Lily Fridell's Tight-Knitted Environment at MCAD | Minneapolis College of Art and Design

Lily Fridell's Tight-Knitted Environment at MCAD

By Ngan Huynh on December 01, 2021
Lily Fridell's handwoven pod ; Lily Fridell
Lily Fridell

The Experience

Have you ever wandered around the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) campus with no aimed directions at all? I have done that so many times, just because I feel a sense of strange familiarity at MCAD that I don’t really need to have a direction in mind when I visit the campus. The building is connected all on itself and eventually, it will lead you to where you need to be. Walking around MCAD aimlessly reminds me of those times when I opened up the fridge just to have a sense of comfort that I still have food. Of course, this only applies to when you don't have a class you are rushing to.

A few days ago, I was walking around the second floor of the MCAD Main building, and I suddenly noticed a colorful cord hanging on top of the ceiling, right next to the  Service Bureau. I had no idea where it came from, how long it had been there, or where it led. So, I did what anyone would do out of curiosity: I followed the trail. I have to admit, this also had to do with the fact that I recognized the fabric cord—I had seen it as part of an interactive installation a few weeks ago at MCAD. There was that sense of strange familiarity again.

I followed the path all the way to the second floor staircase near the Mailroom. I thought this would be where the mysterious cord ended, but to my surprise it kept going to the third floor, traveling through the vacant space between the Main Gallery and the floors above, wrapping around the pathway and trailing up to the fourth floor stairs. I was so curious as to where this mysterious cord was leading me. I have been so familiar with the MCAD buildings but there are always little surprises that you never knew could be possible here. (Did you know there's a Danny DeVito shrine made by two MCAD alumni hidden somewhere within the MCAD buildings? 👀)

Anyway, back to our mysterious path. As I walked up the fourth floor following the path that the cord creates, I noticed it was on top of the stairs’ handles, which gave me a chance to touch the fabric. At the top of the stairs, the cord led your eyes toward the end of the trail. I was so surprised at the sight of what I'm looking at— a magnificent intertwine of strings of fabrics webbing together. The scale of it took over the whole E/Studio hallway and it's just inviting you to step into the environment and interact with the web. If this is the end, then where did it all start? I followed the cord again, only this time to go back in the other direction. From the Service Bureau, the cord led me down the stairway at the College Center back to the first floor. And there it was, the interactive installation that I saw a few weeks ago, but now it's part of something bigger.

I was so intrigued by the scale of the work and how it connects the MCAD Main Building floors together that I decided to reach out to the artist, Lily Fridell, for an interview. Here are a few things I would like to share with you about the lovely conversation Lily and I had together.

The Story

Lily is a sophomore Fine Arts Studio major here at MCAD with a focus on Sculpture. Lily also does painting and drawing but she's most passionate about her 3D practice.

Why specifically did you choose to become a fine artist and what made you decide to study at MCAD?

I took some time off after high school to discover what I would like to do but I always ended up coming back to fine arts. I enjoy making touchable works using mediums like felt and crochet. I joined MCAD without actually touring the school at all. It just felt right!

Other than large-scale fabric installation, what are some other things you make?

I also work with ceramics and paintings. I like to focus on shape and form languages when working in ceramic. When working with paint, I like to focus on body abstraction and use the body as a landscape. Recently, I worked on this collage project where I used found objects and figure drawings to introduce the concept of using dumps as an archive for human stories and personalities.

The Community

The installation work I mentioned at the beginning is called the Community. Community can be broken into three different sculpture works called Pod, Tether, and Tangle, where the Pod is the work on the first floor, Tangle is the web all the way on the fourth floor, and Tether is the rope that connects the two.

Lily shares that her sculpture installation works can be understood as an environmental landscape for people to interact with and occupy.  

I just feel like the viewers complete the artwork. Viewers are the “X” component in order for my work to live and breathe on its own. The Pod didn't mean anything when I was making it and left it in my studio. Yet, when it's part of the environment, it’s activated by the people around it.

The Pod

Lily Fridell's handwoven pod

The Pod to me is like a sense of home. I really miss my home in the Blackhills of South Dakota and I need the same sense of belonging here in Minneapolis. So I created the Pod as the result of needing a safe space where I can feel I belong. With this in mind, I want people to step inside the Pod and stay in there whenever they need to.

Lily designed little windows on the work so that viewers can step in the work but are still able to see everything that's going on.

I don't want you to feel trapped and covered, I want you to be embraced and look out into the world. There is an “I” and a “Me” inside the Pod: the “I” is the present of when you touch and feel the pod, while the “Me” is the remembrance and the impression that was left behind by you.

