This is a short text I have written this summer about my embroideries. I translated it (kind of fast, I hope there are not too many mistakes) in order to post it here. I’ve written about my embroideries, with more images also here.
Using a cumulative technique, where fragments are added successively at regular intervals, I want my embroideries to reflect on the link between private life and art. I think about possibilities to deconstruct binary pairs such as: craft- art, high art – minor art, female – male, private – public, experiment – norm, proposing a fluid and organic view of art and life. I make textile panels with fragmentary images of everyday life, images that bring together two areas that are traditionally and culturally viewed as “feminine”: the personal diary and the embroidery.
My work relates to the tradition of these minor and modest gestures: to write about the banality of your days and to work with needle and thread. It relates to their quality of being mediums of women. To paint and to write (activities that are so often associated with the rational and precise masculinity of the “High art”, a field to which historically women have had so rarely access), but to use a modest and “feminine” medium.
When I use the words “femininity” and “masculinity”, terms that do not relate strictly to sex or gender but to a set of ideas and preconceptions, I do not do it in the sense of an essentialist thinking. I’m not embracing a way of thinking that considers that certain categories of people are defined by an inherent, inevitable, unchanged and unchanging “essence”. On the contrary, I refer to the social construction of these concepts, to the way in which a set of attributes were crystallized historically and culturally for women and men beyond the realities that are so fluid, diverse and unique for each of us. But, beyond an essentialist point of view, the diary as a literary genre and textile arts as a branch of the fine arts are culturally defined as “feminine” (regardless of the sex and gender of those who practice these artistic forms). For example, there is more than its intrinsic attributes (such as preponderance of feelings and emotions, fragmentarity, its private character, etc), that contributes to the characterization of the diary as a “feminine” literary genre. Also, historically, the diarist genre was a genre accessible to women, a genre that women were encouraged to practice. The prevalence of the diarist practices for women, in the nineteenth century, coincides with the crystallization of the notions of public and private sphere and with the feminization of the private sphere. Diaries as a form that gathers personal thoughts and feelings, that reflects on the inner life was a form deemed appropriate for women and the private sphere in which they were kept.
I really embrace the characteristics usually attributed to the personal journal (and attributed, at the same time, to the domain culturally defined as “feminine”), attributes such as emotional, fragmented, modest, ordinary, discontinuous, without rigor and form, particular, private. These attributes, cleared by their stereotypical character, are exactly the ones that have the potential to talk about art as part of life, as a form as organic, imperfect, contradictory and surprising as life itself.
Journaling requires a perspective of immersion. The one who writes, writes her own life from inside, from the heat of the unmediated events, from her absolutely subjective position, with no separation between the experience and the one who lives that experience. It’s a horizontal and non-hierarchical way of writing; both in its quasi-democratic aspect (anyone who can read and write can keep a journal) and also in the way in which the events described in the journal are listed according to their purely subjective importance. A sentence that someone has addressed you can fill the whole page, while the remaining hours of the day can be summarized in one sentence. Major life events may be omitted while minor gestures may be described in detail. Someone’s death written in one word, because there are no other words, while in another day, the colors the sky had at sunset are described in detail. Journal is an area where the sphere of the traditional narratives and meanings can be deconstructed. An area constructed in a sense of fluidity and emotional perspective.
Journal is a genre of the detail. Days, events, thoughts accumulate from fragments. The shopping list, the meals for the day, the words of a friend, a certain quality of the light, a gaze, future plans, a headache, fear, boredom, anxiety, hope, a street that had its cobblestones removed, love, working for an exhibition, the changing seasons, a protest that I attended, desire, a cup of coffee. Journal is a technique of enumeration, word after word, stitch by stitch.
I always kept a diary, starting very soon after I learned how to write. My diary has taken different forms (small daily notes, long introspective writings, drawings, photographs, collages). Sometimes I would write in my journal thoroughly every day, sometimes I would forget it for long periods of time, sometimes I would read and carefully edit my entries, sometimes I would hide them from my own critical eye. It is a place of introspection, of the little things of everyday banality, of emotions, of details and fragments. My journal as a place of freedom. A “secret” place where I can experiment only for myself. The place where I can hope to make my self-portrait in movement. A self-portrait that although intimate and personal, yet contains the hope that it will survive me, that it will have a longer life than the one it portrays. An image that, although so particular, still it has a larger scope than the private life of the one who writes. That exactly the private character of the writing makes it relevant to a much wider context.
In the past 2 years, monthly textile collages were part of my diary. Small handmade details chosen from the fabric of my days. Paintings made with needle and thread, with routine, repetition and patience. Diary fragments that speak about the banal, modest details of my everyday, concrete like the physicality of the fabric, like the human warmth of a handmade thing.
Like my diary, these textile paintings are made when my everyday responsibilities allow it. They need patience and routine but also they can be resumed at any time, at the end of a busy day, in the silence of the alone time, filling the waiting times, allowing the daily routine to unfold. Paintings made with the needle, permissive and forgiving. A technique that allows interruptions and recovery, in which mistakes are easily erased, in which there are no mistakes. Work that can be done in the kitchen. The canvas dyed with turmeric or onion peels, the pungent smell of the vinegar. No need for an ivory tower workshop for these embroideries, large portions of them are sewn while talking to your friends or while you let your mind wander and dream.
Like a written diary, these compositions have an emotional perspective. A dandelion flower, a pinecone, a self-portrait because I have just explain how to draw one to my high school students. Stitches that go in a circle, as life revolves in habit and routine. A landscape seen from the train, rainbow over a neighboring apartment building.
The backgrounds for these compositions are often found pieces. Pieces of fabric recovered from old sewing boxes found at the flea market, fabrics carefully preserved by unknown women. Pieces of fabric that are connected to my personal history, a piece of the curtains in the room where I grew up, the dress my mother wore at a New Year’s Eve in the eighties, a homespun cloth a woman made in the seventies. Found objects that keep in their fabric unknown or forgotten histories. They are the support for images resulting from the tension between what you imagine, what you want to represent and the materiality of objects you have used, the tension between creativity and routine.
I don’t think I’ll stop doing these embroideries any time soon. Just like a personal diary, they are constantly ongoing, changing and developing, being smaller and quieter sometimes, being in the foreground of my preoccupations other times. They are a mixture of found objects, chance, words and images, texture and color, major events and the grocery list, nature, what I believe in, desires and dreams. Fragments of my life, ordinary and modest but sometimes so full of wonder.