Mark Bieraugel, Cal Poly’s new business librarian, stitched six funny, insightful and detailed pieces inspired by the six colleges at Cal Poly. Look closely at the fabric and thread – there is a lot of humor, content and meaning stitched into each one on display in the nook near Julian’s on the second floor. I’ve been over a few times and keep discovering something new and clever with each visit. There is Lady Gaga in a Twitter stream with Plato (who was just re-tweeting Socrates anyway). Then there’s the electroluminescent wire which blinks and flashes like a petite neon sign (admittedly I noticed that on my first time). Mark found inspiration for his needlework in his new professional reality at Cal Poly and in unexpected places…
What inspired you to do this project and how did your first few months here inform your work?
I was so happy to work at Kennedy Library I wanted to do something for Cal Poly. I created one piece of artwork for each of the six colleges. To get ideas for the pieces I visited Kennedy Library’s Special Collections and looked at vintage pictures of Cal Poly. Seeing photos from the 1930s accounting classes inspired the Orfalea College of Business piece (top photo). The piece “Big Data” is based on accountants still doing much of the same thing today, crunching numbers, although they don’t use big adding machines with paper spewing out of them.
How did you dream up the ideas you depicted?
Creating art can sometimes be seen as solving a problem. Creating a single piece of art to represent a whole college, say liberal studies, was a real problem but a fun challenge. For liberal studies I love the idea of a conversation across time, how great minds respond to earlier voices, and talk back to them. I toyed with a bunch of ideas, but none seemed to catch fire. After months of working on it off and on I was very frustrated. Then I had an idea: what is Twitter but a massive conversation? And this led to me think, what if there was Twitter over the past 2,700 years? And who would tweet? (see above detail)
For engineering (left) I wanted to represent all of the different types of engineering here at Cal Poly, but in a light-hearted way, so why not a baby quilt? But a baby quilt with a stitched Jarvik artificial heart, a fullerene, and Ohm’s Law done all in baby eye friendly red, blue, and silver thread.
I love the Twitter feed! What are a few of your favorite elements of that piece?
I love putting subtle and almost hidden things in my pieces. Sappho has traditionally been associated with violets, so her icon is that flower. Shakepeare’s icon is an ambigram of ‘short shift’ from artist Mike Wallace, it looks like one word but is actually both words. Faith Ringgold is a wonderful contemporary artist who works in textiles and creates amazing painted story quilts. And Lady Gaga, the person currently with the most Twitter followers, had to have a voice in my piece.
The piece for the College of Architecture and Environmental Design reflects an understanding of the natural world that strikes me as close to your heart. Can you say more about what’s going on there?
For this college (below) I really tapped into my own personal interests. I love paper, and it seemed right to create a sort of blueprint. The Fibonacci sequence, which is a series of numbers added to itself, fascinates me, and is related to the golden spiral and the rectangles for each ‘room’ in my dream house. Lazarus taxa, which are plants and animals thought extinct then rediscovered comprise the landscape surrounding my dream home. The idea that something is lost, such as a tree species, than found again, strikes me as amazing.
What do you like best about stitching?
I like that the combination of fabric and thread, or paper and thread, have dimension – the thread raises off of the surface. And that we all know fabric, we wear it every day, it is familiar and we feel it against our skin.
How is this series different than what you’ve done in the past?
For each of the six pieces I forced myself to create pieces which were bold and almost sculptural. The pieces are huge for hand embroidered pieces, some are two feet wide and a foot tall. And one used very cool technology. For the science and mathematics piece (detail below) I used electroluminescent wire to show the bioluminescence of the creatures, the piece glows and blinks. For business it was the use of ribbons, cascading “paper” streaming down to the floor. For agriculture I used wooden embroidery hoops masquerading as pig, rabbits, and chicken eggs. The Twitter piece is like a scroll, but on linen instead of papyrus or paper. And for architecture the piece is hand stitched entirely on dark blue paper with white thread.
What are you currently working on?
I really want to hand embroider a life-sized coelacanth, a six foot long deep-water fish with a fascinating history. Actually, I want to embroider two of these fish as there are two species of coelacanths, a blue one and a glorious gold one. So one coelacanth in various blue threads and one in all in metallic gold threads.
Anything else we should know?
For the agriculture piece in the show look closely around the pig for a series of letters. There is a clue to what is spelled in the title of this artwork (click below for full image).
You have to see Mark’s work in person to appreciate the detail and thoughtfulness. Check it out on the second floor of the library by June 8!