Nene Humphrey became interested in the practice of Victorian mourning braiding—in which jewelry and keepsakes were made using the hair of departed loved ones—when coping with the death of her husband, artist Benny Andrews, in 2006. In the years since, she has developed a body of work based on the craft, processing the initial shock of her grief through many layers of abstraction in a project, “Circling the Center” (2008–), that bridges sculpture, drawing, sound, video, performance, and participatory process art. “Transmission” at Lesley Heller Workspace featured two of Humphrey’s sprawling wall-mounted sculptures made of braided wire, a set of charcoal drawings depicting light through wire forms, one of the custom braiding apparatuses and some of the cutting tables that Humphrey has used to make her braids, and a video installation whose four channels play footage in what she characterizes as a call-and-response pattern.
The heart of Humphrey’s project is the braiding apparatus. She jury-rigged her first such construction in 2006 and has since refined the design using instructions from a nineteenth-century manual. The device is a circular, barrel-like construction with a central hole on top, in which a wooden dowel is placed. To create the braids, Humphrey or her collaborators wrap jewelry wire of various gauges around the pole. The resulting works comprise voluminous masses of woven loops and curls in various states of unraveling, their ends balling into knots or frizzing into tangles. The frenetic whorls also seem to suggest neural networks, the resemblance perhaps enhanced by research on the amygdala—the region of the brain believed to produce emotional responses—that Humphrey has conducted as artist-in-residence at the LeDoux Lab, the neuroscience center at New York University.
Hey! It’s my first contribution to AiA in print, and I’m pretty geeked! Yay!