One of the most prominent Lithuanian contemporary textile artists Monika Žaltauskaitė Grašienė says that each of us have a close relationship with textile medium and that its possibilities have not been fully revealed yet. Art-Cart interviewed Monika to find out what is textile's connection to science and what motivates her interest in this particular field.
Since the beginning of your studies at the Textile department at Vilnius Academy of Art, you have been involved in many aspects of this discipline – you are identified as a textile artist, you teach at the faculty (Kaunas faculty of Vilnius Academy of Art) and curate textile art exhibitions. Your works reveal a broad field of textile connotations and techniques – it is obvious that textile is more to you than just a creative discipline. Which characteristics of textile art would you single out as most important to you?
Textile has an incredible characteristic of being alive. When I say ‘alive’, I mean, that it gives you a sense of materiality, which is familiar to every human being. It’s a material, which can have both the physical (warmth, protection from the cold) as well as mental (remembrance, memory) connotations. Each one of us in one way or another use textile every day of our lives. Therefore, it’s a universal material, which can combine experiences as well as allowing us to understand them individually.
The ideas for your works are normally based on the semiotic meanings of textile, conceptualizing its various forms and creating connections to people’s physical/spiritual states or moments of transformation. Thus, the medium that you use in your works often becomes the object of your thoughts. How was your approach to textile art formed and what motivates you to delve deeper into the context of its meanings?
I began with the ideas of forming the surface. The ideas of surface and structure are always there. Textile art is very broad in its material expressions and this is why some of the artistic decisions about its materiality become important. Medium is medium, it is close to me in its feeling. Of course, it’s only a way of expressing an idea, although I cannot deny its significance. I like to “rummage” in the relationships between colours of the thread, in systems where there are millions of possibilities. Therefore, the opportunities still seem completely unexhausted. Here is like the deeper you go into the woods the more beautiful and interesting it gets. When you don’t understand you get lost, when you know you walk down a straight path or you enjoy and listen to the nature.
Another recurring theme in your work is that of human body and its physiology (series “Breathing” (2010), “Skin Paintings” (2007), “Generations” (2005), installation “Absolute Equality” (in collaboration with B. Neverdaukienė, I. Kazakevičius; 2011), “Portraits” (2009) and others). What is common between these two motives in your works?
I started with the theme of human body from the piece entitle “Generations”. I was interested in the theme of genetics, information, transmission of code from generation to generation, the idea of similarity. For me, the expression of textile, weaving and the structure of fabric in one way or another were tied to the physiological structures of a human being. I observed the structures of human skin and hair through a microscope. These images led me to relate the fabric to a person, identify the fabric as a second skin. With the strands of thread you build an image and it’s the same principle as in medicine, in chemistry, where everything is made-up of structures. That’s why textile is so interesting, because it can be constructed in different ways, it can make-up a textile physiology.
In a recent interview* you mentioned that the artist and professor Laima Ožerkauskienė had a significant impact on your choice of study at the academy. The duration of your study coincided with her position as the head of the department, which was marked by the emergence of prominent textile artists and a new and more conceptual approach to textile art. According to the art critic Virginija Vitkienė, during this period textile art lost its utilitarian approach and became part of the conceptual art field. How would you describe your studies, what memories do you have of that time?
Whilst studying, we participated in organising the first Kaunas Biennial. We organised group projects and we actively participated in exhibitions. With other students we used to go to Venice Biennial, which became a tradition that we still upkeep even now. We were very interested in textile and contemporary art. Perhaps this encouraged the move into more experimental and new technology field, to rethink the concept of traditional textile, to take on new ideas and go beyond already established forms of creativity, to develop ideas and concepts.
At the moment you are not only a practicing artist, but also you teach the students at the Textile department as well as recently becoming the head of the department. What are your views on the young generation of emerging textile artists, what innovations or changes can you see in their relationship with the medium of textile?
The young generation, without a doubt, use more interdisciplinary mediums in their works. They are not afraid to experiment and create utopian ideas. Every generation has its themes and ideas, although the creative work is the same. The artist’s sensitivity to their surroundings is a given. Although I often miss the ambition from the graduates to participate in various exhibitions.
In the aforementioned interview** you talk about the subject of your PhD: “Whilst studying for a PhD I started to examine what effect the transformation of a photographic image into a computerized system had on an artist. I was researching in what ways modern technology had an impact on artists and their works and the effects artists had on technologies”. New technologies have a significant impact on textile art too. What is reflected in your works – from the beginning you started experimenting with new technologies, you mainly work using computerized jacquard weaving technique and integrate new mediums. How would you describe your relationship to new technologies? Is it a tool or a source of ideas?
Throughout different times artists always used new technology that was invented, because it allowed for new searches of creative outlets. The angle I’m interested in is how the artists can influence technology and its development, because in using them they can improve it by having an idea that might seem impossible to realise at first. I believe, this has an impact on technology, especially if the artist works closely in collaborating with specialists from other disciplines. Of course, finding suitable partners for collaboration is one part of the creative process, but if it happens then it’s part of the success.
You have participated in a number of projects based on creative partnerships and audience engagement practices (works entitled “Cellar” (2009), “Breathing” (2010), “Closeness” (2010), the last series of works completed whilst on a residency programme in India (2014)). What makes you take on these interactive projects?
Above all, I value the process in a creative partnership. For me, it’s very important, because it’s not in the final piece, but in the process that you find new perspectives. In the preparation for the project “Breathing”, I understood that I had to hold an exhibition in a hospital, because that sort of space would complete the work. The collaborative project in India was completely unplanned, but a life situation has thrown me a thought that cultural experiences must be connected. The most interesting part was not knowing what would come out of it, I just trusted the embroidery masters. Somebody asked me about the authorship, ownership and so on… But when you release an artwork into the world it doesn’t belong to you anymore, you give it away to be consumed, viewed and analysed. I always liked the fact that my pieces can be touched by people, that’s what textile can offer – to be close, to feel the surface, texture, warmth, material.
Can you name some of the visual artists, who had a profound influence on you and your work?
From the classics, I always liked Gerhard Richter’s paintings, Annette Messager’s installations with their use of materiality and the strength of emotion, Roy Ikeda installations – their aesthetics and contemporaneity.
In May you will be participating at the International Art Fair for Contemporary Objects COLLECT organised by the British Crafts Council at the Saatchi gallery. Can you tell us about the works “Mary’s Rag” (2015), which will be exhibited at the fair?
The series entitled “Mary’s Rag” are also based on a random story. Whilst visiting Vytautas church in Kaunas, I noticed a sculpture of Mary that was quite small in size, around 35 – 40 cm in height and it had plaits in her hair. Later I found out that this is the only sculpture in Lithuania that has plaits. Two plaits tied together is a symbol of innocence. By enlarging Mary’s robe, I’m referring to the look of innocence or guilt… The draperies of material, which are carved in stone I’m turning back into fabric, I recreate the story again. I’m allowing the viewer to follow the details with their eyes, to notice them, to come closer to the view, which is normally placed in a sacred place somewhere. By focusing the view, by enlarging and weaving it, again I’m talking about the closeness of feelings, images, incident. It’s a view inside a view, a drapery inside a drapery, a feeling inside a feeling.
Thank you for your time.* Jacytė A. Pasaulis, nuaustas iš talento ir jausmų.