Here's a poem Lily wrote about the Pod:

Embrace Me


Rest for a while in my arms

take a break


Stand here with me, take shelter


I love you because you are of me. I love you because you are me. 


Come as you are, and leave as you will 


I will protect you, I promise to keep you safe


Watch the sun rising, and take my hand


try to hear that current that hums

even under the drone of the highway


embrace me


The Tangle

Installation by Lily Fridell made of handmade yarn.

The net of the Tangle can be understood as a spider web with an umbilical cord (Tether).

Looking at this makes me think of childbirth in a way because of all the pain and suffering I have while working on this project. I enjoy how one little wiggle at the cord can travel all the way up to the net, creating a ripple. The path that the cord is installed on is the path that I walked around a lot because like The Pod, I would like to bring the remembrance and sense of belonging into this part. Each individual node of the net is very special because it's all connected together, like a tangible entity. It represents communities and relations.

Here's a poem Lily shared by Rumi that fits with the theme of the Tether:

“There is a community of the spirit. / Join it and feel the delight / of walking in the noisy street / and being the noise. / Drink all your passion, / and be a disgrace. / Close both eyes / to see with the other eye.” ― Rumi

As a Whole

Unlike islands, a community is kinda like an intersection.

I have this philosophy that each individual strip of fabric is like each individual human life. We are individuals, but we are also a collective together due to the circumstances that tie us together and wrap us into a whole. Think of it like you are a person interacting with another person. You both are part of this greater thing where you are all connected together further down the line. You might not be aware of them but everything about them impacts everything about you. 

Like this personal philosophy, each individual strip of fabric is different, the whole Community wouldn't be the same thing without these strips of fabric coming together. And having the work hung and wrapped around campus connects the community together more intimately. As soon as you step inside the Pod, touch the Tether or sit under the Tangle, you become part of the environment, you become part of the school. The part of you at that point in time stays with the sculpture environment forever and becomes one of the stories it carries.

The Practice

In a way, Lily takes stories that the fabrics carry and entwines them together to create a new environment that invites you in to tell your own story, like the works I'm sharing with you today.

I like to gather fabric from thrift stores, often bed sheets with weird, or sometimes gross, textures. These kinds of fabric have more of a story to them because they have been through so many pairs of hands before coming into my hands.

Why did you choose to use fabric for this project?

Yarn and fabric can be broken easily but coming together they are very strong and sturdy. The construction of fabric invites you to keep adding more strips to it and you are able to play with its volume and forms easily. I like how fabric and yarn are very interactive, they make you want to touch the work. Fabric in a way is very welcoming, it's also very natural when compared to other materials like wire, for example, which is very man-made and constructed.

I also choose fabric because of its vast variety of colors and textures. It's like I'm mixing color using textures instead of direct palette mixing like painting mediums. I'm a fan of bright and colorful colors and I don't stick to any certain color palette. This is because life doesn't have a color palette, we can't select what goes on in our life, it's everything, just like how you can't be selective with people.

When making Community, I wasn't selectively pairing one strand of fabric to the other, I just grabbed one and tie them to the other. I didn't make any measurements either, I just let the work confine to the space itself. To me there were no mistakes that can be made for this project, just constantly growing, and changing. 

What was the process of making the work be like? What were your initial ideations and sketches?

The Community overall took me 100 hours or more to make, with the help of lots of energy drinks. The Tether itself is 500 feet long. I was in my studio for several weeks to get this done. It was a lot of hours working in my studio all night and day, going to class, then coming back to work on it. My ideation and sketching phase was basically me talking to people and using them for inspiration to make the Community. I first started making the Tangle about a year ago and I didn't have any of these ideas in mind. It started off with just a bunch of fabric entangled together. Eventually, they come together and become something bigger than myself! 

The Beginning

Sadly, as great as the Community is, all installations have to come down at one point. I hope you had a chance to become part of the Community and left your stories within the environment. I believe the Community has done its job very well in connecting MCAD together in a tight-knitted manner and creating a safe space. I personally felt very familiar with the path where the project spreads out more than ever now because I know exactly where the cord is taken me. It will be so odd to walk on campus without the sights of the Tangle, the Tether, or the Pod because the Community has become part of my strange familiarity. 

However, I believe the end of this project is only the beginning of more amazing and wonderful works by Lily Fridell. With her talented ability and thoughtful ideas, I’m very excited to see what other projects she has in place for the community to be part of.

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