The light fluctuant embroideries and ephemeral dream-like installations by Amanda McCavour

“Poppies”, 2018 – Ongoing, 12’ x 40” x 30”, Thread, Machine Embroidery, Gallery Stratford, Stratford, Ontario, Photo Cheryl Rondeau, copyright Amanda McCavour

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A young and well-known Toronto-based artist, Amanda McCavour makes, with her sewing machine, impalpable embroideries creating fluctuating textile installations, in ephemeral transparent figures that seem to float in space.

Through research and experimentation in her studio, the artist concentrates on the expressive and structural possibilities of the line within embroidery and drawing. Amanda’s work explores the duality of embroidery: its apparently light and delicate quality which is opposed to the strength resulting from the sewn lines intersecting repeatedly.

Walking around her installations, the viewer interacts with the artwork moving in space  thanks to light air currents, thus offering, in an alternating game of light and shadows, an always different optical diversity, a fantasy and dream-like environment rich in colors and texture.

Amanda exhibits her artwork in national and international museums and art galleries and has received a large number of awards and scholarships for her work.

Here is the link to her website:

http://amandamccavour.com/

“Moving Boxes”, 2015- Ongoing, 10′ x 5′ x 4′ (Dimensions Variable), Thread, Wire, Plastic, Machine Embroidery, Photo Cheryl Rondeau, copyright Amanda McCavour

Can you tell us something about yourself and your history as an artist? How did you start? How did your passion for textile art come about?

I think I’ve been an artist since I was a child- In fact, I think most children are artists in the way that they are so playful and open to experiences and making. When I was a kid I was often drawing at my desk, or making things out of whatever materials were available. For as long as I can remember I have been drawing and crafting things out of paper, glitter, glue, plastic beads and string. This is my foundation for an interest in materials and making. It continues to interest me that folding and cutting paper, can transform a blank sheet into a snowflake or that knotting embroidery floss can create a patterned bracelet.  It is these slight shifts in materials that still drive me to make work.

 

I came to using sewn lines through an interest in drawn line. In 2006, I was taking a drawing course at York University with professor Michael Davey, where drawing was defined simply as line. I thought that threaded line would be interesting to use because it was similar to drawing on a paper but had more of a presence.  Finding links between the fibers of the body and fibers of cloth sparked my first series of work with embroidery. This shift in materials, from lines made on paper to embroidery, marked a turning point in my practice.

In this same class, I thought that it would be interesting to make a drawing that only existed out of thread, with no base, but I needed to find a way to do this.  That is really where my interest in the medium began.

“Sample Wall”, 2007-2019, Thread, Wool Roving, Organza, Wire, Linen, Pins, 15’ x 18’ (Dimensions Variable), Ah! Gallery, Warkworth, ON, Photo Stephen Dagg, copyright Amanda McCavour

“Sample Wall”, 2007-2019, Thread, Wool Roving, Organza, Wire, Linen, Pins, 15’ x 18’ (Dimensions Variable), Ah! Gallery, Warkworth, ON, Photo Stephen Dagg, copyright Amanda McCavour

I didn’t really learn the technique of working with water soluble fabric. Instead I had a visual problem or challenge for myself that I wanted to solve.  So my questions were: How do I make a piece that only exists out of a sewn line? What materials would allow me to do this? How much thread is needed to hold a work together? And  maybe later on, what does the material mean and what is its relationship to the image?

I was really interested in line and that is how I came to making the work that I make now.  I have always loved drawing and when thinking about line in its simplest sense, as line, I began to think about how threaded line is interesting because it appears flat but it is actually a sculptural line.

“Sample Wall-detail”, 2007-2019, Thread, Wool Roving, Organza, Wire, Linen, Pins, 15’ x 18’ (Dimensions Variable), Ah! Gallery, Warkworth, ON, Photo Stephen Dagg, copyright Amanda McCavour

interested in textiles for many reasons and to me it seems to be a medium that is constantly expanding. Here are a few characteristics that I find intriguing:

Transparency:

I like thread’s fine nature.  Creating images and installations out of embroidered parts allows me to create ephemeral and transparent pieces that are both in a space but also seemingly on the verge of not being there. They are relatively light which allows them to move slightly with the air currents in the room which adds to the installation pieces.


Touch:

I like how thread can remind you of touch.  We feel fibers often, they are right next to our skin when we are wearing clothes. I like how when I use an embroidered image that this might be in the back of people’s mind, that looking at an embroidered piece also becomes about this memory of touch, of touching something soft.


