The Sacred Practice of Archiving Anti Standard #29 with found textile artist Charlie Dov Schön 

Charlie Dov Schön is a Greater Boston-based found textile artist. With inspirations from her Jewish culture, sexuality, and preservation, Charlie Dov Schön is continually building her own language and we’re here to read it. 😎

Please take some time to enjoy this well-spoken interview. Seriously, sip some coffee, make some tea, turn on a good song and experience the joy of reading about art and only art and nothing else. There’s so much happening around us ❤ remember to breathe, remember the power of your creativity.

Image credit:  rj steele

U: How would you describe your art in as many words or as little words as you would like?

CDS: I feel like it’s been evolving lately, which has been kind of fun and exciting. Like, I used to call myself primarily a found object artist, which was a result of being in a broad art program. They didn’t chunk us up at my undergrad in sculpture or painting, and I wound up in this in between space. So that was an easy way for me to be like, I like working with trash and things that I find. Now I feel like I’ve been moving further and further into the textile space, so I’d probably call myself a found object textile artist.

U: Do you think your work changed or the way you work changed after you went to school?

CDS: Yes! I was super torn between art school, vs not art school. Is this something that I want to do all the time? Art school is scary and also expensive. So I ended up applying to art school and getting in and then also getting into these liberal art schools and trying to figure out what felt like the best fit. And honestly, I think Hamilton ended up being the one because they give all of their seniors this really gorgeous studio space. So by my senior year, I had two white walls that were, like, 20ft by 8ft, and it was all mine. That was the first time I’d really had that. So I think that changed how I worked in that I had my own timeline, and I had my own space, and I physically had walls that I could put things on.

I’m in my home right now, and I used to share this room with my sister, and so I didn’t have a space that was entirely mine. And even now, I’m tentative about it, but in that space and in that program, it was like, oh, no, this is mine, I’m going to write on the walls. And I think that confidence was great. I also think the transition from being an undergrad to now just being an artist has been interesting in my work. I don’t know, when I’m drawn to make art and what’s my goal with it. It’s not like a class, and I love it. I like making it for myself.

U: When do you feel most drawn to make art?

CDS: I feel like I’m of two minds here. One of them being, I know it’s bad, I keep my phone by my bed as I fall asleep because I have these ideas. So my notes app is like – literally last night, I’m reading through, I wrote “alternate hooks and eyes on Sienna’s garment so skirt can detach.” It means something. So I feel like there’s this great burst of anxious creative energy before I fall asleep. But also, I find that art comes a lot when I’m feeling sad or frustrated, and it’s like this I don’t know a therapeutic kick within me, and I find myself drawn much more to textiles.

When I am sad, I find myself moving more toward story art. I don’t know if you saw on my Instagram, I have these more narrative pieces that feel like comic-y or like zine-y, and those feel much more like processing my emotions.

U: I was just looking at the one about your teacher being a grave digger. Can you tell us more about these stories? Where does your life ends and where does your imagination begins in your art?

CDS: Totally. I like that question a lot. Thank you. So I grew up in a pretty artist heavy environment, which I’m really grateful for. My mom is a textile designer. She worked at what was formerly Malden Mills and Lawrence for ages. And so we’ve just always had stuff around. I’m very grateful to have grown up in a family of women artists specifically. I think it made art feel like a possibility, like financially, which I think is a boundary that a lot of people find within themselves and within their families. Whereas everyone in my life works a gazillion different art jobs and they make it work.

I think that my life has become maybe more and more influential in my art thematically, as I’ve gotten to a certain point in my craft. Like when you’re a kid and you have this idea in your head and you can’t translate that into whatever medium you want it to translate. Like you just want to draw an eye. You just want to draw the eye and you just want it to look like an eye. I feel like it’s a thing that all the twelve year old’s were like, we got to get this eye. You kind of want people to watch you too. There’s this weird voyeurism within your own art practice, especially as a kid, where you’re like, oh my God, I feel special when I do this because everyone’s seeing this. I still feel that sometimes. I try to think about whether I feel guilt around that or whether it’s just like another motivating force. What does it mean? Who am I doing it for? And who do I want to see, who’s looking? So I think about that. I figured out certain ways of working where I can translate what’s in my head into a garment or translate what’s in my head into a cartoon. Then I feel like my life starts sort of sneaking in because I’m thinking much less about whether the eye looks like an eye and much more about what it’s saying.

