SMITHSONIAN COOPER-HEWITT NATIONAL DESIGN MUSEUM, NYC
When asked to create a piece for the Fashioning Felt Exhibition, I visited the museum and was inspired by space and light within the Barbara Riley Levin Conservatory and the similarities it had in form and style to a palace yurt. It seemed a natural centerpiece to demonstrate the link between the historical origins of Felt and contemporary Felt Art the symbolism of the yurt, synthesizing the past with the present and future of this ancient yet modern textile.
The Palace Yurt pays homage to the yurt as a historic and contemporary dwelling and grand celebratory space. It demonstrates the versatility of Felt as an art form and functional fabric, and is designed as a stand-alone installation that can easily be transported and presented in a variety of venues.
Installation Concept: The yurt, a tent-like, collapsible dwelling, covered with felt, has been home to generations of Turkic-Mongolian tribes for almost 2000 years. During the reign of Genghis Khan, yurts, utilized for their ease of mobility, enabled the royal court to accompany their leaders on military campaigns.
A Palace Yurt has been defined in the traditional Mongolian culture as a lavishly decorated Yurt, elaborate in ornamentation and design. It has also been referred to as a castle, a royal tent, and a palace abroad. It was known to be a place of grandeur and celebration, “as a traditional environment for all artistic activities, (song, dance, epic poetry and legend) and a majority of ritual festivities”
Dr Batchuluun, Felt Art of the Mongols
Within the Cooper-Hewitt Conservatory, the installation was comprised of a fully felted ceiling, with a reversed diamond pattern based on the existing Tiffany leaded glass ceiling. The tall conservatory windows were transformed with translucent felted sheers that responded to the natural light throughout the day, creating shadows and warm textural shifts. The conservatory benches were covered with thick wool and mohair felt covers which became an interactive way to physically connect with the qualities of wool felt. It became a revered space for contemplation and celebration, where visitors gathered and lingered. The felted ceiling fabric and wall pieces were held in place and supported by a structural framework designed to mirror the exiting glass support system. A transitional section at the entrance referenced a traditional Palace Yurt canopy of the ancient Mongols. The north doorway was also a felted doorway which was rolled up and served as a short exit transition in the the next rooms of the exhibition.
As the Palace Yurt begins to travel as an nomadic art installation, it has become an ambassador of wool, textile art, and honors the nomadic tradition of handmade Felt. It offers visitors an opportunity to experience a textile-based work through an interactive lens that inspires curiosity and provokes questions that encourage conversations about history, indigenous peoples and this living art form.
I continue to be inspired by continued research, conversations, travels and direct work with indigenous peoples and their nomadic philosophy, along with scholars of Central Asia, and publications by Mongolian Felt scholar, Dr. L. Batchuluun and Dr. Peter Alfred Andrews. While commissioned as a site-specific piece, it is functionally viable as an independent art work, and proving to be an immersive, nomadic, elegant teaching object.
GOALS & OBJECTIVES as a traveling installation
- To pay homage to the yurt as both a traditional and contemporary dwelling and a grand celebratory space
- To inspire questions and open dialogue about felt, an indigenous material, frequently overlooked and misunderstood
- To connect cultures and foster intercultural appreciation and understanding through traditional arts
- To inspire appreciation for textile traditions by amplifying the voices of indigenous artisans and balance ancient and modern textiles as material and art form
- To celebrate and encourage living ethnographic art forms that represent cultural heritage now and into the future
- To recognize the sacred nature of felt in Central Asian culture and the sense of belonging that exists between textile objects – old and new