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Issue 70: Mollie Thonneson's art makes beautiful things out of trash
Also: traffic apocalypse, possible bias attacks, and more!
Good morning, Jersey City! Let’s get right into this issue. I hope you enjoy the rest of your Sunday and as always, thank you for reading! — Amy
Just a quick update on this: the traffic apocalypse I warned you about last week (that comes from emergency 24/7 repairs that will be conducted on Route 440, leading to closures in both directions) somehow got put off til Monday. So, the fact that we haven’t seen wall-to-wall traffic from Friday morning til now isn’t necessarily a sign that we’re out of the woods — we might not have even entered the woods just yet. Here’s some more about what’s going on. Let’s hope for the best!
Q&A with artist Mollie Thonneson
Maybe about six months ago (maybe more?) I happened to catch glimpse of the work of Mollie Thonneson on Instagram. Mollie has been my neighbor on the West Side for years, and I knew her as an artist who worked with fabric and fibers — always something of interest to me. Mollie’s most recent work brings together discarded mylar balloons — some of the most disposable consumer objects, and which often litter Lincoln Park — and transforms them into beautifully made children’s clothing. She is, very literally, making precious works out of something that might be garbage, giving new life to an object that would otherwise be thought of as waste. I loved this project so much, and have collected balloons for Mollie (by the way, Mollie: I have one in my bag for you right now!) and I really wanted to share this project with you. So without further ado…
Tell us who you are!
Thanks for asking Amy! I am a multi media artist who over the last 45 years have been flitting back and forth between painting and fabric work. I’ve always been interested in making art that explores ideas and highlights current issues. Consumerism and the environment are reoccurring themes in my work.
I was a military brat growing up and lived in several countries, but by middle school my family settled in California. I went to college in Los Angeles and lived there and in San Diego before moving to Jersey City after the death of my husband in 2002. Lovebrought me to the East Coast when I reconnected with an old college friend, painter and musician Alan Walker. Alan graciously welcomed my then seven year old daughter and me into his home, eager to share the culturally rich and artistic communities of Jersey City and New York City. I’ve never looked back. I am now deeply enmeshed in the Jersey City art scene, participating in exhibitions and managing the non-profit arts organization Pro Arts Jersey City. I feel so much gratitude to the intelligent and amazingly talented artists in this area who have influenced and inspired me. It is because of them, and I count you among them Amy [ed. note: awww, thanks Mollie!], that my own art practice has continued to develop and flourish.
When did you start doing this project with Mylar balloons?
I started working with Mylar balloons in January 2022 when I found a dinosaur balloon floating half submerged in a park pond near our house where Alan and I walk every day. Once I found that dinosaur, Mylar balloons became like manna from heaven; they were everywhere, everyday. All I had to do was walk out of the house and bam — I’d find one. They were in trees, stuck to fences, and blowing down the street. They seemed like a message from Mother Earth and she was screaming HELP! Now that I’ve been posting images of the Mylar project on instagram, people have been sending me balloons from all over the country. I love how it’s become an organic collaboration that way.
Can you describe your process a bit? It looks like you’re starting by making a piece of flat fabric, and then cutting out the parts for the pattern. Is this correct? If so, can you talk us through making the initial fabric?
Yes that’s right. I make the fabric by starting with a sheet of emergency blanket which is also made from Mylar. I buy them new unfortunately, but at least they are made for a useful purpose rather than being a throw away decoration or sentiment. Also the fact that they are emergency blankets fits beautifully with the theme of saving the environment. Next I cut the balloons into strips, layer and pin them to the blanket, and then I sew it all together using a sewing machine. It isn’t easy, the strips slide around and bunch up, but in the end I think the puckered result is rather charming and reminiscent of a puffy down jacket. I make patterns for the clothes I’m creating from items I buy at the thrift store. For this part, it’s useful that I have a lifetime of clothes construction in my tool box.
Are the clothes you’re making intended to be worn at all? Or are they purely art objects?
