Alison Gates

Second Place
mixed media (found textiles) – 25 x 38 inches

Working in textiles for so many years, I’ve come to know that no piece of cloth or textile-object is neutral. Like humans, every textile comes with baggage that needs to be honored.

I made this piece during a period of time in which I challenged myself to use only the items in my studio to make new work. My late mother was an artist and I inherited all the objects and supplies from her studio, which moved in on top of my own various stashes, and the items other people often give me because they know I work with the found-object and with textiles. A good friend from sculpture-class days had given me a shoe-box full of dog-show ribbons he’d gotten at a thrift store. He’d had them in his own studio for several months and couldn’t see his way to making anything from them, so he gifted them to me. They then sat in my studio for a couple years, and occasionally I’d try to use them. One day, I saw a sample weaving of red ribbons next to a stack of funny measuring tapes I’d picked up at the farm supply store. The measuring tapes are used when raising cows, to determine when the heifers are big enough to bear calves. Somehow, the idea of not quite measuring up came into my head, and at the same time, my students were reading Linda Nochlin’s essay, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” In another box, I found my mother’s ribbons from entering things in county fairs, including several second-place ribbons for needlework; needlework got entered at the fair, her other work was shown in art galleries. Thus, the notions of not being given a proper chance to do anything completely outside gender roles stitched themselves together and became this piece.

While I was working on Second Place, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were battling it out for the Democratic Party nomination for president. Shortly after it was finished, Hillary won the nomination. Looking at her resume, and seeing the evidence of someone who achieved twice as much to get half as far made me realize that during my lifetime, we’ve gotten the access to what we need to be great, and yet, we still come in second, all the time. The debate on women’s healthcare funding is a perfect example of how women’s health is second in line to reproduction in general. If a woman is raped, her life being derailed is second in matter of importance to the courts if her rapist is a promising male athlete, or a beloved male entertainer. A man’s future, a man’s past, these seem to be first, and the whole of a woman’s life seems secondary in our “meritocracy.”

Second place is almost always the red ribbon.  Red, like blood; it’s the color of the fight still raging and not yet won. Second place means, “Keep Fighting to be First.”