Lucy Madeline Artist
This spring, for her senior thesis project at Santa Fe University of Art and Design, artist Lucy Madeline felted together two years’ worth of her hair, collected from brushings and shedding, with hair from her mother and grandmother, collected in the same way. The resulting piece, Mother-Skin, comprised a book, an installation, a video documenting the process, and the vessel that Lucy made with the hair: It’s small, tawny brown, and shaped like a swallow’s nest, irregularly rotund with a small opening at the top. In the piece’s video, Lucy narrates Mother-Skin’s construction, while felting the hair using warm soapy water and working it over a piece of bubble wrap. The process is intensely physical, and provides a contrast to the cerebral elements of the piece, which explore female identity, both self-determined and inherited.
“I call myself a feminist artist,” Lucy said during an interview at her in-home studio in late December. “The question of ‘what is a feminist’ is a big conversation, but when I describe myself as a feminist artist, it covers a lot of ground at once. What it means to me is that I make work about the female experience.”
Lucy is twenty-nine, originally from Texas, and spent part of her childhood in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The daughter of an Episcopal priest and a mother who “teaches creativity,” Lucy left home at eighteen and moved to Halifax (where she’d lived for a time with her mother) to become an artist. From Canada, she decamped to Los Angeles (she’d heard there was a concentration of feminist artists working in LA), where she had an artistic practice for five years. “While I was in LA, I was mostly doing performances, and realized that I wanted to make different work,” Lucy said. “I wasn’t working much with my hands, and my work is about the body. I wasn’t born in Santa Fe, but I feel like of all the places I’ve lived, this is my community. So I came back.”
During her day job, Lucy is a sexual health educator with Planned Parenthood and teaches sex ed to seventh, eighth, and ninth graders in the public schools. “For me, the education piece of it is that art can create change, and education can be art practice,” she said. As a means of answering students’ questions, she found herself making drawings, mostly of anatomy and physiology. One piece,
Vulvaginerus: The Handmade Flipbook, is a small, sparkly, bound book of photographs of the drawings Lucy does while teaching. The drawings, sketches of fallopian tubes and labeled diagrams of vulvas rendered on whiteboards in blue dry-erase marker, are textbook-accurate, yet loose and straightforward. You can view Lucy’s work at www.lucymadelinestudio.com.
“Part of teaching, and doing the drawings, was figuring out what it means to be a social practitioner and effect change,” Lucy said. “I’m not trying to effect change with the drawings, but in my larger body of work, I’d like to. In my artist statement, I say that pedagogy is praxis. I’m still figuring out what that means.”
Along with collecting hair, Lucy also experimented with saving her menstrual blood and carrying it around in a jar. “I made a very specific decision not to paint with it,” she said. “I showed it to strangers, though never without their consent, and observed their reactions. It was a performance.” The blood collection was done in the same spirit as saving hair. By doing so, Lucy hoped to better understand the body’s cycles and determine if, in the act of collection, she’d be closer to the time that had passed, and to her matrilineal heritage. When Lucy first asked her grandmother if she could have some of her hair, she discovered that unbeknownst to her, her grandmother had been saving her hair since the ’60s. “She’s Southern,” Lucy explained. “It’s very much a Victorian thing.” — Adele Oliveira