One might imagine that Lara Croft, having already expanded her franchise beyond the boundaries of the pc/console arena and onto the silver screen, might be looking for ways to expand her realm of influence and extend her reign as one of the most recognizable female icons in gaming. But artist Becky Schaefer has taken her places she might not have imagined.
Schaefer's works--needlepoint kits and framed 'found' works with subtle additions--insert this game-world icon into a wholly different universe. Though she is still toting her gun, it's unclear whether she'll really need it. Rapelling down a large sunflower plant or from a rainbow-hued hot air balloon, posing with one leg on an old wooden fence in a farm landscape, lounging with her pistols by the ocean--not the usual day's work.
By bringing Lara into the traditional hobby-world of needlecraft, more particularly kits that were popular in the 70s, which provided a 'safe' and satisfying crafting experience for a generation of women, Schaefer has created a disturbing juxtaposition between the hobbies and mental media spaces of then and now. She feels it's exactly this breaking of the frame for the viewer--the moment of discomfort at seeing Lara in this alien setting--that help her to achieve the artistic effect she seeks.
Consider 'blowback', a kitschy stitched rendition of daisies and butterflies. Look closely and you'll see Lara, sans clothes but toting her gun and wearing her sunglasses and trade-mark braid, posed behind the plant. What sort of 'cover' can an embroidered daisy provide? How to reconcile the image of the pneumatic adventuress with that of the happily domestic scenery that these needlepoint kits planted in the sewer's mind?
Schaefer feels there are strong parallels in the 'boxing-in' of experience that craft kits and mass-release games like Tomb Raider offer. In both cases, a smoothed and prefabricated reality provides entertainment to fill and define idle time. Recombining the bucolic/domestic and the erotic/violent helps Schaefer to expose these similarities and to remind us that we've checked out of everyday messy existence, whether threading our needle, or booting up our pc.
Schaefer's Lara series had an unlikely evolution. While working on her graduate arts degree, she went through a period in which she was literally unravelling-mostly sweaters. She was going on frequent trips to thrift stores to gather more fodder for this surprisingly satisfying habit, and started to come across the needlepoint landscapes that eventually became the backdrop for the current work. She now collects them wherever she goes. For example, 'The Sowers' was a find on a trip to Hawaii.
Schaefer's work has drawn a disparate set of admirers-from gamers to traditional crafts aficionados to young DIY fanatics. A current exhibition at the Richmond Art Center (up through August 16) extends her craft and game juxtaposition into quilted and sewed elements in a twisted domestic landscape.
It's not too late to acquire a Lara original-interested parties can contact the artist directly: [email protected].
Becky Schaefer was born in Japan in 1949. She has worked as a quiltmaker, teacher, writer and odd-jobber. She received her MFA from California College of Arts and Crafts in 2002. She describes herself as a tinkerer, a borrower, a parent and an artist. Schaefer resides in San Anselmo.
Katherine Isbister is an avid fan of Schaefer's work, and has 'Lara's Initiative' in a place of honor in her home. She teaches a course at Stanford University on designing characters for video games, and runs a character and social interface design consultancy, KatherineInterface.