Embroidery report from Santa Fe, NM


A wall of needle work at Tecolate Cafe on St. Michael's Drive in Santa Fe, New Mexico

 At the Santa Fe Art Institute’s Emigration/Immigration themed residency, embroidery is infiltrating artists’ practices.

A couple of days ago, Osvaldo Ramirez Castillo organized an after dinner Mapping/Tracing Migration Workshop. In it he provided us with small stretched canvasses, thread, needles, scissors and the instructions, “describe your experiences or ideas of migration critically onto 10' x 10' piece of stretched raw canvas using needle and thread.” Our embroidered, altered, and deconstructed canvasses are now floating around the residents’ living and studio spaces here are SFAI.

As expected, the workshop generated interesting discussions –not just about immigration but also embroidery. For the benefit of Slofemists far and near, here are a few of the projects discussed:

Last summer at Neuberger Museum of Art, artist Teresa Margolles assembled a series of collectively produced textiles from various sites (South, North and Latin Americas), which revealed and produced links (knots) between the embroiderers’ experiences of violence and the textiles themselves. We discussed the way she engaged families and communities grieving the deaths of loved ones from violence in the embroidery of the morgue shrouds that carried bloodied imprints of victims’ bodies. Teresa Margolles: We Have a Common Thread. Thank You to fellow SFAI artist-in-residence, Erika Harrsch, for highlighting for us Margolles's work.

Also linking embroidery to violence, there is a tradition in Japan of embroidering pieces of fabric to protect warriors heading to war. Traced to the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) but becoming ubiquitous in the second world war, the practice of making Sennin-bari involves women preparing white bands of fabric with 1000 red embroidered French knots as symbolic protection garments to be worn by men heading to war (usually worn around their waists). Each of the knots needed to be collected from different women embroiderers, although women born in the year of the dragon were able to add multiple knots (up to 35) to each cloth. Women would gather in public spaces like train stations to collect from each other the requisite knots. The practice was known to hold a radical element, since it provided women a means of offering a contradictory message of hope for survival, when the official rhetoric of the Imperial Japanese government insisted that these men carry the more honourable duty of dying for their country. This article describes the practice, with photos - Needleprint.blogspot.com. Thank You to fellow SFAI artist-in-residence, Yoko Inoue, for telling me about this small piece of Japanese textile culture.

The elaborate portraits “painted” with embroidery by Cacye Zavaglia are inspiring. In this video, Zavaglia describes her process: https://vimeo.com/51107397

A “radical” feminist embroiderer from Halifax, Anna Taylor, was listed as “best local artist” in a recent Guardian article - An insider's guide to Halifax: 'The perks of a city, as relaxed as a small town'. Thank You to fellow SFAI artist-in-residence, Emma FitzGerald, for telling me about Taylor's work.

Lois Klassen

My "migration embroidery" quotes the 1927 migration story of my grandfather.


Osvaldo Ramirez Castillo leads a migration embroidery workshop at SFAI



At the Contemporary Art Gallery last week visiting curators from Germany reminded me of this very common German suffix. When Verein is appended to its subject, it describes the inherent sociability of that subject. It means something like an active membership or association or group working together.

Kunstverein is something like the more established artist-run institutions in Canada in that they are art institutions that have been built up from a community of active members. Bart van der Heide, the director of Kunstverein Munich, described how he had come to love his institution's verein: a group of lovable and loving mostly middle age or elderly women who continuted to act as long term members, donors and champions of the institution.

Mostly, I remember hearing the words neiverein and frauenverein - the sewing groups and women's groups that my grandmothers eagerly attended on at least a weekly basis. I can hear these words spilling out of their mouths repeatedly, so much as to accumulate in mounds on the scrubbed surfaces of both their kitchens. Verein, verein, verein, verein was affectionately cited in almost all talking - it was creditted for gossip and for tragic news and for brilliant insights and all manner of resolution and restitution in one's local and larger universe...

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screen shot - "Frauenverein" image search, Google, 20140521


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Lisa Anne Auerbach - Video

In this video Lisa Anne Auerbach explains how her art works in the 2014 Whitney Biennial are meant to be examples of alternative publishing. By this, I think she means that her knitted items can carry around and display a legible narrative, by way of text and symbol. Using a knitting machine, she makes garments that record her chants & rants ("keep abortion legal"), her past times (food and drink are represented with readable symbols), her collections (an archive of psychics' predictions makes up a large banner). Also, to make the publishing theme unavoidable, she has included in the show a "megazine" -- an oversize publication that documents her research into psychics at work.

In the video she comments on her self-sufficiency in the works' production. Really, it is her use of studio-sized industrial machines that makes her self sufficient. The oversize colour printer is pictured, and the knitting machine cannot be too far away. I find this intriguing: her work refers to DIY culture (yarn bombing and 'zine culture), but through the works' materials and processes, she has forced this aesthetic through industrial processing. Is she claiming a creative territory in the rapidly expanding world of rapid prototyping? What does the "maker" culture think of her work? What is retained from the DIY in her large-scale, quick-copy publishing?

Her work is well placed in this iteration of the Whitney Biennial since so much of the selected work concerns the "complex relationships between linguistic and visual forms," in the words of her curator, Stuart Comer. I thought the exhibition in its enormity displayed the complex relationships between visual forms and just about everything else. Much of the work situated art practices in other worlds, and situated other worlds (publishing, archiving, narrative film...) inside the world of art.


In Late Late Summer

I should have dug this recipe out a month ago, but what a late summer it has been in Vancouver. These first three figs will not make it into a cake, but here's hoping that they signal the ripening of a few more (I am still sceptical). If you are luckier, here is recipe that is inspired by my Russian Mennonite grandmothers and by the plethora of fig trees planted by Greek and Italian families in Vancouver, BC Canada.










FIG PLATZ, Lois Klassen - From Flavours of Vancouver: Dishes From Around the World, Sheila Peacock and Joan Cross, ed., Douglas & McIntyre and CBC, 2005.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup butter, cold & cubed

2 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

3/4 cup milk

2 tsp orange or lemon zest

ripe fresh figs (about 20), cut in half (top to bottom)

PREHEAT oven to 350' Prepare a 10x15 in jelly-roll pan by greasing and flouring it lightly (or use a non-stick pan).

In a large bowl mix flour, baking powder, 1 cup of the sugar and alt. Cut in butter until the pieces are size of small peas. Set 1 cup of the crumbled mixture aside for the topping. In a small bowl, mix eggs, vanilla and milk. Stir the wet ingredients into the crumb mixture. Stir in the zest. Spread mixture in the pan.

Arrange the figs with the open side up in rows. They should be close together but not touching, so that the cake can be cut into individual pieces after baking. Make the topping by mixing the reserved crumb mixture with the remaining 1/2 cup sugar. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the fruit.

Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until browned and a toothpick comes out clean. Once cool, it can be served with ice cream or yogurt sweetened with a little brown sugar. I have drizzled a tiny bit of brandy into the centre of each fig before baking, with pretty good success, but it is not necessary.

The green figs that grow in my back yard have a surprising effect when they are baked - they produce a smoky flavour that does not come out otherwise. They also turn a beautiful deep purple and seem to moisten the rest of the cake perfectly - not soggy, like platz made from other fruit seems to get on day two. This cake looks fantastic on the plate and holds its shape for a few days.