History:

I like the history of use related to fiber, how, although my pieces are not functional, they still carry with them a reference to functional things, napkins, blankets, pillows, hankies, gloves.  Some of these things relate to covering the body, to comfort in the home, to cleaning up messes. I find all of these associations to be very interesting.

Strength:
Another thing that I think is really interesting about fibre is how strong it is. Although the work appears to be quite delicate, it actually has a lot of strength that is created through the intersecting sewn lines.  The raveled strength of the work is quite surprising. I’m sure I will probably find more reasons to be interested in thread as I keep working with it.

Flexibility:
For practical reasons, I like how i can roll and pack up pieces made from fibre. Most of my installations can be brought as my carry on baggage on a plane – so they pack down very small. Almost like breathing in and out, these pieces can expand to fill whole rooms and then contract to fit in a small rubbermaid bin that gets stored underneath my sewing table.

Possibility!
It seems to be that the possibilities for fibre are endless and that the role it might play is one of expanding and broadening the boundaries between art, craft and design.

“Sample Wall-detail”, 2007-2019, Thread, Wool Roving, Organza, Wire, Linen, Pins, 15’ x 18’ (Dimensions Variable), Ah! Gallery, Warkworth, ON, Photo Stephen Dagg, copyright Amanda McCavour

“Sample Wall-detail”, 2007-2019, Thread, Wool Roving, Organza, Wire, Linen, Pins, 15’ x 18’ (Dimensions Variable), Ah! Gallery, Warkworth, ON, Photo Stephen Dagg, copyright Amanda McCavour

What are your sources of inspiration? How do you choose the subjects of your thread drawings?

I’m often inspired by things that are related to memory and looking back. This is a common theme I can see throughout my room pieces, the more abstract dream spaces and some pieces inspired by botany. It is important to me that the subjects relate to the material of thread somehow- either its delicacy or transparency.

Lately, I have been inspired by flowers – both in nature, in botany books and embroidered floral samplers. This has resulted in two works- “Floating Garden” and “Poppies”.

With the installation titled “Floating Garden”, I was thinking about an idealized space, an imaginary and dream like environment. “Floating Garden” addresses the history of botanical themes in stock embroidery, taking flowers out of the context of embroidery ‘kits’ and moving these images into an installation to create an experiential environment. While researching the history of English embroidery I recognized the repeated references to certain flowers. Buttercups, English asters, daisies, and other flowers found within North America became the building blocks of this piece. It became important for me to create my own versions of these standards.

Through this installation, I have taken the flowers out of the samplers  and botanical drawing books where I found them. I have embroidered them reintegrated them into a simulated garden space creating an environment filled with stitched line.

“Floating Garden”, 2012- Ongoing, 14’ h x 30’ w x 20’ d, Thread/ Machine Embroidery, Cornell Museum of Art, Delray Beach, Florida, Photo Matt Sturgess, 4th Ave Photo, copyright Amanda McCavour

Poppies” began as a commission of one-hundred flowers, hanging and photographed to commemorate 100 years from the end of the First World War.  From these humble beginnings, this work expanded to hundreds of embroidered poppies hung upside down from the ceiling creating dream-like environment. The poppies are a keepsake, memory and a tender reminder of life, time and space.

“Poppies”, 2018 – Ongoing, 12’ x 40” x 30”, Thread, Machine Embroidery, Gallery Stratford, Stratford, Ontario, Photo Cheryl Rondeau, copyright Amanda McCavour

Here’s a statement about the poppies from Melanie Egan that I really like:

“The poppy is an emblematic flower with many associations. It has long been the symbol for sleep, healing, remembrance, and death; as well as, a particular favourite of many gardeners attracted to its colourful varieties and showy blossoms. One can imagine cheerily frolicking through these poppies or pausing to commemorate a fallen warrior. Perhaps, even lying down on the floor and looking up at this lush meadow will cause one to drift off into slumber – after all, poppies loomed large in the Land of Oz.

McCavour has created this mysterious field of poppies not to unsettle the viewer but to draw them in, spark curiosity and encourage engagement. Visually stunning and beautifully crafted her diaphanous installations skilfully play with associations of duality, presenting an alternative perspective to both drawing and embroidery.”
Melanie Egan, Director of Craft & Design Harbourfront Centre, Toronto, Canada

 Are there artists or artistic currents that inspire you?

Here are some artists I’m excited about!

Lauren Dicioccio: She creates embroideries along with small scale sculptures that are playful and full of contrasting textures.www.laurendicioccio.com

Meredith Woolnough is an Australian artist who does incredible work with stitching and water soluble fabric. She uses the same techniques as me but in different ways. Her work is bold and organic and her use of colour is incredible.

