We all travel through cities, inhabit communities and are influenced by their character—a combination of climate, geography, history, economies, the built and natural environment, and ultimately culture. However, this relationship is not one way. With a long view, one comes to understand that people have an interactive dynamic connection with place: we are shaped by the communities we inhabit while also simultaneously contributing to the creation of place, zeitgeist and character ourselves.
This phenomenon has been noted by many. An aspect, known as “habitus" was likely introduced by Aristotle. The Greeks defined “habitus" as a system of embodied dispositions, tendencies that organize the ways in which individuals perceive the social world around them and react to it. In more recent times, this notion has been rounded out by the influence of place in social identity. Introduced by environmental and social psychologists, “place identity” is a part of a person’s self-identity, and consists of knowledge and feelings developed through everyday experiences of physical spaces. The place identity of a person can inform their experiences, behaviors, and attitudes about other places. In a related vein, “place attachment” defines the ways in which people connect to various places, and the effects of the powerful bonds in identity development, place-making, perception, and practice. All three of these concepts help us to understand where and why people feel at home, as well as why displacement—forced or voluntary—can be so traumatic for individuals and groups.
In my daily life, place allows my memories,experiences to make sense in complex ways. My interaction with the urban landscapes of Philadelphia, Los Angeles, or NYC, intertwine my sense of place and the politics of space. Traveled rural landscapes of Appalachia, coastal zones, and midwestern farms, also figure into identity and the politics of place. In all these communities, I see how some place identities have been privileged in narratives while others hidden or denied. When all places and identities are uncovered and celebrated as part of the whole, a rich complex, authentic place exists for all to create experiences and memories.
As I think about place, city, community, identify, I believe that Jane Jacobs in “The Death and Life of great American Cities” perhaps captured my belief most succinctly: “Cities are for all people; and in fact, they are created by all people.”
The understanding of identity and place—the landform and geography, the character, the color, the tone, and the broad range of all peoples and their agency have been and remain common thread concerns for me, and present in all my life’s work. Most notably, I am fascinated by their inevitable and often ambiguous interactions.
Today as an artist, I explore place and identity through the representation of landform and people. At times they are ambiguously the same/shifting forms; at times each stands alone as either land or people on fire, in trouble, asking, marching, or feigning indifference. My figures also stand together in groups, conversing, sharing, playing music, or rebuffing the other.
My work is consistently large scale, bold, yet simple and direct with strong, large figures interacting often with an equally strong ground. I love color and use it confidently, powerfully, and often playfully. Fabric-pieced and dye painting constructions are my medium of choice. Clothed and housed in fabric is common to us all. Scale is important, as the consistently large pieces allow the viewer to be in or next to the work, provoking a visceral curiosity about who this may be? where? as well as realizations that you are somewhat like me.
Gerri Spilka’s award winning work has been exhibited in numerous art and textile shows in Europe, Canada, and the US. Trained in this order, as an artist, social scientist, and architect and urban planner, not surprisingly, Spilka’s fabric work continues to investigate themes grounded in these ways of knowing the world. The interactions and ambiguities of personal identity and place, human-made and biological forms expressed through two dimensional shapes, negative spaces, lines, colors, and subtle texture underpin all of her work.
She has been making fabric and dye painted constructions for over ten years. The quick mediums of digital and paper collage simultaneously also allow her to work through ideas quickly, which in turn inform her fabric construction work. In the last three years, Spilka has also played a role in expanding the visibility of high quality textile art by leading an expanded dissemination of four textile exhibitions curated by Nancy Crow more broadly through North America.
Spilka became a full time studio artist after a rich career advising some of the most inspiring people leading social change throughout the US. She was a founding president of Equal Measure, a strategy and evaluation firm based in Philadelphia which has a foundation and non-profit practice across the US. While leading a 30-person organization, her equity-focused portfolio was largely in arts and culture institutional advancement, urban revitalization and community development, and education. The Ford Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts were among her clients.
Spilka studied with Nancy Crow, legendary quilt artist; has an undergraduate degree in Art and Psychology from Carnegie Mellon University, a master’s degree in Psychology from Temple University; and an M. Architecture and Planning from the University of Pennsylvania. She has a studio and lives with her family in the Italian Market area of Philadelphia, PA.
1983 University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA M. Arch. and Planning
1973 Temple University, Philadelphia, PA MA, Community Health
1972 Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA BA, Psychology and Education
2014-2017 Hand dying and surface design, Carol Soderlund, Claire Benn
2015 Etching, Cindi Ettinger Studio, Philadelphia, PA
2008-2016 Principles of Art Quilt Design, Nancy Crow, Baltimore, OH
Awards & Honors
2017 Second Prize, Biennale Fine Contemporary Crafts, Artspace, Raleigh, NC
Honorable Mention, Craft Forms 2017, Wayne Art Center, Wayne, PA
Shirley Hastedt Award for Excellence, Quilt=Art=Quilts, Schweinfurth Arts Center
Jurors’ Award, Quilt National, The Dairy Barn, Athens, OH
Professional Development Award, Surface Design Association
2016 Award of Merit, Craft Forms 2016, Wayne Art Center, Wayne, PA
Third Prize, Transgressing Traditions, Schweinfurth Art Center, Auburn NY
2015 Award for Design Excellence, Quilts=Art=Quilts, Schweinfurth Art Center, Auburn, NY
Award of Merit, Craft Forms Show, Wayne Art Center, Wayne, PA
2014 Third Prize Crafts, Art of the State: Pennsylvania 2014, The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, PA
2013 Award for Design Excellence, Quilts=Art=Quilts, Schweinfurth Art Center, Auburn, NY
Artwork represented in: Catalog, Regional Juried Show, Chris White Gallery, 2017
Contemporary Abstract and Geometric Quilts, Studio Art Quilt Association, 2017
Catalog, Quilt National 2017, The Dairy Barn, 2017
Catalog, Mastery: Sustaining Momentum, The Dairy Barn, 2016
Catalog, Color Improvisations 2, Tuch and Technik Museum, Germany, 2016