INTERVIEW WITH KATRINA LEITENA

“Inexpressible”, 70×62 cm; 68×55 cm; 57×32 cm, copyright Katrina Leitena

Italiano (Italian)

Katrina Leitena is a textile artist from Riga (Latvia), graduated in Textile art at the Art Academy of Latvia and winner of the Valcellina Award for 2021 with her work “Inexpressible”. The main inspiration for the artist is the human being, the language of the body and its expressions as a reflection of an inner world whose richness is difficult to put into words. Geometric figures, being massive, ascetic and simple are opposed to the elasticity and fragility of the body. The artist mixes these two opposites so that they can complete and enliven one another. Hand embroidery is the chosen medium, threads and needles are the only tools. Drawing with threads and embroidering thread by thread, Leitena tries to visualize reality and portray the human body in the most realistic, fragile and delicate way possible.

https://www.instagram.com/katrinaleitena/

“Inexpressible II”, 49x50cm, copyright Katrina Leitena

Katrina, can you tell us about your artistic path and the motivations that led you to choose textiles as your language?

I don’t have only one specific language. I have understood that no matter what technique or medium I choose – drawing, painting or textile, I always want to get closer to photographic reality. I fell in love with photography when I was a kid, but when I grew older I understood that the time of composing and capturing the photo always seemed too short for me. I wanted to put myself more in the process of making something out of nothing. And I never really felt that I’m a painter or a drawer. Textile seemed something unknown, attractive and a very unlimited and wide concept. Textile is my material, medium and tool. But I always have wanted to escape from traditional techniques and motifs and do what cannot be so easily defined and placed in a specific field and direction. So I would like to say that my art language is a mixture. I like to touch a little bit of everything, I wouldn’t like to belong to something specific.

“Chair which hugs”, 97x50cm, copyright Katrina Leitena

Can you describe the work “Inexpressible”, with which you recently won the prestigious Valcellina Award? How did it come about and why this title, what meanings does it refer to?

The work “Inexpressible” is about human relationship with yourself and others, mutual connections. I used body language, gestures and geometrical symbols to express my subjective emotions and associations regarding loneliness, independence / self love and mutual love. The aim was to contrast loneliness and independence and also to reflect over self love versus mutual love as equally valuable. Together, complementary and inseparable forms of love. The title “Inexpressible” means something that is hard to describe and put in words.  It refers to emotions and feelings – humans are capable to express them, but it’s hard to describe and define them.

The theme of the work arises from my personal experience. I thought a lot about different relationship patterns and emotional conditions which humans go through in their lifetime. It seemed important for me to turn my thoughts into a work of art, to portray human senses and display my personal view and emotions. I was also inspired with various opinions about human relationships and emotional states from different social-psychologists viewpoints. I tried to avoid banality which appears when it comes to human feelings, I wanted to understand them from more scientific point. But, of course, feelings are deeply emotional, they cannot be taken unilaterally, practically or rationally. It is a subjective experience, which makes us honest, fragile and vulnerable.

“Inexpressible-detail”, 68×55 cm. Embroidered by hand, copyright Katrina Leitena

“Inexpressible-detail”, 70×62 cm. Embroidered by hand, copyright Katrina Leitena

“Inexpressible-detail”, 57×32 cm. Embroidered by hand, copyright Katrina Leitena

In your textile work, the elements of dynamism and complexity of the human body are present alongside the schematic and ascetic simplicity of the geometric figure. How are these two aspects related?

I am fascinated and inspired with the contrasts and things that seem to be opposite to each other. Human body is alive, elastic, fragile and also very complex. Not only from outside, but also from inside. Body and its expressions are the reflection to the inner world – to emotions, feelings and different experiences and also suffering. Geometric figures are opposite – they’re ascetic, constant and stable. On the surface, it might seem that they don’t carry any information, that they are even blank or meaningless. From my subjective perspective, geometric forms have meaning and explanation. They reflect not only familiar symbolism, but also very personal and private associations and significance. In my works each geometric shape emphasizes and represents a specific emotional condition.  Each of them has its own role and task. The meaning of every geometric figure depends on the concept and content of the composition and the emotions that are displayed through human body gestures and expressions. Body language interacts with the personal symbolism of geometry and they cooperate to reveal different senses and emotions. And actually I realized that the interaction and cooperation between these opposites – human and geometry seem nearly inseparable from our daily lives. The flexible and very fragile human body interacts with geometrical architecture and interior around us. They dissonate and also resonate. The attraction and rejection between the human body and geometric forms is the substance that I wanted to show and reflect in my art pieces.

“Inexpressible-detail”, 57×32 cm. Embroidered by hand, copyright Katrina Leitena

Copyright Katrina Leitena

Copyright Katrina Leitena

What meaning does embroidery have for you? Is it simply a technique or are the gestures and rituals of embroidery itself an integral part of the work? Can you tell us about it?

It’s actually difficult for myself to describe it as “embroidery”, because I don’t use traditional embroidery techniques. For me it’s more like drawing.. drawing with threads. I choose different tools for my drawings, I replaced the pencil, pen or charcoal with needle and thread. I draw thread by thread in different lengths, directions and layers. Embroidery or,  more specifically, drawing with threads for me is all about watching and the ability to see. I work from my personal photographs and I don’t want to miss anything. I don’t want to take away the liveliness  and the natural plasticity of the human body. I must keep the human alive. Needle and different threads are my way from a bare piece of cloth to a realistic fragment of the human body.  And I actually have never felt so calm as with a needle and thread in my hands. I feel familiar, close and we are cooperating. Thread is also very elastic, so I can play and manipulate with it. I have the ability to embroider the threads in different thicknesses and layers. I can avoid the flatness and threads are helping me to build the human body more dimensional and realistic. I also see a physical and emotional connection between my expression and the theme of my works, because human and his feelings and emotions are as fragile as embroidered thread.

Copyright Katrina Leitena

Copyright Katrina Leitena

What plans do you have for the future? What are you working on at the moment?

There is an idea that has not left my mind. To create something where the embroidery oversteps the boundaries of human vision. Where the reality of the embroidery makes the viewer feel a little confused and astonished, maybe even a little uncomfortable. I have this vision in my subconscious mind and I need to try to realize it. And it is exciting – to challenge, test and even to prove the ability to yourself.