with fiber art
A Dreamy Fiber Installation by Vanessa Barragão Transforms a Medieval Bridge into a Patch of Oversized Orchids
In the small town of Paderne, Portugal, a whimsical valance of crocheted leaves, dangling tendrils, and petals dyed with subtle gradients encircles the stone archways of a battered medieval bridge. Titled “Algarvensis,” the dreamy installation is by Portuguese artist Vanessa Barragão, who’s known for her large-scale textured tapestries that recreate landscapes and gardens with tufted fibers. The bowed entanglement recreates oversized orchids native to the region with wool from nearby sheep and recycled yarn, resin, and other materials in a celebration of the local environment where the artist spent much of her childhood.
“Algarvensis,” which the municipality of Albufeira commissioned to help elevate the Geoparque Algarvensis to the status of a Worldwide UNESCO Geoparque, will be up until September 12, and you can the process and installation behind the piece on Barragão’s Instagram.
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An Eclectic Group Show Features Sound Sculptures, Collages, and Toy Assemblages for the Annual BBA Artist Prize
A broad, varied collection of work from 20 emerging artists converges in a group exhibition for the sixth-annual BBA Artist Prize. Living in ten countries and working across mediums, this year’s finalists include Steve Parker’s touch-activated horn sculptures, Fiona White’s vivid collaged paintings, and June Lee’s figurative assemblages of toys and everyday objects. The winner of 2021’s award will be announced on June 25, with all works on view at Kühlhaus Berlin through June 30. Get a preview on the BBA site, and check out artist Ming Lu’s blue-and-white porcelain sculptures, which won the 2020 competition.
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Graphic designer Panna Eszenyi shifts her practice to a more tactile medium in a series that deftly merges embroidery and typography. Created as part of the 36 Days of Type challenge, the thread-based alphabet is Eszenyi’s foray into the craft and an exercise in utilizing a wide variety of stitches. The resulting series fluctuates in font, color, and style with both ornate cross-hatched letters, tufted flourishes, and more minimal, geometric interpretations.
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Back in February, Agnes Hansella completed a staggering trio of macramé installations. The monumental works are a facet of the Jakarta-based artist’s practice, which spans large-scale pieces and smaller wall hangings extending a few feet wide. “I would like to not cage myself to a certain style, so in every piece, I really let my instinct do most,” she tells Colossal. “I always think of art as something that keeps evolving. It’s like a relay race where I’m one part that connects the past and future.”
No matter the size, each of Hansella’s works demonstrates an extensive repertoire as she blends dyed and natural threads into wildly varied combinations of twists, knots, and ties. The elaboratey woven pieces range from geometric shapes and abstracted rainbow glitches to a vast mountain landscape, which are direct products of the sights and sounds she’s encountered throughout her life. Through interactions with her father’s native Dayak tribe and a childhood spent in Borneo, she saw woven baskets and textiles that continue to impact her work today, as do the Indigenous songs she heard while studying cinema in Canada.
Hansella sells many of her fiber-based works, along with functional goods and supplies, in her shop, and you can follow her latest projects, which include a recently completed piece in Bahrain that’s 48-meters-wide and 4-meters long, on Instagram.
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Scent, memory, and emotion are inextricably bound together in the human brain, making it possible that a single sniff evokes feelings of delight, comfort, and calm associated with an experience. Pallavi Padukone uses this inherent connection in Reminiscent, a series of 11 fiber-based works infused with naturally derived fragrances, all of which the textile artist and designer equates with her hometown of Bangalore, India.
Part aromatherapy and part nostalgic stimulus, the fiber pieces hang from the ceiling as delicate, sheer curtains that are accessible from all sides. Padukone weaves and embroiders using thread that’s covered in a wax-and-resin substance she developed through trial-and-error. “The testing phase for the coated yarn involved sampling weave structures and embroidery techniques that were best suited for the yarn. I kept a record of swatches as a test of their durability and how long the scent and color last when exposed to heat and light,” she says.
