're jolted back to reality: These sculptures and landscapes of fiber could easily have been a shirt for wearing, a sheet for sleeping on, a towel to dry our hands. And with familiar textures, no doubt each person will respond differently, spurred on by their own unique memories.

But McCormick wants to keep the exhibition firmly grounded in the realities of fiber making: "I'll have sound sampling from the mill in the background. I want them to hear the process, I want them to see the process, touch the process, smell it. If I could convince people to eat the fiber ... (McCormick laughs). I want it to be the full experience."

This story appears in the March 18, 2020, print issue of Orlando Weekly. Stay on top of Central Florida news and views with our weekly newsletters.

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