Erika Hanson

Dec 3rd, 2012

Erika Lynne Hanson wove the fabric for the December collection bags. She creates weavings, videos and installations. Her projects propose potential connections amongst material, history and place. Erika holds an MFA from California College of the Arts and is a lecturer in the fibers department at the Kansas City Art Institute. She is cofounder of 1522 Saint Louis, a project space in Kansas City, and founder of Vefa Handmade.

U: How did you start weaving?  What attracted you to it?

EH: I began weaving in undergrad at the Kansas City Art institute. It was a required course for all fiber majors, but was actually the reason I went into that department. I had very romantic notions about what it was to weave (like many 18 year old art students) without having any idea of the process of weaving or what a loom even really looked like.


U: What's your weaving technology like?   What's your loom like and what parameters, in terms of what your fabric/pattern looks like, what kinds of fibers you can use, are determined by the loom? How do you source yarn and dye?

EH: I have an AVL compu-dobby loom; it is computer assisted, not computerized. I still have to do all the work, but on a regular floor loom you have to step on the treadles (pedals) that lift your harnesses in a specific order to achieve your pattern, with my set up the computer tells the loom what harnesses to lift. Pretty much what this means is that I don’t have to think about what my feet are doing when weaving, I have two treadles, one lifts the harnesses the other advances the pattern.

So that was the “compu” part of its name, the other is dobby. Dobby means that it is a loom that has harnesses. Every thread goes through a heddle that lives on a harness. The order of the threading determines the structure/pattern of your weaving, I have 16 harnesses so I can make more complex patterns then a four or eight harness loom, but I am still tied to how the loom is threaded in determining the structure of the fabric is produced. This type of loom (dobby) is in contrast to the jacquard loom, which has no parameters on the fabric structure. The jacquard loom does not have harnesses, but allows every thread to be individually controlled, offering infinite possibilities. Personally, I am a fan of the limitations of the dobby loom because it forces deeper investigation into its possibilities.

I source my yarn from a variety of places. The prices of natural fibers are always changing due to the market. For example I saw the price of cotton double in two years due to economic and weather issues with the crop. There is a lot of time spent on the phone and searching the internet. The dyes are a different story. There are two major companies in the country that offer dyes on a non-industrial/retail scale and they are quite reliable. Even though I only use natural fibers, such as cotton linen or wool, I do rely on chemical dyes. They are just far more efficient and reliable then natural dyes.

U: A lot of your work as an artist deals with instability and uncertainty, whether it's environmental/geological, or on a conceptual level.  You point to the difficulty of isolating objects and concept from their environments, context and/or support structures... but your weaving is so beautifully done! It has a sense of intention and permanence that's a contrast to the issues you address.  How do you think you play with that in your work?

EH: For quite a few years now the act of weaving and its output have really been like a second language. It is a comfortable place to work, and I have a lot of control over the final product will be. That being said, I am not very interested in the individual artist as definitive decision maker within the context of my art practice. I see my role as an organizer of objects that are in various states of flux — all holding the potential for change and interaction. For example, when I employ weavings in this context, the edges are never finished, leading to its undoing the more times it is handled moved or installed. Other items I am interested have a more immediate sense of urgency, such as melting ice or a potted succulent plant. The notion that all things are in transition on some level is quite important to my thinking, as well as the fact that a moment can never be experienced twice. I try to play with these ideas through the relationships of objects in a given space. Most recently I have been playing around with red, blue and green halogens, creating white light until a viewer or object interrupts their unification.

U: What projects are you working on?  I know you just had a show in New York.  

EH: I did just have a two-person show at Tompkins Projects in Brooklyn that closed at the end of November. Currently, I am working on getting a line of home textiles together. It is called Vefa Handmade and focuses on using the weave structure called overshot, adapting it to fit with a contemporary aesthetic. I began formulating this project about two years ago when I began teaching weaving at KCAI and realized I had never even woven a sample of this structure, and needed to be able to explain it in detail if the question was asked. After a bit of research I realized that overshot is a special structure that originated in the early years America and demonstrated awesome ingenuity by the weavers that were conceiving of complex patterning that is bold, graphic, and so cool! So I am recreating coverlets, blankets and pillows using the antique weaving drafts.

U: What are some of your favorite materials?

EH: Linen is a favorite! It is so finicky but has so much history associated with it. Also cedar. I just have piles of it around, the smell hangs in the air and there is something good about having former trees in your space.

U: What's it like to live with your own work, especially the functional stuff?  I have a scarf you made, and I love knowing it's whole story... it makes a difference even though I would have been drawn to it even if you, the maker, had been a stranger.

EH: That is a funny thing to think about… the objects that I live with that I have made or are tools in making do not really stand out from the other objects I surround myself with. I think this might be because I see the objects I have made as objects with a material history. The idea that I was their maker fades away. I have a hard time being romantic about something I have made, but really appreciate that the object can be romantic to others, does that make sense? For example, when I was moving to California years ago, a piece of yardage ended up in the trunk of my car. It is still there and I just call it an emergency picnic blanket.