Meredith Woolnough: www.meredithwoolnough.com.au

(HERE the link to Meredith Woolnough’s interview for ArteMorbida)

Anna Torma is a Canadian artist that creates intricate embroideries that are full of texture and character, often mixing different styles to create dense areas of stitch. Her work is playful and intense. I think about her work when I’m feeling too up tight in the studio because her work has so much movement.

Anna Torma: www.annatorma.com

(HERE the link to view the works of Anna Torma)

Kate Jackson creates embroideries onto ephemeral materials like papertowel and tissue. Her work speaks to me about memory and meditation. Even though Kate and I shared a studio, I’m still not sure how she hand stitches into such delicate materials. When I think about Kate’s work, I think about patience, colour and pattern. Looking at her pieces makes me think about different kinds of patience because I think “I could never do that!” but I’m sure people think that about my work too.

Kate Jackson: www.katejacksonart.blogspot.com

Anouk Deslogescreates embroideries into plexiglas and creates pieces that often look like tangles or knots. I like the combination of hard and soft materials she uses to create her pieces and I think about strength and structure when I look at her pieces.

Anouk Desloges: www.anoukdesloges.com

Nava Lubelskicreates pieces that look like splatters of paint and then embroideres into these canvases. There are often empty spaces where threads exist in space. Looking at her work, I think about different speeds of making and how she skillfully combines the fast gesture and the slower, meticulous stitch. This combination is inspiring to me.

Nava Lubelski: www.navalubelski.com

Can you tell us about your work Moving Boxes ? How was it conceived?

A few years ago I was thinking about how much of my work is flat. I thought that this aspect would be a good way to challenge myself. So- I decided to try to make something that was more sculptural with my embroidery process. I was also thinking about movement, moving homes, moving art and I started to think about the boxes that I used to move from Toronto to Philadelphia.  I also started to be interested in the graphics, colours and form of the cardboard fruit boxes. These two ideas- one technical, one conceptual that started to resonate with me and was the seed for this project.

The fusion of these two ideas resulted in some three dimensional boxes that were made from folding flat embroideries and in works that were shaped with heat to create rounded shapes.

I  created these pieces on a 1 to 1 scale, by unfolding the boxes, tracing them onto water soluble fabric, then stitching the patterns with my sewing machine. I then dissolved the fabric and folded the thread pieces up into the box shapes.

In this project, I have rendered these solid objects transparent through a technique of sewing into water soluble fabric. This piece is about travel, transport and moving, export and economy- contrasting stitching and embroidery with the mass produced object.

“Moving Boxes”, 2015- Ongoing, 10′ x 5′ x 4′ (Dimensions Variable), Thread, Wire, Plastic, Machine Embroidery, Photo Cheryl Rondeau, copyright Amanda McCavour

“Moving Boxes”, 2015- Ongoing, 10′ x 5′ x 4′ (Dimensions Variable), Thread, Wire, Plastic, Machine Embroidery, Photo Cheryl Rondeau, copyright Amanda McCavour

“Moving Boxes – detail”, 2015- Ongoing, 10′ x 5′ x 4′ (Dimensions Variable), Thread, Wire, Plastic, Machine Embroidery, Photo Cheryl Rondeau, copyright Amanda McCavour

“Moving Boxes”, 2015- Ongoing, 10′ x 5′ x 4′ (Dimensions Variable), Thread, Wire, Plastic, Machine Embroidery, Photo Cheryl Rondeau, copyright Amanda McCavour

Is there a group, among your works, or a particular work that represents you more and to which you feel particularly attached or that represents a turning point for your artistic growth?

I think the piece titled “Stand-In For Home” marks a big turning point in my practice. When I made this piece, I was doing an Artist Residency at Harbourfront Centre in their Craft and Design Studios. My work was accepted into an exhibition curated by Melanie Egan and Patrick McCaulay and we had a series of studio visits about the work “Stand-In For Home” that was to be included in the show. This was the first time my work was made at a large scale, the first time that I layered embroidered pieces and the first time that pieces hung from the ceiling allowing for visitors to walk around the piece.

“Stand-In For Home”, 2009-2010, 8′ h x 8′ w x 4.5′ d, Thread/ Machine Embroidery, photo Amanda McCavour, Produced with the support of the City of Toronto through the Toronto Arts Council, copyright Amanda McCavour

“Stand-In For Home – detail”, 2009-2010, 8′ h x 8′ w x 4.5′ d, Thread/ Machine Embroidery, photo Amanda McCavour, Produced with the support of the City of Toronto through the Toronto Arts Council, copyright Amanda McCavour

How do you plan a new work? Do you follow a scrupulous planning activity or let your instinct orient you?