U: That was a great answer to that multi level question. So I want to talk about your most recent body of work, Assorted Armor, can you talk about the process of making that and where you’re at in this body? Do you see this continuing for a long time?

CDS: This has been sort of an ongoing thing, I would say for almost a year now, which is weird to think about. I started experimenting a lot last spring with sandwiching unconventional materials in between either sheer or transparent materials. So for example, I made this big coat out of dryer lint and I sandwiched it between plastic drop cloth, it almost is like a puffer. As soon as I found that way of working, I was just so interested in the idea of clothing that is see through but also holds things. It feels like this sort of body allegory. After I graduated, I think I was feeling sort of just, like, loss that you feel like college wasn’t perfect. Right? I was ready to go. It’s not like, oh, my God, I wish I was still in college. I moved back home to save money. I’m trying to figure out community spaces and what it means to be an artist. My friends who are working full time have their coworkers, so who are my coworkers and who’s my community? I started thinking a lot about sadness and loss and also sexuality.

I feel like there is something in tulle, especially that it possesses, this weird innocent lingerie feeling and the fact that you can see through, it feels very vulnerable. To counteract that, I’ve been moving more and more into the space of kind of accusatory phrases. I’ve been making this tulle underwear for a while, and one of them in the crotch says, “what did you expect?”

I have this tulle bra that just says, “want me”. It feels like this sort of dual. The words are this snarky protection, but also you see everything that’s underneath. It’s this giving and taking and privacy versus showmanship almost. I feel like I have more to dig into with that it doesn’t feel done. I’ve gotten a lot of really exciting responses from people in this community that I’m building. So I’m currently working on one collaboration. It’s very much in the works with a performance artist. She’s at Brandeis. Shout out to Sienna Bucu. I am working on starting another collaboration with this guy who does streetwear stuff in Lowell.

U: I love that idea of calling it protection and armor. I want to talk about siding, house, holding space, exhibits, A, B, & Counterparts. This is your work with cardboard. I am so interested in this piece of work because I think it stands out from your other works. What was it like to work in such a hard structure compared to usually working in fabric? Do you think they communicate in different ways?

CDS: That’s a great question. I think I just love mediums that have immediacy. I love being able to make something quickly. For that reason, I struggle with ceramics. Like, I’ve done some ceramics, and I have a lot of respect for ceramicists because they are so patient. I would not say that my art practice
revolves around patience. Actually, just for fun, I have Roger right here. I keep him in my room. (for those reading, Roger is the stuffed animal in A B & Counterparts).

U: I was hoping he was, like, really real.

CDS: Oh, yeah, no, he’s quite large. I actually made him out of a bunch of textiles that my mom designed. So she did fleece and high tech sort of sports fabric. We have bags and bags in my basement, which is another reason I’m grateful to grow up with artists. We’re like materially rich.

A B & Counterparts was part of my thesis work. So I created that big sort of cardboard installation in the museum, which wasn’t initially where I was headed with that work. I was anticipating doing a mix of paintings and some sort of arrangement on the wall that approximated a space but didn’t create a space. And then I got some feedback from some visiting artists and from my professors, and they were like, why don’t you just make a cardboard wall? And I was like, okay, I’ll make a cardboard wall. Ultimately, I don’t know, I felt like that project ended incomplete somehow, and I don’t know exactly why that was. Maybe it’s just that your senior thesis as an art student is really built up for four years. It’s intense. Like, you put a lot of pressure on it, and so does everybody else.

But I learned a lot, for sure. I loved making these soft sculptures. I had worked in cardboard once before, doing this big cardboard refrigerator, and that was like, the jumping off point for this. I also think that the holding space was really great for learning the boundaries of what dryer lint can do. Like, I made that big circular rug out of dryer lint because I had used dryer lint in high school and then hadn’t really touched it in college and then came back to it, which is also just interesting to me from a community point of view. Hamilton is fully residential, so, like, there are tons and tons of dorms. So I would just go around, like, every Monday after the weekend when everyone had done their laundry, and I would, like, sneak into people’s dorms and just take out all the filters and put them in my plastic bag and got, like, very mixed responses from people being like, oh, my god, you’re disgusting.

