By KIT-BACON GRESSITT | Uptown News
The remnants of youth — favorite photos, stickers, love notes — are often stashed in attics or tucked on bedroom shelves; sometimes they even make it to living room walls, framed for posterity. But Uptown artist Dia Bassett has taken her memorabilia to a new level. The resulting piece, a two-panel collage titled “Work,” has been acquired by the San Diego Workforce Partnership for an exhibit at its new headquarters in Kearny Mesa.
The origin of Bassett’s piece is found in the youthful world of the college food service industry, back in her undergrad days at Point Loma Nazarene University.
“I created the piece in 2001,” Bassett explained, “while I worked at the Point Break Cafe on campus, using hand-filled food order forms. ‘Work’ speaks to various connotations of work: work done by hand, the work in the act of studying and learning, work on the self, work of art. I mixed a little coffee in there, too, so it has a nice patina.”
The theme of labor Bassett’s piece shares with the exhibit host is not a coincidence. The Workforce Partnership, which provides services to workers and businesses, launched an effort last April to showcase San Diego artists in the foyer of its meeting and training rooms. A request for creations that reflect, as the partnership described it, “work — loosely defined in all its ugliness, beauty, grit” caught Bassett’s attention.
“They had a call for artists,” Bassett recounted, “and I was like, ‘Oh, I have artwork that is that theme exactly.’” In fact, another of her works, titled “Labor,” a giclée print on paper, was also purchased for the exhibit.
While Bassett’s works tend toward reinterpretation of the artifacts of daily living — at one point she was sketching on her infant daughter’s cloth diapers — the blended roles of artist and mother are inspiring changes in her creative process.
“Typically, my work has been fiber-based and at least somewhat three-dimensional, even if it’s a wall hanging,” the artist said. “I did a really big fiber installation at the San Diego State Downtown gallery. It had hundreds and hundreds of hangers, and I upcycled a lot of clothing. Because we live in the world we do, most of the clothing is produced in sweatshops. I really thought a lot about the cycle and evolution — the life of a piece of clothing.”
The installation piece also had sonic and performance elements: the sound of a sewing machine, the artist conducting an orchestra with knitting needles, a jar of sewing pins and other objects passed out to the audience as instruments. However, such interactive installations are time- and labor-intensive.
“I can’t really do that type of work right now,” she said, “because I don’t have time or head space. That’s why I did those little diaper sketches. I’m in a transition. The themes I’ve been interested in the last few years, they are still so relevant to my life — more so because I’ve become a mom. Labor, I have always been interested in, scenes of labor, especially invisible labor. There are so many masses of people performing invisible labor because of global capitalism — not making a living wage but producing goods for our modern Western world. Now, as a mom, I can see how invisible labor is so much a part of motherhood. I definitely feel passionate about wanting moms to have more support for what they do. What we do now is not sustainable. We’re stressing parents out, and it’s not good for the babies.”
Despite the challenges, support from Bassett’s family members allows her to continue her creative work, which includes an artist interview podcast bearing her name and hosted on YouTube. It is part of her network, something she recommends to other artists.
“It’s good to have friends who can give you feedback,” Bassett said. “The social part of being an artist is really important and making lots and lots of artwork is really important. You make stuff you might not show to anybody — you shouldn’t be afraid to fail.”
Bassett’s collage and print will be on display for a year, along with the works of local artists Jennifer Bennett, Esther Rodriguez, Victoria Rutherford, Claire Salisbury-Ruf, Rebecca Smith, and Jasmine Zink. Those interested in viewing the artwork can reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a viewing.
— Kit-Bacon Gressitt formerly wrote for the North County Times, and she is the publisher of Writers Resist, a literary journal. She also hosts Fallbrook Library’s monthly Writers Read author series and open mic and teaches Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies in the Cal State system. Reach her at email@example.com.