Catalina Swinburn Meticulously Excavates the History and Ceremony of Textiles in Her Woven Paper ‘Investitures’
“The cloak is a talisman from harm, keeping one safe and secure throughout transitions,” says Chilean artist Catalina Swinburn, whose elaborate sculptures use thousands of pieces of folded paper to explore world history. Living and working between Buenos Aires and London, she is drawn to ideas around migration and displacement, turning material derived from books, documents, and maps into large-scale wall pieces and intricate, robe-like compositions.
Swinburn is interested in liminality, the process of transitioning across borders or boundaries in space or time that often requires formal procedures. She focuses on investitures, a term that applies to both an honorary ceremony and a type of garment that covers, protects, or adorns the wearer. “My works are what I called Ritual Investitures that extend power and resistance by the way they are constructed,” she says, “also in the fictional idea of how this can be used as an armour to protect, or wings to fly, or become something you wish.”
From meticulously folded pieces of paper comes a draping fabric, often mounted onto a panel or photographed as it wraps around a figure’s shoulders. The historically fraught practices of collecting and exhibiting cultural artifacts, ceremonial materials, and human remains is also a touchpoint for Swinburn, as she considers the nature of ownership, power, bias, and representation. She often uses archaeological volumes for her sculptures, culling pages cataloging ancient Roman floor mosaics or antiquities. “Athánatoi,” for example, is woven from vintage sheets containing documentation of displaced glazed bricks from the Palace of Darius, Susa, an ancient city in modern-day Iran.
In archaeology, textiles rarely survive, adding another layer of mystique to craft and garment traditions around the world. “Textiles are among the most visible signs of sacred spaces and sacred roles,” Swinburn says. Using a technique she calls “inset” or embedding, the artist creates a durable fabric with a robust geometric structure that references built environments and patterns employed by Indigenous groups. “The weaving is designed with a stepped pattern inspired from the sacred ruins and old scaffold textiles used in the Andean cultures,” she says. “Referring to the suyu whipala structure, each module is cut and joined together manually.”
Books have fascinated Swinburn since childhood, when her father amassed stacks of volumes about architecture and prehistoric civilizations. She finds her source material in charity shops, markets, fairs, and during her travels, often inspired by a unique title or vintage illustrations. “Books for me are like pilgrims: they are also constantly travelling and moving,” she says. “They have passed from different hands, so it holds its narrative, but for me, also the narrative of it’s own journey.” The portability of Swinburn’s materials is a significant aspect of her practice, since she travels frequently. Her technique involves slicing out the leaves, then carefully cutting and folding into precise squares that can be bundled up and taken anywhere.
Textiles have been long been associated with domestic activities and often disparaged as “women’s work.” Swinburn turns the tables on this narrative, exploring the representation of women throughout time or highlighting their absence from the record altogether. She says, “I mostly named all of my pieces out of names for emblematic women: Penelope, Arachne, Inanna, Astarte, Isis, Phoenix, Cocha, Quilla, Copacati, Dido, Aida… I always think, what about if history would have been told from a feminine perspective? I want to bring back these narratives and empower them, for us all to think on how powerful they have been.”
Swinburn will open a solo exhibition in a London chapel with Selma Feriani Gallery this October. You an find more of her work on her website and Instagram.
Share this story
Art Colossal Photography
Interview: Lorna Simpson On Perspective, the Complexity of Layering, and Doing What She Wants
Though Lorna Simpson is known primarily as a photographer, she doesn’t limit herself to one particular medium, working across photography, painting, collage, and sculpture in an intuitive process she discusses in a new interview.
I think in terms of making art or working, it’s not always comfortable. It’s not always assured…A lot of times, there’s maybe a lot of questions, or it can have that thing where I’m not quite sure if I’m pulling it off. I’m not quite sure if it’s a good idea or how it works. Time and again, I’ve come to respect being uncomfortable and leaning more into the process of figuring things out as a way of proceeding.
In this conversation with Colossal contributor Paulette Beete, Simpson describes how her perspective and gaze changes over time, why she needs to forestall the analytical when creating, and what it’s meant, as a Black woman artist, to always be loyal to herself and her work.
