By Rowena Ritchie.
Photos by Terri Loewenthal.
The two worlds of design and craft collide effortlessly in designer Erica Tanov’s latest clothing and housewares collaboration with artist Lena Wolff. The captivating print collection—featuring hand-blocked textiles on dresses, tunics, cushions and quilts—is inspired by Wolff’s thought-provoking artwork.
Wolff’s latest exhibition, All for One for All, presents abstract images based in motifs from early quiltmaking traditions. The title of the show refers to the “potential for endless iteration within the repetition of a single pattern and also toward a social philosophy of collectivism and ideals of equal access that the phenomenon of the American quilt embodies.”
Quilting is certainly enjoying resurgence at the moment. Quilting details were seen on Junya Watanabe, Kenzo, and Chloe’s fall runways, with French Vogue noting all the “upholstery-style fabrics [that] enveloped feminine silhouettes in a cozy cocoon.” What exactly are we cocooning ourselves from? Those New York City temperatures—or is it those New York City tempos?
Nothing reflects the comfort of a slower, simpler time than a quilt. In our sped-up, ever sleeker, ever shinier realities, why does the ancient domestic art suddenly appear pertinent? Is it the quiet tenacity of the folk-based form in the face of the endless onslaught of information and images we face these days? The straightforwardness of one stitch at a time pulling through a square of fabric—a tapestry of moments slowly unfolding—feels appealing to us again.
Wolff’s reimagining of a single motif through use of repetition and reiteration, and Tanov’s eye for scale and silhouette achieve the goal of modern design, and in the process, create a collection of beautiful and timeless pieces. The concept of the ‘timeless’ is often bandied about in discussions of style and design. While we generally use it to mean a long period of time, the personal experience of timelessness—losing track of time—when one’s attention is absorbed so completely by the senses, is in actuality a short but memorable ricochet through consciousness.
In this time of “information overload,” maybe we don’t need more information; we need the dream of an impossibly long and timeless moment. Now, more than ever, we want to be reassured that what is extraordinary and eternal cannot be “bent” by us.
We caught up with Lena Wolff, here’s what she had to say
The centuries-old process of quiltmaking inspired your latest work—why now, at this stage in your evolution as an artist? My art practice has always been connected to craft and folk art traditions, but a couple of years ago, I came to a place a where I needed to break with my own established habits and explore new subjects and mediums in order to stay activated and evolve. Part of what propelled this forward shift came out of an exhibition I curated in 2011 around the idea of the quilt and collaboration. Through this experience and extensive reading about the history of quiltmaking, I became really spellbound by the geometric abstractions of early quilt patterns from the 18th and 19th centuries.
After spending years focused on representational and illustrative natural imagery, it’s been transformative to turn to the meditative and inexhaustible imagery of quilt. My current show, All for One for All at Dominican University in San Raphael, is a collection of about 10 pieces which are all, with the exception of one, rooted in the eight-pointed star pattern, a very old and basic form that I’ve approached through drawing, collage, installation and sculpture.
The reiterations and repetitions in your work suggest a language all their own. What are they saying? Part of what I’m doing with this work is actually reversing ideas of authorship. The patterns I’m working with belong to a greater compendium of shared imagery. In a certain way, this language is a kind of democratic language that emphasizes interdependence over the individual, which is very relevant today when thinking about issues of the environment and ecology. Because I am my own person, of course, the way I work with this imagery is naturally idiosyncratic.
One thing I believe that sets some of this work apart from other art that draws from quilt imagery is that often, when artists references the domestic realm, there’s an expectation that the work has to be executed ironically in order for it to be feminist. For me, raising the symbolic iconography of the quilt as an artist is more about upholding and elevating the work made by women in domestic space throughout history. Not to say that there wasn’t a problem with lack of access to the outer world for women—it’s just that I’m not commenting on that. I’m more interested in reinvigorating the creative production that was created within the space of home through an entirely contemporary lens that’s actually free of satire.
How do you relate to the potential of mindful design/crafts as a driver for social and behavior change? When people are connected to the physical space and objects around them through the intimate experience of making by hand or at least knowing where things us come from, there is something incredibly humanizing about this dynamic. Knowing how, where, and when objects, buildings, clothes were made automatically brings us all closer to environmental and social awareness.
Erica Tanov/Lena Wolff Pop Up Shop at Barrow Salon
Saturday, November 15th, 10 am–5pm
256 Sutter St
San Francisco, CA 94109
Erica Tanov x Lena Wolff Collection: www.ericatanov.com/erica-tanov-x-lena-wolff-2014.html
Erica Tanov: www.ericatanov.com
Lena Wolff: lenawolff.com