Back in 2010, Agustina Woodgate began seriously thinking about teddy bears. The Miami conceptual artist came across Pepe, her childhood bear, which she had received at age 1 while living in Buenos Aires. That scruffy brown cub somehow made it to Miami when she moved here nearly ten years ago. She found it in a box, missing eyes, and knew she was on to something.
See also: Slideshow: Rugs at The Art and Culture Center of Hollywood
"Why am I saving it, if I don't care about it?" she questioned. "But I cared enough to save it in a box, I realized. So I began thinking about objects and our relationships to them."
Her curiosity led her to a four-year art project that resulted in a collection called "Rugs," which is on display at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood. It is a series of eight hand-sewn textile pieces consisting of hundreds of deconstructed teddy bears. One piece, Seven Seas, is ten-by-15 feet and hangs from the ceiling inside the contemporary gallery. At first glance, the blue and green hues form an abstract geometric pattern that seemingly reflects the earth and sea. A dolphin appears. And so does something resembling a tree.
But it's the teddy bear she wants to talk about. After finding it that fateful day, the pretty, dark-haired artist began studying it. She took it apart and put the pieces aside. "I realized everyone has a teddy bear or they have at least a memory of a teddy bear," says the 33-year-old artist. "Every single one of us has an object that we lean on, that comforts us. It's us who makes the object alive."
Woodgate has a habit of deconstructing objects when she's interested in them. For example, she once took a world map and sanded it down with sandpaper. To her, a map depicts a social, political organization, and sanding it down erased some of the imposed structure.
For her artwork, she chooses objects with big meaning and associations. A component of her work deals with behavior patterns and asking why we as human beings do the things we do. But identifying such patterns takes reflection.
In 2010, Woodgate took apart Pepe. She discovered he was made of several pieces of fabric.
She grew fascinated with the bear and began collecting more. She hunted for stuffed animals at Miami thrift stores. When checking out at cash registers, she drew a few glances. "Do you have an orphanage?" people would ask her at the store. "Are you giving them away?" She assured people that she isn't crazy; she's an artist.
She brought the furry creatures back to her studio and unstitched them — without using scissors. "I wanted the aura of them to stay present. I didn't want to alter them," she explains. She would line up the pieces on the floor.
"When I put them on the floor, I saw an animal-skin rug and thought, 'What about rugs?' " she says.
She used tape to draw out a pattern of the rug on the floor and would work on a ladder to view the pattern from above. Then she would take a few pieces and sew them together. The process is painstakingly tedious and arduous.
She planned on making only one rug but had leftover material, so she made a second. And then she kept going.
"When I did my first rug, I didn't realize I would make an entire collection," she recalls. The eight rugs in her collection have each been sold off for $15,000 to $50,000 for the larger pieces. The show is actually the first time the rugs have been together in four years. Jane Hart, curator of the Art and Culture Center, was able to track down all the owners and get permission to put them on display.
The resulting exhibit, "Rugs," can be understood as an examination of our relationship to objects and how we attach meanings to them. It evokes a mix of warm and sad feelings.
The exhibit features just the rugs, strung up from the ceiling in the middle of the gallery's main space. As the lights shine on them, some of the hues glow, evoking sadness, mystery, and longing. Those bears were once loved and left abandoned.
But Woodgate has another take: She learned that stuffed animals are sold in the West but are mass-produced in the East. So to her, the rug is a bridge connecting those sides of the world. And teddy bears represent the human community — soft and tender, dynamic and colorful.
"Why am I interested in this?" she asks rhetorically. "I don't necessarily want to talk about myself in my work. I don't try to be autobiographical. After so many years, I realize I have repetitive behaviors, a way of doing things."
Woodgate's show is accompanied with minishows by artists Johnny Robles, Juan Erman Gonzalez, and Tony Mena.