Alyssa McClenaghan

Soaking It Up
upholstery foam, joint compound, linen napkin, and fringe on board
24 x 15 x 2.5 in.

Lace, napkins and table runners passed down through my family and both found and made domestic objects are combined to explore familial histories and traditions alongside my own history, exploring questions of domesticity, immigration, and gender roles. The carefulness and precision with which these napkins and table runners are made contradicts their role to clean and absorb food stains, spills and bodily fluids. I think of the stained sheets of an abortion or the sheer weight of blood stained underwear.

There’s an attempt at perfection in each piece while being unable to hide the unsightly; to make the abhorred bearable. Every decision made by each previous generation shapes where you are today. This work is about the sacrifices made to begin again, anew, and the heartbreak and beauty inherent in those choices. I often use upholstery foam coated in joint compound, which I then paint. The unstable, soft, flexible materials are coated in a hard yet also unstable material; the rigidity merely a mask, as with the slightest bit of movement or pressure the rough exterior coating will crack.

The recent inheritance of family made textiles has allowed for the integration of a new material in my work, while exploring both the general experiences and perceptions of being female with my lived experience and personal history. The precariousness of each work’s fragile exterior becomes a metaphor for the many shells we place on and carry everyday.

© Alyssa McClenaghan