Life of Cotton—La Vida de Algodon

"Life of Cotton- La Vide de Algodon" is on view until November 26th in the Christine DeVitt Exhibition Hall @LHUCA. Images courtesy of Ryan Shelburne.


Life of Cotton- La Vida de Algodon @LHUCA

Opening in the LHUCA’s main hall this past First Friday was “Life of Cotton—La Vida de Algodon”, a group exhibition exploring the interaction of workers (many subject to oppressive labor conditions) and cotton on the Great Plains of Texas. Kathryn Kelley’s gigantic womb of cotton towers from floor to ceiling and was constructed in-house for the exhibition.


Kathryn Kelley @LHUCA

Much like her previous work seen at First Fridays, the piece is constructed from reclaimed textile materials and clearly conveys the natal vessel it is modeled after. Here, in the context of cotton, its growth, harvesting, contribution to the West Texas economy, and effect on the lives of those who harvested it (before the advent of the mechanical harvester), the piece’s shape as a womb connotes the birth of the society that came up around it. Cotton nurtures its farmers, its harvesters; gives birth to the ubiquitous textile. The womb as a symbol is durable to the point of being generic. Like a cross, rose, pendulum, ax, or vine, it has been used to innumerable purposes by innumerable would-be conveyors of deeper truth.


Kathryn Kelley @LHUCA

In Kelley’s work, the significance seems to lie in the medium more than the symbol, and possibly more than the imposing size. A reclaimed upholstery womb may speak of formation and birth by domesticity, while a cotton womb can serve as a shorthand for an entire agro-economy and the labor practices complicit in it. Similar extensions could be made of a womb of wood strips or metal scraps. I hope Kelley continues to explore this aspect of her symbol’s durability.


Ashley Meyer "Dream of Cotton/Working Hands/Faith in the Fields" @LHUCA

Ashley Meyer’s “Dream of Cotton/Working Hands/Faith in the Fields” is a performance and installation performance paired with a book telling the history of cotton in west Texas through the stories of the immigrant workers related to its production. The performers interacted with rough cotton cloth hung from the walls in plain clothes of the same. While well-arranged and produced, it made only slight suggestions as to the often-pernicious history it told. The content was filled in by the beautifully produced book between the performers, making one wonder how much the performers added the book’s narrative (their role seemed to reflect primarily the relationship of migrant workers to cotton, and there is a great deal to unpack there). The exhibition overall was excellently curated, and faithful to its regional theme while addressing the larger issues of labor and production in the American South.


Life of Cotton- La Vida de Algodon @LHUCA

*The authors opinions are his own.

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