*Featured photo: Portrait Series, Together, handwoven cast into concrete 60in x 60in, 2019, copyright Crystal Gregory
The practice of Crystal Gregory, a textile sculptor born in 1983, is based on weaving. She explores the themes of weaving and the construction of space, relating weaving and architecture, focusing on the constructive value of textile architecture. Her works arise from the encounter between materials with different identities that the artist reinterprets, questioning their role and function.
Crystal Gregory graduated from the University of Oregon and received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago from the Fiber and Material Studies Department.
Her work has been shown in numerous solo and group exhibitions at museums and galleries, including the Rockwell Museum of Art, Dorsky Gallery Curatorial Projects, The Hunterdon Art Museum and Black and White Project Space.
Gregory is currently an Associate Professor at the School of Arts and Visual Studies at the University of Kentucky.
When did you decide to become an artist and why, among the many languages, did you adopt weaving as the basis of your work? What does this medium represent for you?
I approach my practice through my hands. I approach my practice through my body. Through making, touching, twisting, understanding materials, expanding my understanding of those materials – playing and sharing.
I approach my practice as a sculptor who considers each material as a tool for investigation into the human condition. I choose an art practice that incorporates long processes like weaving to give the time I feel is necessary to really know a material – hours in which my hands are moving and my mind has the space to develop my thinking. Building a weaving requires repetitive actions that develop and emerge out of one another. Each step is dependent on the one before and thoughtful of the step after.
A weaving is growing, developing, adding and changing. It is pliant and constantly in motion. I think about my weaving practice as a living research. It is both linear and cyclical in nature, requiring constant care and upkeep to advance forward.
I love the second part of this question ‘why, among the many languages, did you adopt weaving as the basis of your work’. Weaving is a language. It speaks through touch. It writes through lines of thread laid out one by one in a network of warp. Fabric is a material deeply embedded in the human experience. And because of that the material contains uncountable metaphors. It seems each year I am enamored with a different aspect of textiles. And keeps my attention as it is ever unfolding itself to me.
What is the central theme you develop through your work?
Anni Albers explains, if architecture is fixed and permanent, then the opposite would be a textile—collapsible and movable. Any further consideration would show more common links than differences. Both mediums define space, create shelter, and allow privacy. A textile, however, has the advantage of flexibility. It is a semi two-dimensional plane that has the ability to fold, drape, move, and change to its surroundings. It is pliable.
My work uses cloth construction as a fundamental center, a place to start from and a place to move back to. With a background in weaving, I ultimately see myself as a builder. I draw a clear connection between the lines of thread laid perpendicularly through a warp and the construction of architectural spaces. The suppleness of a thread gives it the ability to adapt – to fold and meander or be put under tension and support weight. Thus, the argument for a “textile thought” is for that of structural suppleness, or a thought practice that allows the joining of paradox and intersections of varying parts. A woven structure is open enough to carry its complex history and simultaneously hold space for the newness of present contexts. The parameters of weaving and architecture – their process, their utility, their grid – are sturdy and stable and at the same time malleable and absorbent.
Many of your works are the result of the encounter and the conceptual but also concrete relationship between very different materials such as fabric and concret. Would you like to tell me about the role and significance of materials in your research and how you connect them through your work?
In my woven concrete series I embed woven huck lace into concrete. These works are material paintings, they hang on the wall and invite the viewer to experience them as an abstract painting of brightly colored lines and meandering grids. Yet they ask more of their viewing in their materiality, their utilitarian history, their surface and their texture. Materials and their cultural associations lie at the core of this work and as I work to unpack the meanings of lace and concrete, I incorporate the inherent contradictions of these materials into the conceptual strategy.
In contemporary culture concrete symbolizes strength, structure, and stability. Concrete, in many ways has been put in opposition to fabric. Its material make-up is understood as cold, hard and heavy. It is a compression material and exerts its strength by withstanding weight being piled onto it. And yet without reinforcement (often a mesh or woven structure) concrete is prone to crack and crumble, revealing its inability to adjust. Textiles, on the other hand, are soft and pliable. They also expend strength but through tensile properties; exerting flexibility and movement. Tensile strength is exerted by being pulled and stretched and able to withstand heavy loads. Through these physical characteristics we somehow have assigned hierarchies of strength often associating these materials with gender or sexuality. On closer look we are able to rearrange our understanding of strengths and weaknesses, ultimately seeing the value of each strength property as useful.
In this work I get to play with color and form and make in different modes. The weaving process is slow and meticulous, and I get to play with color and texture as the weaving grows. Once I reach the end of the warp I take the tension off and see the weaving for the first time. I work in arranging and composing a composition with this new raw material. Then finally I commit and cast the fabric permanently in concrete, This process is in contrast to the slowness and meticulousness of weaving. It is dusty and fast. I work the wet cement into the surface of the textile embedding the threads and permanently stilling their movement.
The Event of the Thread is a performance installation in which you show the possible interactions between fabric, construction scaffolding and concrete, materials that are different in nature and function. Through the collaboration with the dance company The Moving Architects, a fourth element becomes part of this complex architecture: the human body. What is the thought process that guides the entire project and how did the idea of collaborating with a dance company come about?
The Event of a Thread, is a title used by many artists in recent years, most famously Ann Hamilton’s 2013 work at the Park Avenue Armory. This co-oping of title refers back to 1965 when Anni Albers described “the event of a thread” as something multilinear, without beginning or end: more broadly, it meant the constant possibility of reassessing relations and restructuring connections.