The clothes are all baby and young children’s sizes and are displayed as part of a larger art installation where they hang with clothes pins from a clothes line. They are not meant for wearing. In fact I think of them as devoid of life; the child is missing.
Why Mylar balloons? With all the litter in the world, can you talk a little bit about what attracted you to Mylar specifically?
All litter is very upsetting to me but also somewhat attractive from a creative point of view. In addition to balloons, I also have a collection of used lottery tickets, cigar packaging, and alcohol nips, just waiting to be used in a future project. But Mylar balloons are such a great example that there is no place on this planet unaffected by our culture of consuming useless stuff, because they travel! In fact they can fly great distances before the helium dissipates and then they land everywhere, in the middle of oceans, in the middle of deserts, in the middle of forests; they just catch that jet stream and off they go. I'm also attracted to them because they sparkle (I like bling as much as the next person), they're pliable, I can sew them, and they come in pretty colors. But mostly I like them because they give me a way to speak about the impending environmental disaster and to plea with my fellow humans to take personal responsibility in modifying their decisions and choices. We can all do better at saying no to useless stuff. Boycotting is a powerful tool and I believe we can make a difference.
Possible targeted violence in JSQ area
I try not to lift too many stories from Reddit, but this one caught my attention because I haven’t read about it anywhere else and I want to make sure everyone is aware of what is going on. This is from a post titled UPDATE: Targeted violent crime against Chinese immigrants near JSQ:
A week ago I posted about a violent individual attacking a Chinese immigrant near Journal Square. You can find the original post here. Below are some updates:
So far, SIX Chinese international students were attacked(on my original post, the victim recalled only three victims) by the same individual. Two women and four men in total. The earliest reported crime was back in February of this year. Most of the police reports were swept under the rug.
All six counts happened around JSQ.
Police were informed immediately after the first case, yet the suspect is still at large TILL THIS DAY. No camera footage was investigated.
According to the victims above, the perpetrator is an Asian male, around 170cm (5'5) tall, slightly overweight, and carries a knife.
The attacks are seemingly increasingly violent. The first victim was hit on the temple with fist; the latest victim was hit by a hammer.
This is really scary. Jersey City has become increasingly appealing to international students, many of whom are from Asia, as a place to live while they study in NYC. Many of these students arrive in the US without a support network here — new to the country and often to the language, they’re here without family to help them navigate the system should something like this happen to them. I’d imagine being attacked at random is terrifying for anyone, but having that happen in a new place where you don’t know many people is all the more frightening.
The Reddit post contains a translation of a widely-read Chinese language news site, and details the experiences of the people who were attacked. The perpetrator is described as appearing to also be Asian.
I don’t know what to add or say about this, other than: be aware, and let’s all look out for each other. If you know of anything or see anything, please speak up — let’s catch this guy and keep each other safe.
Ward Map lawsuit is dismissed with prejudice. Well this is a bummer but not totally unexpected. Looks like the Ward Map redraw will stand.
Jersey City still needs live-streamed and fully hybrid City Council meetings! I launched this last week with my friend Brigid, and we’ve had some interest from some members of the Council to move forward with this. But let’s keep those letters coming until it actually happens — “we’ll look into it” is one thing; actually doing it is another. Please share the link with friends and family in JC, including neighborhood groups, church, etc.
Your next opportunity to call for the resignation of Amy DeGise is on September 8th at the next City Council meeting. Sign up to speak by going here.
Neighborhood Character is (maybe?) going to take a two week break starting after this mailing. I want to get a little settled in before school starts, and the extra time will really come in handy but — we have several possibly breaking news items, including the on-going saga of Amy DeGise. So, the plan is to take a break but… let’s see what happens? Let’s just say if you don’t hear from me til mid September, I’m probably not dead. (However, a new burrito place has opened in JSQ and that’s pretty exciting so I might not be able to hold myself back from writing about it.)
Also Programming Note #2: This was supposed to be Issue 69, and I originally titled it “Issue 69 — nice!” but then I thought about Mollie potentially listing this on her CV and I didn’t want to do that to her.