Stringing it All Together
As a fibers major at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Maggie Casey liked to hang out in a mostly abandoned campus building that had a fire stairwell. The soaring, echoing space intrigued her so much that she built her first installation there-an elaborate contrivance of hundreds of strings that lay slack when the landing doors were closed, but sprang into a four-story tensile helix when a door was opened.
"It was exciting," she recalls, "the most response to a space I've had, just reacting to what was in that space." It was also the start of a defining direction for Casey, now 26, who has taken the concept of string in space to poetic heights.
"I just love string," she says. "I guess it's the line and pattern, and the way it moves, the stretching and tension." Her sculptures, made mainly of string (sometimes with wood or metal supports and whatever found objects serve her purpose), are best described as architectural/ mathematical constructions, or 3-D drawings. They range from room installations, such as Staircase in Abandoned Racquetball Court to smaller works like Splitting. All are what Casey calls "frozen moments, celebrating an instant"-ghostly rocking chairs, a gust of wind, silk organza tossed and captured midair. Her approach combines meticulous plotting and craftsmanship (skills she honed as a seamstress and pattern maker), active engagement with a given environment, a fascination with cause and effect, and an affinity for material.
Casey recently opened her first studio, in Portland, Oregon, where lately she's been focused on a major commission, a "wall of string" for a large office space. To help pay the bills, she also has a full-time job repairing sails and canvas boat covers in a sail loft-work she greatly enjoys. She's taken part in several exhibitions (including the "Searchlight Artist" emerging talent showcase at the American Craft Council Show in Baltimore) and likes seeing her work in a gallery setting, but also dreams of doing more interactive, public projects, such as set design or window dressing.
"What's exciting about Maggie is that she's not caught up in marketplace concerns or the hype of getting into the correct gallery or show," says her teacher and mentor, the artist Warren Seelig. "Rather, she's working hard to find a 'place' and an audience responsive to her way of thinking." Seelig believes Casey "represents a new breed of textile artist, a young visionary in love with all things involving the materials and processes inherent to the medium, yet who at the same time is drawn to art, architecture and science as a source of inspiration."
For Casey, it's fundamentally about "having a response to your material, whether it's toothpicks or macaroni noodles. Making it do something it wants to do. That's really basic.”