ART: HANNAH WATSON
Earth - sodium chloride + potassium aluminum sulphate + calcium hydroxide
Plant - indigo + banana + cotton
Air - oxygen
Animal - white rabbit + human hands
Through the meditative motion of peeling back salty laters of fat tissue membrane, the only thing that plays in my mind is, “gotta go ⇌ gotta flow.” Working with a blunt knife on pristine white rabbit skin that friends from Appalachia had gifted under the philosophy “use all parts of the animal out of respect for the animal,” I am tuned into some quality of consciousness that exists in a harmony of mind / body. I used to come upon this feeling, the endangered species of pure radiant focus, so difficult to achieve in this age of shining screens, while hand sewing in the theater costume shop for hours during college. This feeling of flow is how I came to know my passion at an early age. So so fortunately.
Though I have never tanned a hide (in this life), I feel a return to a motion, a primal and intuitive impetus to separate layer from layer of animal body, working the skin with my hands. This process is how humans used to, and some still do, clothe themselves as a means for not only elemental protection but for cultural expression too. I became curious about this process when a vision to indigo dye white rabbit skins came to me last summer, and, less than a month later while visiting with some homesteader friends, they called out, “Come see the barn where we keep our meat rabbits!”
I work on the hides for hours, forgetting to eat and drink, working into the waning daylight, working by soft moonlight, working until the soreness in my upper back aches at me to take a break, and the voice chanting, “gotta go ⇌ gotta flow” grows ever so slight and eventually fades out. Our power flows not from us, but through us. When an idea visits, all you have to do is put your body to use.
Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel lament and exalt the passing and coming of creativity in their 1970 song “Cecilia.” The mystical woman in the song, named after St. Cecilia, patron saint of music in the Catholic tradition, comes and she goes like a high-power lover, sometimes unlocking worlds of vulnerability you hadn’t yet known before, and sometimes hurting you so badly with her absence so that all prisms of hope leave the spirit. She is fleeting creativity. “Making love in the afternoon with Cecilia up in my bedroom / I got up to wash my face, when I come back to bed someone’s taken my place.” She always comes and she always goes.
Each step in the process of the rabbit hide project has been an exciting pathway to self discovery. And, I’m becoming convinced, connection to a greater human longing to wild. Wild animals. Wild mountains. Wild emotion. It is the relationship of respect to ancestor and animal and planet that continues to fuel my work. To process these rabbit furs is to take the softest white animal fur, the necessity of warmth and protection that it once provided the animal against cold mountain winters in the barn, and to turn it into pure gold after the bunny spirit has exited the body. This process brings me closer to the sometimes uncomfortable truth of eating omnivorously, and it brings me closer to death and to transformation, like the idea of starting a new chapter. I can feel some sort of dancing energy enter the newly formed textile as I make stitch after stitch through tough leathery skin and soft fur. I am bringing this material back to life in one way or another. Giving it new purpose. And it inexplicably all feels right. Like for this one project, everything is going to be alright. And that feeling is something to be revered in these strange times. The truth of it is, we must keep making our art, as it will carry us through to glimpses, and perhaps even sustained periods, of peace that radiate outwards.