Humans are tactile beings. Our fingers seem to be drawn to materials, be they smooth as silk or rough as bark. Jodi Colella's fingers have a restless curiosity, not content to let the transformative potential of materials they touch lie dormant. A Somerville-based fiber artist who's as fascinated by her process as she is by its outcome, Colella (CAS'81) sees the bizarre and enticing capabilities of the substances she works with. "I'm very curious about materials," she says. "Just playing with them to find their qualities. Usually they do unexpected things."
Her inquisitiveness comes in part from a love of nature's building blocks. "Aesthetically, I have always loved cellular forms. In fact, if you look at my notebooks from back then," she laughs, referring to her days studying biology at BU, "I didn't write too much information, but I had all the images." Seeds is a recent work of Colella's that evokes biological forms but is rooted in textile traditions too. She experimented with needle felting (a method of transforming wool fleece into felt), creating dysmorphic orbs of burred fuzziness and vivid layers of color. The process signified concentrated potential, each needle prick a compacting of Colella's own energy into the "seed."
Colella first encountered traditional textile methods like felting and knitting during summers at her grandparents' home on Cape Cod. "I was brought up always working with my hands," notes the former graphic designer, "and I've always loved doing that. So I think that's where I start, and then hopefully it goes somewhere else." While fleece is a conventional material, Colella's fingers often reach for things that stretch the definition of fiber, such as window screen that she's used to make Undercurrent, a work about barriers and duplicity.
In One Day, an ongoing project that won awards in 2010 from the Fiber Arts Network at Eastern Michigan University and the Textile Center in Minneapolis, she enacts her transformative play with plastic newspaper delivery sleeves. In cutting them, pulling them apart, shredding them, and spinning them into plastic yarn—"plarn"—she discovered their capacity to take on new properties, different densities, a metallic sheen. "I also became intrigued by the idea that I was collecting daily," she reflects. "It was a comment on the passage of time. And as time went on, it grew into something else."
She needed such a quantity of bags that she asked friends, neighbors, and students to pitch in. They did, with gusto. "Every time I would see people, before they even said hi, they'd stuff a bunch of bags in my hand," Colella recounts. Her collectors were amazed to notice the bags' various colors and qualities when compressed or stretched. "That's the surprise of this project, that level of depth, that all of a sudden I was opening other peoples' eyes to material."
Not that Colella is a stranger to opening eyes. As a teacher at the deCordova School in Lincoln, Massachusetts, she helps students develop their art, from fiber to sculptural jewelry. Patience, she says, is the key. "It's very difficult to be in the position of trying to figure something out but you can't. And to have somebody show you, or indicate a way that you can figure it out yourself that makes you feel good is really important. There's just a level of fulfillment there in people sharing with you, you sharing with people." It's easy to imagine a student of Colella's catching her fervor for experimenting with materials. "Very often," she says, eyes twinkling, "you get these surprises that are nothing you would ever dream of. That's what I love about it." ■