I was recently contacted by the Gynocentric Art Gallery (The GAG, "A gallery that values the brain and cuts the bias") to write a companion essay for the online exhibition of Diana Weymar's recent textile-based work. The GAG is the project of Danielle Hogan, the founding director, who is currently presenting a talk about this project in Barcelona, Spain. My thanks to her for asking me to respond to Diana's work.
I've collaborated with these two women before in the exhibition "Every Fiber of My Being" at the Paul Robeson Gallery at the Arts Council of Princeton, and while I've never met either of them, I connect with their work and writing. Collaborating again felt like a series of streams converging before splitting apart again -- natural, intense, a churn of minerals and distance traveled all melding to create a brand new moment.
Excerpts of the essay are below, and you can read the full essay plus see Diana's exhibition here. I am always considering landscape in my own work and what someone recently described as "insistent work." The idea that the two are connected has been brewing for some time and this essay was an opportunity to grow some flesh on those bones. Diana's thoughts on land and insistence are featured in italics. It's like we were having a conversation face to face, but if we had, we'd have interrupted one another too many times.
Then of course, there'd have been the wine.
The Pull of the Needle:
Diana Weymar and the Landscape of Cloth.
Winter is coming.
When first introduced to images of artist Diana Weymar’s contemporary embroidery, I felt instantly connected to its tactile, insistent quality. I lingered over folds and layers of the intimate stitched work and manipulated found objects, considered her steps, her thought process. It wasn’t surprising to learn she spent part of her childhood in northern British Columbia, Canada, a vast, unpredictable landscape, hinged to shifting light and season. As a northerner, I recognize the persistent need to shape and create forms that explore the existing or unremarkable objects of a life, honoring hand skills, self sufficiency and a demand to question, create and transform. With magnetic intensity, we point to cloth, object and back to the self.
"The language of the landscape of the riverbank of the Stikine River is vast and raw. Untouched. Unconquerable. It humbles the human. What happens when you cannot control the nature environment is that you start with small movements. You plant a garden, dig a ditch, cast a net, build an outhouse, the list goes on. You insist that you exist. And yet you don't because the minute you stop, you leave, it returns to the way it was before you arrived. I think this is what I learned. That we are temporary and that we must work to exist. We must insist that we belong, survive, create, and express."
For women artists who maintain a studio practice when their children are young, there are seasons when the domestic landscape is just as bleak as the most northern, contributing to the slow unraveling of self. The historic significance of reaching for cloth isn’t lost on contemporary needle workers and fiber artists, many of whom are mothers. Cloth is understood despite the inevitability of its migration, abandonment and constant unearthing in and around the demands of children, family and home. When I discover other artists who’ve embraced this form, without apology, without question, without some historic burden of craft versus art, I’m immediately in kinship. The work provides a way of existing in the slow moment while still exercising the tireless will, despite the surrounding chaos that wants always to draw us away. As generations of women understood, the pull of the needle is an urgent companion. We seek the tool, it disappears beneath our hands, it re-emerges again. It represents a balance.
"Motherhood is also a wilderness. You work, share, toil, shape, and create as a parent but it is also vast and raw. It too is a slow process of letting go. Of insisting and then resisting. Of letting time do its work. Time works away at all of us. Making the invisible visible. This is another part of my work that comes from living so close to nature: we are always creating evidence of work that will be removed by time. The landscape grows over. The material frays. The object eventually slips from our hands and we do not know if it will be picked up and thrown away."
By slowing the hand, the mind is held to the landscape of cloth, but within it is the freedom to wander and expand, fully considering the next word or stitch before each plunge, embracing the luxury of the tautness of thought. When onlookers remark on the likes of us hunched over this old way of working, it’s often with, “Oh, my mother embroidered,” or “My grandmother was a seamstress.” But what stories did those women bury in cloth? What narratives hid, folded and silent in their laps? Which unspoken words were couched in that drum of a hoop? Mark upon mark, stitch after stitch, they may well have been their best selves in that stolen time, blanketing, transforming and fully ruling that remote land.
For the complete essay and many, many more images of Diana's work head on over to the GAG.
And here is Diana's bio:
Diana Weymar has exhibited work at The Ministry of Casual Living, Vancouver Island School of Art, Xchanges Gallery, The Arts Centre at Cedar Hill, The Midwives Collective, The Smithers Art Gallery, 1580 Gallery, and Makehouse. She was a Build Peace 2015 Artist in Nicosia, Cyprus, and she will be again at Build Peace 2016 in Zurich. She is the Spring 2016 Anne Reeves Artist-in-Residence at The Arts Council of Princeton. She is participating in and curating a show – Every Fiber of my Being– at the Taplin Gallery at the Arts Council that opens on March 5th, featuring work by Amy Meissner, Katie Truk, Cassie Jones, Caroline Lathan-Stiefel, Danielle Hogan and Maira Kalman. She has taught art workshops in schools and volunteered with Art Therapy programs with the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society and at the Queen Alexandra Centre for Children’s Health. She has also served on the Board of Princeton Young Achievers and worked in publishing and feature film in New York City. Diana has studied art at The Arts Council of Princeton (NJ) and The Vancouver Island School of Art (BC) and she has a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from Princeton University.
If you are interested in more writing and/or imagery about the North, check out the blog posts under the sidebar category: Alaska.