spinhandspun designs

Caroline Lathan-Stiefel

Caroline Lathan-Stiefel

A decade ago, Caroline Lathan-Stiefel fashioned her first immersive installation from re-purposed craft and household materials, including fabric, yarn, fruit nets, plastic bags, bottle caps, and rice bags, which were sewn and pinned to elaborate pipe cleaner frames. These colorful upcycled nests are akin to three dimensional drawing, and imply connective systems in chaos.

Below are images from her Layer City (2009) installation at the Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts in Wilmington. During its four month exhibition, Lathan-Stiefel continually added new components to the work, conjuring references to urban sprawl.

More images below, this time from the “Microfibers” show at Philadelphia’s Locks Gallery (2009). Alongside Lathan-Stiefel, Danielle Bursk and Laura Watt exhibited compelling 2D illusory spaces.

Her upcoming installation entitled Hinterland for the Tiger Strikes Asteroid Gallery in Philadelphia, will incorporate sound components in a collaboration between Lathan-Stiefel and her husband, composer Van Stiefel. Over the next several months, Stiefel will be collecting the natural and man-made sounds surrounding their home, and combining these into computer-generated compositions for gallery visitors to hear.

Lathan-Stiefel’s one-story 1950’s ranch home is located in West Chester, PA, 45 minutes west of Philadelphia, in a neighborhood that is adjacent to a densely-wooded forest. In preparation for Hinterland, she has been creating a series of small outdoor installations for a project entitled the Roam Project. Installations range from the wooded community surrounding her home, to buildings and cars in urban Philadelphia.

This prospective work, its collaborative sound elements and guerrilla upbringing in the landscape surrounding her home, updates our modern conception of a Hinterland. Once defined as “the land behind a city,” for Lathan-Stiefel, a Hinterland is “a permeable, fluid entity where the urban, suburban and natural realms connect and seep into each other, creating a kind of thick, overgrown sprawl. A hinterland can also be a psychological realm that one either wants to escape to or escape from.”

Thus far, my interactions with Lathan-Stiefel and her work are solely digital, yet her images still evoke a Hinterland. I regress, escaping into her colorful nests, and feel like an imaginitive youth who, given unlimited supplies, has built myself a fort in the midst of the city. Despite the implications of urban sprawl, there is a playfulness about Lathan-Stiefel’s work that begs experiencing first-hand.

I have asked Caroline to do a show in the Midwest, to which she stated, “I would love to show something in your area, but have no plans as of yet. I may apply to the Kohler Art Center soon though.” Talk about escapism: cheers to seeing a red-hot cast iron bathtub suspended from a crane, and exploring a Lathan-Stiefel installation all in one trip!