FLESH, BONE, AND BEAUTY.
By Abigail Baldwin
After studying fiber arts at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Caroline Kipp graduated in 2013 and continued to pursue her passion for sculpture from her studio in the Brickbottom Artists Association in Somerville. Kipp’s art has evolved into a mix of many mediums, but universally deals with the human form and the temporary nature of physicality. I met with her to discuss the processes and themes of her creations.
During our conversation, Kipp admitted, “I tend to be in my brain all the time [...] I usually think of my body as something that carries around my brain.” After the death of a close friend, the tragedy brought Kipp into her physical form. Her work began to reflect the recognition that the reality of death necessitates being present in and conscious of her body.
Kipp’s departed friend’s Irish heritage inspired a series of woven basket and paper sculptures that she calls the "Moons" or "Styx." The sculptures are based on a traditional Irish boat, a canoe-like vessel with canvas stretched over a wooden frame, called currachs. In Irish mythology, a ferryman was said to carry souls across the water to an island of youth in such boats. Kipp sought to make a vessel for the soul of her friend. In doing so, she found physical catharsis in the process of creating. Weaving is rhythmic, it becomes an extension of your body. Paper pulling, weaving, and sewing all have a meditative, transcendental quality. “It’s just you and the work,” Kipp said about the process of creating fiber art. "You’re not even making decisions anymore, it’s just happening.”
The Moons take inspiration from the shape of currachs, but they also reference the temporary nature of the human body. The sculptures are made of Japanese Kozo paper, stretched and laid over itself. The result is a skin-like texture similar to flesh stretched over bone. Kipp made the paper herself from mulberry bark that she boiled and beat down by hand. The process is extraordinarily physical and exhausting. In order to get the luminous, translucent look she wanted, she had to stretch and beat the paper for long periods of time. The physical toil resulted in vessels for her friend’s soul.
She ground away at the work through the winter, the paper cold and wet, and the work repetitive. The repetitious process of paper-pulling became meditative for Kipp. “I let my body take over the making," she said about completing the Moons. "It was really peaceful, in the end, to finish.”
"I let my body take over the making. It was really peaceful, in the end, to finish."
Another project, the "Bog Bodies," deals with similar themes of mortality and decay of the human form. “Bog bodies” are human cadavers that have been mummified naturally by acidic water and plant decay in marshy ground. Historically in Ireland, people whose bodies were left in bogs had transgressed in some way or another. They forfeited the right to be buried in hallowed ground. In consequence, their bodies were often mutilated superstitiously to prevent their haunting.
Kipp was inspired by Irish bog bodies to make her own fragmented human forms out of plaster, clay, and hay. She used both male and female models to create molds. In death, the societal standards used to divide us—such as gender, sex, race, and ethnicity—are no longer relevant. The universality of the human body and its impermanence take over, a fact that is reflected in Kipp’s work.
In her most recent project, Kipp has taken a more sanguine perspective. She has started making her own clothes, finding empowerment in that historical skill, so neglected today in our world of fast fashion and mass production. She uses different dying and painting styles, as well as a Japanese embroidery technique called sashiko, to adorn five dresses cut from the same pattern. She likes the simplicity of making her own uniform. Kipp’s recent textile work is beautiful and elegant in its simplicity. She’s moved on, for now, from highlighting the decay of the temporal form. Instead, her dresses celebrate adorning the living body, the vessel of the soul as it exists in life.