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Spring Sutras Artist Statement

June 20, 2016
Photograph of artwork

Photo credit: Ed Berger

Spring Sutras, an art installation by Karen Guancione that features thousands of recycled catalog cards from Rutgers Libraries, is on display through the fall at Dana Library. Learn more about the artwork in the artist statement below.

Spring Sutras
Artist Statement

“The Sanskrit word sutra literally means a thread, string or line that holds things together. It derives from the root siv- (to sew), and is related to suere in Latin, sew in English, and the medical term suture. It refers to Hindu or Buddhist texts, sometimes described as threads of wisdom or knowledge strung together.” (Wikipedia 2013)

Sutra began in 2013 when I was caring for my ninety year old mother who suffered with severe dementia. Normally, it takes months and marathon days of work to make an installation for a public space, but I could not leave my mother’s living room; I was well into an endless, exhausting, all-consuming caregiving hell. With the help of Rutgers University librarians I obtained boxes and boxes of the long discarded and forgotten hand-typed catalogue cards that I wanted to recycle for an installation. While caregiving around the clock in the house where my mother had lived for sixty-five years, I was able to work near her and string together the thousands of pieces of paper—a repetitive, meditative act that enabled me to continue making art. I named the installation Sutra. Caregiving is a process that requires compassion and, like art, sometimes tests the limits of patience and endurance. As I sewed, I was reminded of the piecing together of segments of all people’s lives, who, depending on individual or social circumstance, may themselves become long discarded and forgotten. The first installation using catalogue cards was created for the Noyes Museum and prominently displayed from 2013 to 2015.

In 2016 with the support of Rutgers University Libraries and Rutgers-Newark I was invited to create Spring Sutras, a site-specific installation in the John Cotton Dana Library. The public art project celebrates the nation’s largest and most varied collection of Japanese cherry trees in Newark’s Branch Brook Park and commemorates the city's 350th anniversary. Thousands of recycled catalogue cards from Rutgers Libraries and hundreds of faux flowers were hand-sewn and suspended beneath a two-story-high skylight and throughout the fourth-floor space, which is also home to the Institute of Jazz Studies. Viewers are literally surrounded and touched by pieces of the hanging installation; the large-scale work transforms an entire area of the Dana Library.

In an age of digital information I have relished holding in hand the many singular pieces of paper that once spoke of a vast and impressive array of accumulated knowledge. The strung flower garlands celebrate new life and honor the old and departed.

Special thanks to librarians: Ann Watkins, Yoshiko Ishii, Michael Joseph and Grace Agnew for their help in procuring the cards from Dana Library, Alexander Library, Special Collections and Rutgers Law Library.

Karen Guancione

About the Artist

Karen Guancione has been awarded a Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation Artists and Communities Grant, four New Jersey State Council on the Arts Fellowships, a Ford Foundation Grant, a Puffin Foundation Grant and an Arts and Culture Exhibition Grant from the Nathan Cummings Foundation. Her work has been exhibited worldwide and is in numerous public and private collections. Her interdisciplinary art includes large scale installations, public art projects, performance, sculpture, printmaking, papermaking, bookarts and video. She has curated many exhibitions, is an adjunct professor of art at the State University of New York (SUNY Purchase), Montclair State University and Middlesex County College and has been a visiting artist and lecturer at Pratt Institute, Rutgers University and numerous schools and institutions in the United States and abroad. For over a decade she has served as artistic director / guest curator of the annual New Jersey Book Arts Symposium and Exhibition. She is the first time recipient of the Erena Rae Award for Art and Social Justice. She collaborated on the critically acclaimed production of Cuatro Corridos, a multidisciplinary chamber opera about human trafficking that has been continually traveling throughout the USA and Mexico since 2013. She has just received a 2016 Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts for Works on Paper.