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Studio Visit with Ann Morton

I visited Ann at her studio on the Tempe campus of Arizona State University.

The space reflects her strong aesthetic vision and organizational skills – and a wonderful sense of experimentation and exploration that her current work has inspired in her.  As Ann spoke about the people she is working with and the processes work they are discovering together, her purpose and passion were clear.  I can’t wait to see her thesis on exhibit in ASU’s Harry Wood Gallery, early next year.

What are you working on now, and what are you working towards?

Currently, my focus is on the completion of my MFA thesis which will culminate in an exhibition opening February 21st, 2012 .  For this show, I’m working on the following simultaneous projects:

Collective Cover Project:   This is a long-term project in which fiber-based items inducted into The Collective are randomly found along roadways or in the environment by the artist and generous colleagues. As they are rescued, Members are photographed in place as found, then methodically numbered – the number modeled after the U.S. Social Security number. The object is then re-photographed, as in a “mug shot” , and the Member is fitted with a shroud made of an anonymous canvas. The shroud fully encases the Member, denying visual access to the full details of the object, unless the viewer chooses to investigate further. Each object will have a custom woven ribbon tag attached which has a QR Code woven in specific to that Member. When scanned, the code will link the viewer online to all the information about that object – when, where it was found, its mug shot, headline of the day, and pop culture.  These records serve to mark the specific moment in time that each Member of The Collective is “born”, (i.e. found), thereby creating a new history for each item, when in truth, its real history can never be known.

Collective Cover

Collective Cover

Collective Cover process

Collective Cover sequence

Collective Cover QR code

Collective Cover:  QR code…

Collective Cover QR code & phonecam

…and a phonecam…
Collective Cover QR link
…gives viewer access…

Collective Cover QR code data

…to data about the object.

13 Fridays:   I love the Collective Cover Project, but feeling as though something was missing in the heart of my work, in the fall of 2010, I launched a public art intervention.  On 13 Fridays in the months of November 2010 and January 2011, myself and 21 brave knitters visited the Human Services Campus in downtown Phoenix, the largest facility in Arizona for shelter and services for the homeless. The purpose was to orchestrate a “mash-up” between the knitting population and the homeless population by inviting the knitters to come sit among the residents there and knit woolen hats. These hats, upon completion, were offered to whoever might want or need one during these winter months.

13 Fridays

After 13 Fridays, I’ve continued my work with the homeless population. The connection between my concerns for the lost and abandoned objects still resonates, and it is made more meaningful with the work and connections I am making with the homeless.

So . . . there are a number of projects underway that will combine with the Collective Cover Project that draw connections between the basis of the Collective and the real people I’ve met in the homeless population:

Crime Scenes:   It is illegal in the City of Phoenix to sleep on the street, yet many people, for various reasons are not allowed in the shelter. They have no option but to find places throughout the city to spend their nights. I crocheted a series of 3 sleeping mats made from crime scene tape. Those mats were given to 3 homeless groups (2 couples and 1 individual). They used and carried the mats for one week, along with a disposable camera I provided. They took photos of their life (with the mat) for a week to expose the life they lead – one that most of us could never imagine.  Participants were paid for their involvement.

Crime Scenes participants

Crime Scenes participants

Crime Scenes

Caution Field:   I am “employing” a number of homeless, who have participated in our crochet classes and who have mastered crochet, to make 12″ squares made from caution tape. Participants are paid for each square they make. I will assemble these squares to make a 16 foot by 16 foot field of caution tape. In the center of this field will hang the objects I’ve collected that were not processed into the Collective Cover Project. The lost and abandoned objects will be visible, but not accessible – held away from the viewer by the caution tape field.

Caution Field

Caution Field crocheted squares

Voices:   I will ask each of my participants to give me a piece of their clothing (which I will replace with new). These objects will be presented and paired with audio recordings so that the voice behind the clothing is revealed.

Tuesday Crochet Circle:  Myself and a few volunteers run ongoing crochet and sewing sessions twice a week for the Women of Wealth who we connected strongly with during the 13 Fridays project.  During the course of my exhibition, I would love to have any ladies that are comfortable, come and have our Tuesday session in the gallery. I will provide transportation and lunch. Hoping I can make that happen as a performance in the gallery during the thesis exhibition.

Crochet Circle

Micro-enterprise test site:   Currently, I am developing a conceptual framework for a micro-enterprise cooperative that could provide some homeless “makers” with a modest income. I hope to have a test site for the sale of some initial items made by homeless hands during the course of the thesis exhibition.

What scares you most when you are working?

From my many years as a graphic designer (see below), my work method is a very planned one. I am not so good a entering into a work that I’m not about to plan out in my head first. For me the planning is part of who I am. So – when I am in a place where I don’t have a good idea of what to do or make – that is scary for me. I don’t enjoy that place before the idea, but I sure love the part after it and working it all out to make it happen.

Why and how do you involve people in your work?

As noted above, I am certainly interested in involving people in my work. However, I will admit that I seek to control HOW I involve them so that it makes sense for what I’m trying to convey in the work. It is a tricky matter when involving a particular population, especially a population like the homeless. I knew nothing when I entered into the 13 Fridays project, and I still have much to learn. But being around this group for an extended period of time, and becoming familiar with some individuals has given me a clearer insight into how I can ethically involve them into my own practice and avoid exploitation of them as individuals. For this population, I am committed to paying them when they do work that will benefit my work. I explain what I am doing with the work, and what their role in the work is. I have learned how and where I can feasibly make connections with them. And in paying them to do work that gives them something to do each day, I let them know that they can be productive, and that I care about them.

What jobs have you had other than ‘artist,’ and how have they affected your work, if at all?

I’ve spent most of my adult career practicing as a graphic designer. This certainly shows up in my work process, my affinity in using text and technology embedded in the work. I employ my graphic design skills in and around the work naturally and sometimes to the annoyance of many around me.

Do you have favorite materials or tools?

My main area of focus is “fibers”. That is such an open-ended medium that I find great freedom in the manipulation of the techniques, but also of the mindset of fiber-based work. Often associated with keeping a good home, or being handy, I love to turn those notions upside-down to challenge those assumptions and show that “fibers” can kick butt.

How do you know when a project or piece is finished?

I get a feeling in my chest when I know a piece is right. There is a sense that all aspects are clicking into place – conceptual, visual, and technical.

Ann Morton studio wall

Ann in studio



  1. sherrie zeitlin (Reply) on Saturday 17, 2011

    Your compassion and elegance follows through in everything you do. So very sorry I missed your MFA Exhibition but wonderful that you have documented it online.I will continue to follow the work you do it truly speaks from your heart to others. Thank you !

  2. Gayle Timmerman (Reply) on Saturday 17, 2011

    Just amazing Ann, I wish you the best moving forward, and love your work!