Play is an important part of my practice and I often work through testing in smaller sized pieces. This is a time to improvise and follow my instinct. I often create these smaller works or samples to brainstorm ideas for projects or to create examples for when I teach. This summer I worked on a series of black and white samples to explore mark making and density. I think this is something I will expand on in the future.

This summer I also collected all of my small pieces from testing and playing and arranged them like wallpaper on the wall at the Kootenay Gallery of Art (Castlegar, British Columbia, Canada) and at AH! Gallery, (Warkrworth, Ontario, Canada).

From this testing phase, I usually move on to a more planned or calculated approach. Many of my pieces are made by creating many units or expanding smaller pieces to a larger scale. My works are also installed in different spaces with different architecture so plans for hanging the work and for how big the piece will be are things that are important and must be planned for at this stage in the project.

“Plates”, 2017, 12” x 12”, Thread, Machine Embroidery, Photo Amanda McCavour, copyright Amanda McCavour

“Plates”, 2017, 12” x 12”, Thread, Machine Embroidery, Photo Amanda McCavour, copyright Amanda McCavour

How important is the experimentation of techniques and materials in your artistic career?

Testing and experimentation with techniques was a big part of my earlier career and is how I came to working with embroidery. I still try to test the limits of the technique by creating experiments in my studio and asking questions like “How little stitching can I do and still have the piece hold together?”. Asking the question “What if…?” has also helped with progressing through many projects.

In my studio this year, I’m challenging myself with scale in my works. Most of the time, I make smaller pieces that are repeated hundreds (or maybe thousands) of times to create a piece. Now, I’d like to challenge that in my practice by making pieces that are much, much larger. My question now is- what if I make a piece that’s 6’ tall. I’m not sure how it will go. Wish me luck!

“Living Room”,2010-2011, 10′ x 10′ x 10′,MThread/ Machine Embroidery, Photo Agata Piskunowicz, Produced with the support of the Ontario Arts Council, copyright Amanda McCavour

“Living Room – detail”,2010-2011, 10′ x 10′ x 10′,MThread/ Machine Embroidery, Photo Agata Piskunowicz, Produced with the support of the Ontario Arts Council, copyright Amanda McCavour

“Living Room – detail”,2010-2011, 10′ x 10′ x 10′,MThread/ Machine Embroidery, Photo Agata Piskunowicz, Produced with the support of the Ontario Arts Council, copyright Amanda McCavour

In your opinion is the technique or the idea more important? What do you think determines the success of a work of art? When does creativity risk being suffocated by technique?

I studied fine art at York University in Toronto for my undergraduate degree. During my time there, the idea was the most important thing. Think of your idea and then find materials that will help you communicate that idea.

After graduating, I participated in the Artist-In-Residence program at Harbourfront Centre which had textile, glass, ceramic and metal studios. Here, there was more of an emphasis on materials and process. It was a time when I dig deeper into my technique and I found that from exploring materials and testing, that ideas could emerge from this place too.

I think that there are different ways of working that can result in strong pieces.

I do think that there is a risk of creativity being suffocated by technique. One thing I’ve noticed as I’ve become more involved in craft is that there is a romance to learning technique and this can become the only focus. It would be easy to be endlessly testing without having an end goal. I think there is also a danger of following the rules in a technique. While I think history and learning something properly is important, I don’t think it’s the most important thing and I think sometimes breaking those rules can be a creative act.

“Neon Clouds”,2016, 35’ x 40′ x 10′, Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke, VA, Thread, wire, foam/Machine Embroidery, Photo Jeff Hoffman, copyright Amanda McCavour

“Neon Clouds – detail”,2016, 35’ x 40′ x 10′, Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke, VA, Thread, wire, foam/Machine Embroidery, Photo Jeff Hoffman, copyright Amanda McCavour

“Neon Clouds – detail”,2016, 35’ x 40′ x 10′, Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke, VA, Thread, wire, foam/Machine Embroidery, Photo Jeff Hoffman, copyright Amanda McCavour

“Neon Clouds – detail”,2016, 35’ x 40′ x 10′, Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke, VA, Thread, wire, foam/Machine Embroidery, Photo Jeff Hoffman, copyright Amanda McCavour

What kind of reaction and above all what kind of interaction do the viewers have with your suspended textile installations (I’m thinking for example of Pink Field, Blue Fog) that offer so many unexpected points of view?

