Trace, Cut, Fold, Steam & Repeat (2012)
500 hand cut silk organza #10 envelopes steamed and ironed into form
Brooks Harris Stevens is a textile artist and academic based in Michigan. Her work is wide ranging in subject matter, technique and physicality with installations worldwide including in India and Kosovo. She is interested in the history and cultural associations of textiles and is also an Associate Professor in Fibers at the Eastern Michigan University.
What are your first memories of textiles?
The touch of fabric has always been one of my first memories. One of my first memories with textiles was hand stitching on a scrap piece of fabric when I was three years old. Textiles remain a constant and unwavering part of my life; they are at the essence of all of my experiences.
What is your background in textiles?
I began my formal study of textiles in 1992-1996 when I attended Savannah College of Art and Design for my BFA in Fibers, Savannah, Georgia. USA. I continued graduate studies 1997-2000 in the MFA program in Fibers &Textiles at East Carolina University, School of Art and Design in Greenville, North Carolina, USA.
What is about textiles that appeals to you?
The sense of touch provides me a bountiful amount of information and connection to my life experiences. For the most part, I view my world as a variety of surfaces that in some way can be treated like a textile, which constantly feeds my sense of curiosity and play. All of these connections feed concepts that I explore in my work that all begin with textiles.
Where do you work?
I work in my studio, which is a renovated garage in my home. The lighting is wonderful and nice to have the company of Frisco, my loyal studio dog. Additionally, I work in the landscape and built environment depending on the needs while creating work.
How do you work?
I will sketch out some ideas and sometimes incorporate drawings in my work but mostly I do a lot of thinking and walking to work through ideas to develop the best way to construct a piece. Sampling is a significant part of working and figuring out how I can expand on my scope and depth of creating textiles.
Your portfolio is very diverse but how do you define your work?
I view my work as interdisciplinary with a strong foundation rooted in textiles. As every piece begins with my views/experiences with textiles I do try to expand and push the boundaries within the field. As an academic and artist, I feel strongly that textiles do not only come in a traditional form but that they come into our world in various forms; ie: photographs, bronzed textiles, video, installation, etc. Whether you look at a textile in a photograph or view a video, the viewer develops their thoughts from a slightly different perspective, which ultimately expands their understanding of what a textile is and can be. Knitting a piece of fabric and making a video like in Measured In Time are both related to the making of cloth as they both speak of time and reference a long history of craft and making. The two contrasting views present different and familiar experiences one can associate with textiles. Personally, I think that it is important to recognise that textiles are at the essence of our human experience and one that is taken for granted everyday. The majority of people don’t even realise that every moment of everyday we are touched by a textile and by creating a diverse body of work I aim to present viewers with a broad range of perspectives.
How long does a piece such as Letters of Lineage take to create?
Letters of Lineage took approximately 3 months to create working about 6-8 hours 5 days a week. Each individual #10 envelope was laser cut out of Tyvek, ironed into form and stitched together in many different sections. I usually do not measure the time it takes to make work, I believe that it will take as long as it needs and that is what I focus on to make sure it is fully developed and right.
What is the concept behind Letters of Lineage?
Letters of Lineage was originally created to reflect the strength of women in Kosovo, which was exhibited in a 16th century hammam (Turkish bathhouse) in Prizeren, Kosovo. I had many challenges to create a lightweight and easily portable exhibition in a suitcase that I could carry as luggage while flying. Since shipping was not an option due to exorbitant cost AND that the citizens of Kosovo have extreme difficulty receiving shipments as many shipping companies do not recognise Kosovo as a country. I was challenged to create a lightweight exhibition while working with a specific concept that focused on exemplifying their struggles and strengths they lived through during the Kosovo war. The #10 envelope is presented as a conduit and form of communication. Making these envelopes out of Tyvek, an extremely tough material used to mail letters and to protect buildings worldwide was not chosen for convenience, it was chosen for its durability. This strength and durability holds true today as it is still in great shape. Choosing to use a #10 envelope is one that everyone associates with in today’s society with communication, letters from friends or family members to bills or junk mail. Regardless of the age of the viewer everyone associates envelopes as a way to communicate. Since this work is specifically for the women of Kosovo, the form of a dress is undeniably associated with women creating an even larger conduit to convey the concept. I chose white Tyvek to keep the focus on the concept and allow the viewer to study the form and number of envelopes; it was not to represent a wedding dress. Limiting the color was on purpose as I choose to do this as it commands a certain level of attention and thought when being observed.
With your Mending Gold series, what happens over time? Do you remove it or is it left to deteriorate?
For the majority of the landscape and/or architectural mendings they are removed. They are for the most part ephemeral. When I worked with the Art and Design students in Tirana, Albania on the bunker, they wanted to leave the work on the structure. Each site and location are different and I always focus mostly on the place and culture in which the mending is performed.
You have travelled a lot with this series, how did this come about?
I am an avid traveler and as I have stated previously, my world is textiles. Wherever I travel I love to learn about the history of the country and its citizens. I started traveling to Albania several years ago and fell in love with their material culture, textiles and traditions. I have been connected with POLIS University in Tirana where I have had a residency and exhibition of my work. I have not been commissioned but I have received funding and some support from my university, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, Michigan, USA. I first began mending worn textiles and thought about mending the landscape and built environment prior to one of my visits to Albania. The history is so incredibly complex and as an outsider and admirer of Albania and its citizens I was inspired to mend the Hoxha Pyramid in the city center after installing my exhibition, Adaptive Rituals in 2015. After performing this mending I was elated and my need to mend our world, not just another country, was stronger than ever. As a human and artist it is extremely important to me to make a difference in our world and to try in some way to make something positive while challenging opposing forces and make people think more about our world.
What is your proudest career moment so far?
This is a hard one. Using my voice not only for teaching but having students that are excited about textiles, art and most of all that they can think for themselves.
Do you have any advice to aspiring textile artists?
Have fun and love what you are doing. Don’t be concerned about what fellow artists are doing or their successes—If you keep on a path that makes you happy your successes will follow. Lastly, always keep an open mind.
Mending Gold: Careful Attention will be exhibited in World of Threads 2016, an international juried exhibition in Oakville, Ontario, October 28- December 7, 2016.
Brooks is presenting Mending Gold: Worn paths in Cloth, Land and Architecture at the Textile Society of America’s 2016 conference in Savannah, Georgia, October 19-23, 2016.
Brooks Harris Stevens