VAP2021-Q1 Words and Pictures

Stitching memories of comfort and grief: the work of Jenn Cacciola

Written by Stephanie Eche.

I first experienced Jenn Cacciola’s artwork via a Zoom screen during the fall of 2020. Having not seen many friends or family in person for seven months, I almost wept as she shared her inspiration for some of her works: her grandmother. My grandmother taught me how  to sew. My grandmother taught me how to embroider. My grandmother comments on my Instagram photos. My grandmother is still alive, Jenn Cacciola’s grandmother is not. During a time when death and grief is commonplace and vaccines are being rolled out to the lucky ones, Cacciola’s use of memory, relationship, and the tactile give us comfort, connection, and introspection when we need it most.

To view Cacciola’s work digitally is a delight, but it is only a reflection of the real thing, a pixel version of a textured, warm, dense and varied mixed media work that begs to be touched and demands to be felt. 

In Noli Me Tangere I and Noli Me Tangere II, which translate from Latin as “Do Not Touch Me” I and II, we can see the painstaking stitches that bring form and feeling out of a dark, otherwise plain woven cloth. Cacciola started Noli Me Tangere I before her grandmother’s passing, based on a sketch she made from her grandmother’s doorway. The erratic yellow, orange, and white stitches represent the light coming from the nightlight that was in her grandmother’s room. The stitches are dense and hold tension, full of life and also somehow waning. 

“Most of my sewing materials came from my grandmother, who taught me to sew when I was young. I picked sewing back up around the time of her death my last year of undergrad and was using the medium at first just for pieces involving her image since it really spoke of her. Then, it quickly took over the rest of my work.” — Jenn Cacciola

Noli Me Tangere II, was created from Cacciola’s memory after her grandmother had passed. The stitches are spread out and random, yet create an expression on her grandmother’s face with a meaning that only a loved one can know. The highlights create a ghostly quality, bringing attention to the areas that were once so full and reflective. The stitches start and end loosely and with care. They feel like they are either unfinished or coming undone, giving a sense of loss and yearning. 

In The Weightless One in a Heavy Jar, Cacciola brings a figure to the forefront of the work, with another hidden face punching itself upwards on the top left corner in orange. The juxtaposition of materials: acrylic, marker, and wood, create confusion and read like a film strip or moving image. The room is in another space — is this a memory or a myth? The eyes of the main figure stare at you as you ponder. 

A 35-Million-Year Moment uses threads in varying thicknesses to create a fantastical landscape that a figure jumps out of, on a rocking chair in a fabric applique dress with embroidered embellishments on her sleeves. The figures feet are flexed welcoming a plunge into water on the bottom right side of the image. The whole image together is playful and open to interpretation, reading like a comic and a photograph, a dream and a memory, as something delightful and something terrifying. 

Perhaps the most of the moment work by Cacciola is Voluntary, done in acrylic, flashe, and embroidery. With no figure or portrait, Cacciola focuses on a whirling black hole of sorts, using stitches and strokes to create movement and depth. The work feels like something you could jump in or be sucked into. It makes me think of the endless scroll on Instagram or the rabbit hole of the internet or the incongruous current events. But, instead of making me feel despair or overwhelmed, Voluntary gives me a sense of peace. The whirl is currently paused with thread sewn in and out, immovable and unmoved — we have some space and time to sit and ponder. I can think about my grandmother. Maybe I’ll call her. 

About the writer: Stephanie Eche is a Chicana artist based in Brooklyn, NY and originally from Phoenix, Arizona. Her work has been exhibited in galleries in New York, New Mexico, California, and Arizona. She has been a teaching artist for the Center for Urban Pedagogy, the SU-CASA program in Lower Manhattan, Root Division, and the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts in San Francisco, CA. She was a Creative Community Fellow with National Arts Strategies and Healthy Places Network Leader for Urban Land Institute.  Stephanie is the founder and CEO of Distill Creative, an art agency that connects artists and businesses, and the creator of the First Coat podcast about art in public space. Her work can be found at and you can follow her on instagram @stephanie_eche.

About the artist: Jenn Cacciola is a NY and CT based multimedia artist. She received a Bachelor of Science in Visual Arts from SUNY Purchase in 2015 with minors in Chemistry and Art History. She has been awarded Artist-in-Residence positions at Manassas National Battlefield Park, the Sheen Center For Thought & Culture, and virtual residencies with Socially Distant Art, Cel del Nord, and World of Co. She engages in curation and community building among artists as a co-curator of Openings Artist Collective. Her work can be found at and on Instagram at @jenncacciolastudio