Nature, Fashion, and War: Julie Peppito

Date: 
Friday, April 6, 2018 (All day) to Thursday, April 26, 2018 (All day)

Nature, Fashion, and War

The mixed-media tapestries and large-scale charcoal drawings in Nature, Fashion, and War are two separate bodies of work that draw connections between my insatiable desire to buy new things and the destruction this seemingly innocent impulse wreaks on our planet and our lives. It is this conflict, and the panic and confusion it stirs in me, that begs the questions: How could anyone knowingly poison water, air, the earth and people? What do Americans value? What is the truth? How can we come together to save ourselves from ourselves?

The tapestries in Nature, Fashion, and War contain objects that were on their way to becoming trash, most of which were created at the peril of the air, water, earth and people. But, at one time these were fashionable bargains, status symbols, luxury items or (in the best cases) filled a real need.  A child’s shoe, an earring, an old rag, a cell phone, a Disney figurine, an Ikea carpet - they all have stories to tell. I consider the people who designed and manufactured these things to be my collaborators, even though I don't know them personally. By smashing, wrapping, and sewing these objects into canvas and other pliable surfaces I combine their stories into larger topographical narratives. By adorning them with detailed drawings, gouache and oil paintings, decorative filigree, and blobs of paint, I add my story to theirs.

For the past several years I researched and sourced literature on the complex factors that contribute to the degradation of our planet. The stories in my work have been heavily influenced by several books and articles including a series in The Intercept by Sharon Lerner, Naomi Klein’s, “No is Not Enough” and “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind The Rise of the Radical Right” by Jane Mayer. By putting the names of the authors and titles of their pieces in the titles of my tapestries, I honor the truths they tell.  

My tapestry Crawling on Cancer (The Teflon Toxin by Sharon Lerner) is informed by and named for a series of investigative articles about a chemical called C8, also known as The Teflon Toxin because it is used in the non-stick coating on Teflon pans.  Produced by DuPont, C8 is used for many things, including stain-proofing carpets. An Ikea carpet that I bought for my son, then almost discarded, became the base for this piece. In the article, Lerner details how this chemical is found in dozens of commonly used objects that touch our food, bodies and water... and that it causes cancer. For months, while sewing into it, I rubbed up against it. I scratched my eyes and wiped my nose, I can’t remember if I washed my hands before I ate.  I asked her if Ikea carpets had this chemical. She said that, while she thinks Ikea seems to be more concerned with keeping toxins out of it’s products than many other companies, most stain-resistant carpets made before 2015 were made with either C8 or one of its close relatives. The DuPont company knew about the cancer-causing aspects of C8 yet failed to disclose it to its employees and the public, many of whom got cancer from working with it or from drinking tap water in communities near the DuPont plant in West Virginia.

The irony that my desire to have a fun and nice looking room for my kid could have increased his cancer risk and that I failed to see that my contact with the carpet could affect my health is troubling. But, we are almost all affected. According to 2007 study, C8 is in 99% of American’s blood. And unfortunately, it is only one of many unregulated and untested toxins that are hidden in plain sight. Yet Scott Pruitt, the new head of The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is now dismantling the institution charged with protecting us from poisons such as these.

Part graphic novel, part Cliff Notes, and part self-help book, the large scale charcoal drawings in Nature, Fashion, and War were made to illustrate the information that is getting lost in the shock campaign of the Trump administration while also addressing the fear, despair and anger many people feel. I use memes, quotes, and word balloons combined with imagery inspired by Hieronymus Bosch, Kathe Kollwitz, medieval manuscripts, politicians and everyday people to create an installation that serves to inform, empower, and comment on this tipping point in history.

In “Hi! I'm Scott Pruitt. I sued the EPA and now I am running it. Don't worry about poisoned water, I've found a way to drink money.” I focus on the new Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt, who is also the former Attorney General in my hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Before heading the Agency that is supposed to protect our air, land, and water Pruitt sued the EPA 14 times to try to block rules intended to protect the nation's air and water. In all but one of these 14 cases, regulated industry players also were parties. And these companies or trade associations in 13 of these cases were also financial contributors to Mr. Pruitt's political causes. In trying to understand why, as a Baptist family man, or more importantly, as a human being, he would strike down legislation that keeps corporations from poisoning water, air and food, I imagined that greedy demons had taken over his body and that “We the People” need to help free him from those demons.  A piece of hair extends from one of the women huddling in a drawing of a giant screaming self-portrait to be used by an angel to exercise the demons from Pruitt’s head. To me it is a narrative of overcoming fear and anger that uses caring, empathy and the power of the people (specifically women) to fight injustice.

I see greed as being innate in all of us; a human trait that I, like most people, wrestle with. When we attain the material things that we want, there are always other, newer, things to replace them. However, our natural resources are not infinite. Through the work in this exhibition I ask: How can we protect ourselves? Will the idealistic American free market system based on demand and supply devoid of regulation save us? How does that work if there is all demand and no supply?

I’ve looked to the grassroots community organizations that have emerged in my neighborhood, and throughout this country, for solace and inspiration over the past year and am encouraged that all is not lost. This quote from author Arundhati Roy has become my mantra to keep going: “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. And on a quiet day I can hear her breathing”.