Infused with clove, vetiver, jasmine, citronella, sandalwood, or rose, the cotton yarns also are hand-dyed naturally, pulling out the golden color of turmeric and rusty tones from cutch and beets to pair with a corresponding aroma. “It’s ironic that I happened to choose scent during a time when wearing masks is the new normal,” Padukone tells Colossal. “While the beauty of olfactory art is that it has to be experienced in person, I use textiles, patterning, and color as a way to visually represent my depiction of the fragrance’s personality.” A yellow and green patchwork, for example, emits the grassy, lemon-like aroma of citronella, while sweet, musky sandalwood is paired with thick, abstract coils of yarn on sepia-toned silk.
Although the scents are embedded in many of the works, tiny accessible pockets cover the undyed organza in “Jasmine II,” ensuring Padukone can replace the flower buds. She’s currently exploring other methods that allow replenishment considering most fragrances last between one and three months. The transience of sent, though, is part of its appeal. She explains:
I find beauty in impermanence and how each textile’s color, structure, fragrance changes over time. In this collection, I have incorporated handspun recycled sari silk and cotton for my weaves and embroider on organza silk. I am drawn to the sheerness of the fabric, the way it interacts with light to visually evoke the ephemeral experience of fragrance.
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In her salient text, In The Wake: On Blackness and Being, scholar Christina Sharpe delves into the multiple definitions of “wake,” which span from “the path behind a ship, keeping watch with the dead, (to) coming to consciousness.” “In the wake,” Sharpe writes, “the past that is not past reappears, always, to rupture the present.” Largely focused on conversations around anti-Blackness and continued violence, the book is rooted in the afterlife of slavery and what sentiments, practices, and memories linger into the current moment, questions that similarly ground the work of artist Nastassja Swift.
Through fiber-based figures often arranged in large gatherings, Swift explores various narratives tied to Blackness, particularly those that relate to water and ancestral presences. “I’m interested in taking those things as starting points and imaging a space or happening that involves my sculpture and allows me to think through a hypothetical rooted in that memory or history,” the Virginia-based artist says. She derives these stories from texts like Sharpe’s, discussions with friends, and in one instance, a conversation with an older Black woman at a Toni Morrison film screening.
While there are multiple narrative threads in each of her pieces, Swift doesn’t strive to disclose each one, preferring explicit gaps in the connections. “I love knowing that there’s more to what’s being made and imagining other characters or continued happenings around what’s being made,” she says. “That’s not something I’m attempting to convey, rather information that I’m okay not sharing.”
Many of the faces evoke imagined subjects, not relatives Swift has met or seen in photographs, but rather somewhat of “an ancestral presence that allows my hands to make the face in any particular moment without my mind being aware of it.” She always begins with the supple shape of the face and then sculpts the facial details and hair from dyed wool and felt, a process that’s intimate and that’s evolved with two more recent works.
“With ‘Passage, when momma lets my braids flow down my back’ (2021) and ‘Your Banks are Red Honey Where the Moon Wanders-Self Portrait’ (2020), everything changed,” Swift says, describing the shift in the process to that of a ritual. The first of these two works, “Passage,” is a bubblegum pink figure sporting a collar marked with smaller heads arranged in a gradient. Long braids descend down the torso and pool on the floor. Second is Swift’s self-portrait, which features a calm face shaped in deep red wool that’s silhouetted by braids and figurative tendrils. Both interpret specific subjects as West African masks and sculptural forms in order to question “what it means to worship someone, and how that word could be reshaped to allow us to honor those around us,” the artist says.
Swift will have a satellite exhibition titled Canaan: when I read your letter, I feel your voice at the Contemporary Arts Network in Newport News from June 5 to July 3, 2021. Thanks to the Art as Activism Grant from the Black Box Press Foundation, the pieces will then travel for a stay at the Galveston Arts Center. The artist sells some felted dolls and other goods in her shop, and head to Instagram for glimpses into her studio and a larger collection of her sculptures.
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Editor's Picks: History
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.