COMMON THREAD

Saskia Scott, 2020

“The more subtly we are tuned to our medium,” states Anni Albers, “the more inventive our actions will become.”1. If there is one theme that unites the work of Marilou Chagnaud, Lucia Dohrmann, and Kate Little, it is this: a careful, deliberate attentiveness to the materiality of their work. Each takes common materials—paper, thread, canvas, and ink—and attends to their properties. Not as a substrate medium to be dominated, but as a central and active participant in the meaning of the work.

Conscious of the inherent capacities of her materials, Kate Little uses the absorbent quality of thread to draw the ink across the paper’s surface. While she provides a geometric structure to this thread, ultimately her work is an act of leading and guiding. The ink is never strictly controlled.Structure and order blends with the serendipitous and the fluid. Little also frequently folds the paper to provide subtle crevasses in which the ink will settle and darken. In Mask I and Mask II, the black ink pools along the grid of fold lines, while the masking fluid prevents its flow. By employing a subdued or monochromatic colour palette, the focus remains on the base materiality. Guided by a deep understanding of the way in which these materials behave, Little embraces the element of chance. The resulting work carries with it a network of tensions: between rigid geometric order and the serendipitous movement of ink; between abstract representation and concrete matter; between, as always, the work of creation and the material that is worked upon.

 

Lucia Dohrmann takes the quintessential artistic material of the canvas and reconstructs both its meaning and substance. Displacing the common understanding of a canvas as a surface on which to layer paint, Dohrmann centres, instead, the canvas’ base elements of woven thread. Looking at Dohrmann’s work I return to Albers, writing on weaving: “besides surface qualities, such as rough and smooth, dull and shiny, hard and soft, textiles also includes colour, and, as the dominating element, texture, which is the result of the construction of weaves.” 2 It is these qualities that Albers describes which come to define Dohrmann’s work. Her work makes visible the essential elements of the canvas through a process of deconstruction and reassembly. In the work, Rethinking the Canvas ((a + b)2 Plaid) Dohrmann paints vertical stripes in orange and grey, before unravelling the weft in horizontal strips to reveal, in the warp, a reference to a traditional plaid textile pattern. As with Little, Dohrmann’s work makes visible the underlying properties of the material. The form of the canvas—a construction of woven thread—ceases to be a merely functional surface. Similarly, in Rethinking the Canvas (Diamond Grid in Graphite Grey), Dohrmann paints the canvas with a wash of grey before cutting the canvas in strips that mirror the warp. She then partially reformed the surface of the canvas through a diamond weaving pattern. Dohrmann takes craft techniques—weaving, embroidery, and crochet—and uses these techniques to attend to the properties of the canvas and the way the aesthetic meaning of the work shifts with interventions to the canvas’ form. It is a labour-and-time-intensive approach, inherently meditative, that allows a deceptively simple form to emerge.

 

Marilou Chagnaud takes this same attentiveness to material and pushes it into sculptural dimensions. Her work explores the boundaries of paper: folding, stacking, and hanging it to give the surface of the material a spatial dimension. Here, in Common Threads, Chagnaud presents a new body of work created by digitally-printing, and then folding the paper by hand into precise concertina folds. The resulting repetition of peaks and troughs evokes a shifting landscape. As the viewer moves through the space, the folds reveal and conceal the printing. New forms and illusions are created by the viewer’s changing perspective. Chagnaud’s use of colour is restrained. The pale blue tones appear like a shadow cast on the Japanese paper, and as the viewer shifts, the work reveals an interlay of light and shade. In response to Chagnaud’s work, the viewer becomes, necessarily, more sensitive to the arbitrary ontological divisions between surface, substance, and space.

 

Chagnaud, Dohrmann, and Little all share a precise attention to the properties of their chosen materials. Each artist is attuned to the way that their materials will respond to the conditions of making. More subtly, though, each artists takes simple processes—to cut, fold, weave, reconfigure and stitch—and uses these engagements to encourage, in the viewer, a similar attentiveness. The material around us is made more lively, more vital, and more active by our interaction with the works.

 

Footnotes: 1. Albers, Anni.“Material as Metaphor”, The Art/Craft Connection: Grass Roots or Glass Houses, the College Art Association’s 1982 annual meeting. 25 February 1982. Transcription. 2. Albers, Anni. “Work with Material”, Black Mountain College Bulletin, 5, 1938.