Just when the threads seem to be falling into place, one throws everything off with a frazzle.

It's OK. New Mexico artist Jen Pack knows not everything will go as planned when working on a site-specific installation. And the color thread work she created for the Louisiana Art & Science Museum is different from her others.

"This is going to be taut across the top and loose down the front, so there's a tension between the tautness and the looseness," she said, looking at her work in progress.

"I was really happy that I was going to have the opportunity to contrast the tautness and looseness in the thread, because I have tension in myself whether or not to let it flow and be loose or make it taut," she continued. "It's very different visually, and it's so malleable that it takes on its own character."

Pack titled the piece "Chromatic Chorus: An Ovation," its theme complementing that of the museum's exhibit "Harmonies in Color: Six Contemporary Perspectives," running through March 1.


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Pack is among six artists whose color-themed work is featured in the show. The exhibit also coincides with "Sound Is An Invisible Color," featuring Christopher Janney's interactive sound-color pieces in the upstairs gallery.

Pack's piece offers a gateway of sorts to the exhibition.

She didn't always work with thread, though. Her artistic process has been described as liminal, something that's ever evolving. 

Born in Astoria, Oregon, the artist developed an early interest in woodwork through her father's job as a contractor, pursuing the medium through middle school wood shop and art classes. She eventually enrolled in the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, where she began combining fabric with wood sculptures after a neighbor gave her a 1950s Adler sewing machine.

Pack earned her bachelor's degree in fine art from San Jose State University in 1997, and her sculptures have since been exhibited throughout the nation.

Site-specific installations are a new twist for Pack, as she previously used thread as a way to bind the fabric in her sculptures. But when the threads started forming fringes on the fabric's edge, she got a new idea. 

"At one point, I was stitching fabric together, and I had all of these loose thread ends," Pack said. "And I said, 'God, that looks amazing.' I wanted to play with that, because it was telling me already what it wanted to be. It was a way to represent the same material in a new way."

Gütermann polyester thread is the star of Pack's work in "Harmonies in Color." One piece, titled "Harriet (hairy it)," resembles a cross between a red waterfall and "The Addams Family's" Cousin Itt. That piece alone required 65,000 yards of thread.

"Chromatic Chorus: An Ovation" doesn't use quite as much.

"Let's see, I have 25 spools of thread at 1,000 feet each," Pack said. "So, that's 25,000 yards of thread for this installation. I wanted to see the thread not as the constructive material but as the subject. When you get enough mass, you can really carry the color; so it's interesting how something so thin can carry so much punch."

The museum sent Pack photos and dimensions ahead of time. Pack planned her piece, then attached the thread to a wooden frame before bringing it to Baton Rouge.

"There's something really satisfying and something so light and ethereal about working with thread," Pack said. "It becomes the opposite of what you expect. It becomes strong."

Email Robin Miller at romiller@theadvocate.com