U: You are preventing fires. They don’t clean those out.

U: You were living at home and you were surrounded by artists, and then suddenly you were in an academic space with your
art, and now you’re back out of it. What was it like sort of transitioning into this very particular high intensity liberal arts environment?

CDS: Right? Yeah. Thank you for that. I think I don’t know, my home space growing up was sort of tumultuous. I was pretty ready to dive into college, like, full force. So I wouldn’t say that it was like I don’t know. I mean, it was a big change, but I was so hyped for it. Definitely. The circles of small liberal arts colleges are intense, and I think the social aspect was maybe even a bigger change than the academic one. I found myself wanting to take a lot of money from the school. (🤗) I was like, they have so much wealth and so many resources, and I would like to use them.

I was talking to my mom, and she’s like, “you should just apply for a grant, there must be a grant.” She’s like, that. She’ll brainstorm with you for ages. I love my mom. So I ended up applying to a lot of academic grants throughout my time at Hamilton. Most of them were just paying for supplies, but that allowed me to kind of launch my own mini little shows. I would just sort of talk to people. I’d be like, hey, I really think the Science Center could use some stuff, and I’ve got $200 for my paper. So I sort of finagled my way around the administration for four years, building my way up to more and more non sanctioned events. By my senior year, I was throwing these art parties in the basement of the government building where I was like, I’ll provide wine, you just have to bring a piece of art. We would hang it up and people just assumed it was for a class, so they wouldn’t take it down. The custodial services would just leave it up for months until we had the next one. So I think from moving from I do art at home to, wow, there’s this big community of people who I can relate to even if they’re not artists, I would say a lot of my friends were in STEM, sort of accidentally. They could be convinced and I could bring them on board, and I think that really fed me. And now back at home, my mom and I will show each other work. She’s now primarily doing graphic design, so I have people to talk to my art, but it’s just a different scale. I’ve been going to more figure drawing classes, and I’ve been finding these people. I work three jobs outside of this to pay for stuff, and one of them is in a bookstore. I find a lot of artistic minded people there, and I try to make those connections. So I think to your question, none of the transitions have been like, oh, my gosh, this is the worst. I would say this transition from college to now just the world has been maybe the most challenging, and this is sort of a different branch.

U: Losing those spaces sucks so bad. You need spaces for art. Like you said, it’s just even nice to hear people’s opinions, right? With that said, though, you did do an exhibition with your family. Can you talk about the Seven Species exhibit and what that was like to do during post graduation in this COVID time?

CDS: Absolutely. So it started as, a brainstorm between my cousin Mia and I. Mia is a mosaic artist. She’s been working in between Tel Aviv and Boston, kind of back and forth. And she’s done some cool work. I have feelings about Israel, but, like, between Palestinian Israeli artists, there’s some cool coalition building, and there’s a lot of public art. She’s always applying for grants. And she’s great. She’ll always text me [about grants to apply to]. So the summer before my senior year of college, she was like, CJP Combined Jewish Philanthropies has this artist grant. It’s $7,500 to do a project. She’d applied for it before as an individual and hadn’t gotten anything; she was like I think we would have a really strong application going in as a group.

So she and I wrote the grant together, and we didn’t even tell our family that we wrote the grant including all of them, until we got it. We got the grant in January, and we were like, so you’re on board, right?

I love our family, but seven people writing a grant would have sucked, or it would have taken much longer than we gave ourselves to write the grant. So we assigned everyone a species. Notably, we’re very culturally Jewish, our family celebrates Passover AND Hanukkah, and it’s important in that way, but we’re not particularly religious. So we found the seven species. We though perfect [because there’s] seven of us. They’re essentially seven. fruits, but two of them are grains that are important to Judaism, and they each have an associated attribute. They have this moral connotation, and we wanted to take it and do this feminist women artists sort of entwined with each other. We ended up reaching out to Brandais, which has a lot of connections the Jewish Boston area, and they were excited about the theme.