Share this story
‘Drip! Drop! Slice!’ Bursts with Color and Texture Inside the You Are Beautiful Gallery
Oozing mounds, supple paper pods, and tightly coiled handles capture the vast range of color, texture, and shape within Drip! Drop! Slice! The first guest-curated exhibition at the You Are Beautiful Gallery and the project of Colossal’s founder and publisher Christopher Jobson, the show is vibrant and energetic as it brings several mediums and works by nine artists to the Chicago space. There are tufted tapestries by the anonymous Mz. Icar Collective, Brian Giniewski’s signature drippy pots, and a collection of wildly popular mugs from Lolly Lolly Ceramics, all of which exude the playful, optimistic tone of the You Are Beautiful message.
Find available pieces on the gallery’s site, and stop in to see the works in person through July 8.
Share this story
Ravishing Roosters and Perky Pigeons Populate Sarah Suplina’s Vibrant Flock of Paper Birds
Drawing on nature’s vibrant patterns, Sarah Suplina replicates the radiant feathers and beady eyes of a variety of birds. The Connecticut-based artist crafts detailed, lifelike animal portraits of species that she selects for their distinctive plumage and expressions, painting on lightly textured watercolor paper to achieve the vivid hues of chickens, ducks, and songbirds. “I love the subtle value and color surprises that I get with watercolors,” she says, using the medium to building up gradients and contrasts that reveal richness and depth.
Taking around six to ten hours to complete, each bird presents its own intricacies and hurdles. “I found the subtle tonal colors of doves to be challenging to capture correctly,” Suplina says. She often selects birds at random, but her surroundings provide a constant source for ideas. One series titled Backyard Beauties captures individuals spotted out her kitchen window, and her current project Dove Love focuses on pigeons and doves she sees around her neighborhood and during walks throughout New York City. “Birds are so full of personality and variations, and they are an artist’s dream to create, especially with paper,” she says.
Suplina’s work will be featured in the forthcoming book Stitched Journeys with Birds: Inspiration to Let Your Creativity Take Flight, scheduled for publication in September from Schiffer Craft. You can find intricate originals and prints in her Etsy shop and on Society6. Explore her website to learn more about her work, and find updates on Instagram.
Share this story
An Animated Swimmer Dives into the Exhausting Experience of Working Under Pressure
A relatable animated short from the Ukrainian artist and director Iulia Voitova captures the total collapse and immobility of burnout and exhaustion. “La Plongeuese,” or “The Diver,” follows a professional swimmer so affected by a rigorous training schedule and the incessant noise of her coach’s whistle that she decides to give up her career entirely. When she visits a talented masseuse, though, she finds that her nerves and anxiety, which Voitova brilliantly depicts with tightly crimped paper, finally get some reprieve.
“La Plongeusese” was the director’s graduation project for La Poudrière, an animation film school in Valence, France, and you can find more of her works on Vimeo and Instagram.
Share this story
Three-Dimensional Narratives Spring from Antique Books in Emma Taylor’s Meticulous Paper Sculptures
From the pages of history books, novels, and atlases, Cambridgeshire-based artist Emma Taylor (previously) unfurls the written word into three-dimensional narratives. In one work titled “Sailing the Seven Seas,” a wooden ship glides over rippling pages. Others feature a woodpecker knocking at the side of Bird Life and Bird Lore or a tiny mouse curling up for a nap with Beatrix Potter. Using materials from vintage world maps to The Lore of the Falcon, the artist constructs paper sculptures in painstaking detail, which appear to surface organically from the contents.
During the past few years, Taylor has experimented with different ways to position each copy, focusing on a variety of arrangements and expanding her earlier emphasis on building upward from an open spread. More valuable titles with colorful cloth covers form the basis for pieces, while others are deconstructed, reassembled, and given a new chapter. “I spend hours scouring antique shops, market stalls, and online bookstores in order to source topical books, typically dating to the first half of the 20th century,” she says. “I instantly know the right book, as I can picture the sculpture as if it has been laying dormant, just waiting to be given form.”
Taylor recently showed some of the work you see here at Byard Art in Cambridge, and you can find more on her website or Instagram, where she shares updates and insights into her process.
Share this story
Editor's Picks: Animation
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.