I want my works to bring viewers into a playful,  imaginative, dream-like space filled with line, colour and texture. Viewers are invited to walk through paths that I create in the installation works. They are also invited to lie underneath the pieces and look up at the artwork. Generally, viewers like this option for interacting with the piece in different ways- through movement or a different perspective on the floor. Often viewers will blow on the embroideries and they will move with the air. The works start to spin and move as you walk around them.

“Pink Field Blue Fog”, 2016 – Ongoing, 14’ x 40” x 80”, Thread, MachineEmbroidery, 108 Contemporary, Tulsa, Oklahoma, Photo Rebekah Hogan, copyright Amanda McCavour

“Pink Field Blue Fog – detail”, 2016 – Ongoing, 14’ x 40” x 80”, Thread, MachineEmbroidery, 108 Contemporary, Tulsa, Oklahoma, Photo Rebekah Hogan, copyright Amanda McCavour

“Pink Field Blue Fog – detail”, 2016 – Ongoing, 14’ x 40” x 80”, Thread, MachineEmbroidery, 108 Contemporary, Tulsa, Oklahoma, Photo Rebekah Hogan, copyright Amanda McCavour

“Pink Field Blue Fog – detail”, 2016 – Ongoing, 14’ x 40” x 80”, Thread, MachineEmbroidery, 108 Contemporary, Tulsa, Oklahoma, Photo Rebekah Hogan, copyright Amanda McCavour

“Pink Field Blue Fog – detail”, 2016 – Ongoing, 14’ x 40” x 80”, Thread, MachineEmbroidery, 108 Contemporary, Tulsa, Oklahoma, Photo Rebekah Hogan, copyright Amanda McCavour

What are you working on right now? Do you want to tell us about your current textile projects and your current or future exhibitions?

In my studio this year, I’m challenging myself with scale.

The project that will take up most of my time in 2020 is a large scale silk hanging artwork for Chazen Museum of Art in Wisconsin, USA. This piece will be up from September 2020 through February 2021. The Chazen Museum of Art is located at the University of Wisconsin Madison and is home to more than 22,000 works of sculpture, paintings and prints. My proposed installation will be made specifically for the site and will speak to its collections and architecture as well as satellite collections based in studies of plants and textiles. This piece will overtake the 1,713 square foot  approximately 60’ high area of the Court that is central to the museum’s layout. The lace-like installation will contrast the heavy marble brutalist interior creating a floating, dream-like environment.

For this project I will expand the scale of my embroideries from units that are 10 inches in width to a much larger 10 feet to address the scale of the monumental site. Individual embroideries based Wisconsin Prairie pressed flowers from the Herbarium will be sewn and embroidered at specimen size and then scanned at a high resolution. These images will be printed on fine transparent silk or sheer polyester fabric. I will then cut and stitch into these prints to add space and air to the textiles, disrupting the surface and creating organic edges and shapes. Metallics, additional embroidery and areas of appliqued chiffon will add texture and interest to the piece. The colours for this work will speak to the warmth of the marble interior as well as the colours in the preserved and pressed flowers. Source material from the herbarium will be altered, cropped, repeated and mutated to reference repeat patterns found in fabrics, lace and wallpaper. It is my hope that each piece can hang from a plexiglass bar that could then be secured to the ceiling by a single point, so the work can spin and sway in the space creating changing compositions as the work moves.

In this installation the space of the court will sprout plant matter made of thread. Textile forms, based on Prairie plants, will burst forth from quiet gardens and bring chaos to this ordered space. These specimens, now gigantic will create a preternatural transformation invading the space of the Museum. This installation will be built with oppositions in mind contrasting detail and transparency with large solid spaces, lightness with the weight of the architecture and the organic with the built environment.

I have started to develop and research ideas related to nature and collections for the installation at the Wisconsin State Herbarium. Plants are rendered translucent through the preservation process and I would like to mimic this visual effect in my piece. I am interested in finding connections between scientific research and decorative patterns found in textiles and wallpaper. This research will inform my ideas of schematics, fractal geometries, and scientific documentation of plants. 

This piece will build on my skills of rendering dimensional objects with thread and I will continue to work with layers of embroideries to create depth in the overall installation. The work will be floating and ghost-like in both its transparency and weightlessness. Lighting will play a key role in this piece animating shadows and projecting line onto the space. Movement will be present in this work as large elements will hang from single cords and will shift with the movement of air.

This work will be a departure for me in scale and content, challenging me to design in new ways for an impressive site and to respond to new collections and stimuli. I’m really excited and a little scared! But I think it’s good for there to be risk in making artwork.

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