So we had this show that ultimately opened in, I think, July of 2022. And it was really cool. We would zoom each other from January to July as we all worked on our pieces. And it was, I think, the first time that I not only was like, wow, my family makes art, but they are working artists. And that distinction maybe feels small, but I think I had only ever really seen the output, and then I got to be a part of the process with my family. And also, I was 21 and I was working with my aunt, who’s a potter and has this whole career, and my grandmother, who’s a sculptor and has this whole career. I was taken seriously in the same way, which I’m so grateful for and felt so validating. It was just a really special experience and also just cool. My grandmother’s, 94. To get to do that with her right now feels like something that I want to hold onto.

U: How do you feel that your Jewish culture shows up in your work?

CDS: Yeah, it’s something, I think that’s been happening more and more recently. I went to Hebrew school, but I went to Hebrew school because I convinced my parents because I wanted to learn a language. I thought they taught us Hebrew. I was like, oh, this is sweet, let’s do that. But instead, I just can recite the V’ahavta now and had a bat mitzvah. It was very prayer focused, not language focused.

My family is interesting in that a lot of my relatives speak Hebrew, like kind of my mom’s whole generation speaks Hebrew because my late grandfather, who died before I was born, but he was sort of swept up in like the Zionist movement of the 70s and took the whole family to Israel for six months. So they all were kids and they learned how to speak Hebrew, which like, culturally is interesting to me. And it definitely informs just like how our family dynamics are because when the adults want to talk privately, they’ll all switch into Hebrew. But I think, yeah, generationally those politics are interesting too. But I don’t know, recently I made maybe not recently, two years ago I made like a little Haggadah scene.

And a Haggadah is like the the book that you read at Passover. My family has had the same Haggadah since my mom was a kid. They have these gorgeous wood block prints like goats and Moses splitting the sea. They’re these cultural artifacts for me.

[My Haggadah scene] has these deer; deer are really important to me. My mom always finds them. And I live up in Andover, Mass. So it’s pretty rural or at least we have woods, so deer all over the place. And I use the Haggadah as kind of this framework to talk about my parents splitting up as this exodus almost because my mother and sister and I ended up moving out and my father stayed. So it felt like this journey of something. I really think I connect to Judaism in these object ways, like the Haggadah or we have the same yellow tablecloth that we use every Passover and everyone spills wine on them. I have this soft spot for that tradition, even if I don’t necessarily have a strong connection to going to temple. I actually kind of want to verge into trying some textiles. You know, the prayer shawls, they’re like white with little stripes. I think it would be really interesting to do some text work on like a prayer shawl type thing that’s percolating.

U: That would be incredible. And I think it’s so interesting the way you view sacred objects because to me, you’re creating your own sacred objects with these traps elements and you’re just like, reinventing things that aren’t necessarily seen as sacred to some people.

U: My last question is the magazine is called you’re Going to Make Something Great. And I want to know, with your knowledge of environmentalism and your art practice, what does making something great as an artist mean to you?

CDS: I think it begins with that spark in your belly and when it kind of catches and you’re like, whoa, this thing, like, where did that come from? My brain, like, I feel like when I’m driving my car or I’m sitting in bed and there’s this thing that pops fully formed or almost fully formed into my head. I’m like, wow, that could be great. Then later there’s the process of whether I can translate that from this intangible thing or this text in my notes app into something I can hold. I feel like the satisfaction of the completion of that process feels so great to me. I love when I can imagine it and almost play a loop in my head of “this is how it would get there, and then be able to hold it in my hands.” Nobody else needs to see it if it is done. If I’m doing a shirt or something and I’m sewing all the seams inside out, and then I turn it right side and I’m like, wow, I can put this on my body now. That is the best. Sometimes, especially in undergrad, I would have arguments with my friends where they’re like, well, I don’t really like environmental science, but I’m doing this because I feel like I can get a job later, and I would just be in the studio making weird shit and so fucking happy. And I’d be like, why would you ever do anything that doesn’t make you feel like this?

U: Exactly. Continuing off your sacred objects art to you is a sacred practice.

CDS: Absolutely.




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