The title suggests movement, action and performance; something that is never still and is in constant state of becoming. As a thread is laid out in the warp it is put under tension and required a march of up or down movement. As a thread is laid in the weft it meanders under and over its counterpart warp threads until released from the tension of the loom and allowed to shape shift – to conform to each new circumstance or surrounding. Whether in the building of a weaving or the movement of a textile – The thread is never still.
In my installation the chosen materials are those of support and transition; industrial scaffolding textile and concrete pipe. In this installation these utilitarian materials are taken from their natural environment and are asked to exhibit systems of support for one another. I use the industrial materials to stretch and support the weaving creating a second loom within the gallery. In this work I am playing with double weave which is a process of weaving that allows the weaver to weave multiple layers on the same warp. The yardage I weave allows areas of cloth to be twice the width of the loom, create areas of intersection that can create pockets, or to weave two separate layers. With this weave structure the weaver can really play with textile as a three dimensional object.
With this work I have had the incredible opportunity to collaborate with the modern dance company, The Moving Architects. Working closely with director and choreographer, Erin Carlise Norton and two of her dancers we talked about movement in the studio, movement surrounding the utility of a textile, and the emotional gestures of this work. We workshoped and rehearsed for three days in my studio as well as in the installation created at the 21c Museum. The piece we formed incorporates phrases of actions and movements that describe strength and release – support and pliability – force and softness. What we made I am still understanding, since the space between these two media – dance and sculpture- is vast. For the first time I am thinking about time, narrative, character, telling a story that the sculpture implies.
Over the course of the exhibition I actively maintain the sculpture; shifting and changing the composition of the materials each week to mimic the postures and gestures uncovered by the dancers’ bodies. Each new composition expresses an effort towards finding new postures of balance and support. The work is an ever evolving performance. It doesn’t seek a finish but collects moments of stillness.
One of your most recent projects is an architectural scale permanent installation in a bank in San Antonio. Can you tell me about this project?
Weight in a Field of Color is a site specific project created for the stairwell of the Credit Human building, San Antonio. This work consists of seven 30 foot weavings installed from the 11th to the 5th floor. Each textile incorporates stainless steel ball chain into the brightly colored cotton warps, adding weight to the valley of each drape. The weight helped me to define the shape of each piece and I loved the utilitarian history of the metal ball chain being elevated to an elegant material, catching and reflecting light.
As the viewer circles around the staircase they experience the piece from many different angles flipping the role of architecture and textile. The textile becomes monumental – this project made me think about how a fabric is usually the smallest most intimate space that one person can carry. Expanding that idea outward it was easy to see the correlation between the spaces between the clothing and the skin and the space between the clothing and the ceiling as comparable. They are both spaces that envelop the body. Both materials have an effect on the individual and ultimately condition a person. In other words you can both shape and be shaped by your surroundings.
How do the environment, the everyday places, your artistic community of reference, influence your work?
I find the field of Fiber to be filled with really generous people. I have had so many experiences across the country and internationally with artists and makers working in textiles wanting to share their passion and support for one another. This spirit has influenced my work greatly. I see my work as both incredibly personal and yet universal in that we all share a knowledge of a fabrics use and touch. I currently hold a position as Associate Professor in the School of Art and Visual Studies at the University of Kentucky. Through my teaching I get to continue this lineage and share my passion and knowledge and help push artists in this field.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am so excited by the three projects currently underway in the studio. The first project is in collaboration with artist Alexa Williams and will be exhibited in downtown Brooklyn NYC in September of 2022. The second is a new work in collaboration with The Moving Architects. We will be creating a second iteration of the installation and dance work The Event of the Thread. I will build out a woven installation and with the dance company workshop movement this wintre in hopes to exhibit in Europe the following year. Lastly, my digital weaving investigations are ongoing but exhibited in an upcoming exhibition with Tappan Collective Los Angeles.
Bodies at Rest in collaboration with Alexa Williams
A weaving employs a system of intersections creating a gridded network using two divergent parts: the warp and the weft. For our exhibition, Bodies at Rest, we will use the columns of 15 Metro Tech, downtown Brooklyn, as a loom. Blue cargo straps and brightly colored mason’s line stacking 12 feet high and suspended 35 feet wide create a horizontal “warp” within the lobby. Woven within the brightly colored “warp” will be tall brass sheets, bold and reflective. The brass will balance utilizing the gridded network to support their weight.
In this work we use materials associated with construction, hauling and architecture, to radically reevaluate gendered perceptions of intimacy, vulnerability, and strength. The materials within this sculpture become avatars of our bodies and create an evidence of the physical, mental, and emotional effort that is required to make our sculptures collaboratively. These are our feminist gestures supporting growth and potentiality, allowing each posture to teach and to be remembered.
Shapes of Movement In collaboration with The Moving Architects
In this new project the parameters of woven textiles and architecture are explored as they pertain to movement— movement described by and remembered through the outlining material landscape. The movement through a landscape, the pliability of a textile, as well as their gridded systems, are described and explored in relation to social structures of citizenship and intersecting parts of a whole. Ultimately, recognition of these systems as boundaries and edges describes the life within.
For this work, a woven installation intersects the architecture with permeable and transferable walls. The dancers will change the shape of the space through movement of the fabric to create new compositions over the arch of the performance.
The University of Kentucky recently acquired a new loom called the TC2. This loom allows me to design the intersection of each warp and weft individually – opening up enormous possibilities of interlacement. This summer I am working on the TC2 to produce a new series of wall works that investigate complex weave structures and shape through double weave.