Curator Ellen Schinderman has outdone herself this year with Stitch Fetish 5. The walls of the Hive Gallery in downtown Los Angeles are dripping with the erotic artwork, rendered in thread, fabric and fiber, of more than 100 pieces by nearly 60 artists from around the world.
In fact, for textile art lovers, there is something erotic and fetish-feeding in simply viewing the pieces she has collected! From felt penises, to embroidered porn stars, to vinyl princesses, to an old VHS tape re-spooled with gay porn titles on fabric, the show feels like an inclusive and boundary-pushing celebration of sexuality.
For this Inspired to Stitch column, I’ve asked several of the artists a little about their source imagery and art-making process. As well as the value they find in participating in a gallery show.
Although they come from diverse background, most artists share an appreciation for the energy that comes from being part of the contemporary textile art world and long for a greater connection to other artists. This is something so many of us can relate to, whether we’re making cross stitch dildos or fine, ecclesiastical white work robes.
QUESTION 1: Please tell us about the initial spark of the idea that became your piece in this year’s Stitch Fetish.
KATE JUST: In 2014 and 2015 I was looking at images of Pussy Riot, Femen and the Chinese Feminist Five protesting in public using their bodies and clothing in powerful and radical ways. I felt inspired to make knitted portraits of these pictures. Within a short period of time, I started also knitting feminist art works that had been inspiring to me since art school. This led to over three years of knitting my favourite feminist artists and activists the series which has come to be called Feminist Fan. The Tracey Emin, My Bed work, reproduced in knitted wool is # 31 in the series!
ASHLEE MARCUS: “The Fountainhead” began as an exploration of the architecture of vintage undergarments and their function to distort the female figure into the shape fashionable at the time. Vintage fabrics were not as forgiving and versatile as their modern synthetic counterparts, and achieved an aesthetic that prized form so highly over function through literal engineering. These garments were restrictive and uncomfortable, caused difficulty walking and breathing, and women’s participation in the evolving discomfort of their clothing was essentially mandatory, both in its inception and popularization. This image caused me to reflect on my own participation in crafting the aesthetic and my obligation to honor and celebrate the beauty in women while trying not to push and pull their bodies into places where they are objectified commodities.
MATTHEW MONTHEI: I knew I wanted to do something related to vintage gay porn, and I knew that I didn’t want to do a traditional framed stitch piece. So I started looking at other media, brainstorming to figure out how I could logically incorporate stitching and film. Once I discovered that ribbon comes in the same size as the magnetic tape used in VHS tapes I immediately knew how to juxtapose the two, and present it in a hopefully unexpected way. The idea of combining influential films from gay history with my own personal favorites – as well as selecting titles that are intentionally inclusive, ridiculously filthy, or downright hilarious – finally solidified after a week of…um, “intensive research”.
MARK BIERAUGEL: I wanted to do a piece which was fun and played with the shapes and colors and sizes of penises. There are a ton of succulents around me and I was inspired by their fleshy shapes and colors for this piece. And as a gay man I am kind of partial to penises.
PEG GRADY: Instead of working I was goofing off, following internet links and discovered an article about witches in the Middle Ages who had the ability to dismember penises which they then placed in nests, keeping them as pets, feeding them oats and other grains.
I was inspired.
KIRSTEN LUND: I’ve used a lot of ambiguous symmetrical shapes in my work over the years and have accumulated a collection of them. The idea for this series was to use more recognizable shapes inspired by all the tools we use on our bodies for pleasure, appearance, etc.
I was inspired by and was thinking about the literal meanings of the word fetish in terms of both: 1) an object that has magical or mystical qualities; and 2) the erotic desire fixated on an object. I added visual elements that evoke religious, mystical, spiritual or scientific connotations, like new age aura emanations, a religious icon with a nimbus, folk representations of the supernatural, or scientific representations of energy.
LYNDSIE FOX: For the last few years, I have been working on a series of needlepoint portraits of pornstars from the 1960s-70s. All of my portraits are based on old photos and film stills. I tend to work from photos/film stills that exemplify the charismatic aesthetics of this era – a lot of colorful patterns, a lot of texture, and a lot of hair. I focus mainly on female pleasure, because it’s something that is so under-represented and under-appreciated in porn and in life. Beauty and sexuality are very diverse, so I also try to emphasize inclusivity, body-positivity and sex-positivity in my work.
ABBEY AICHINGER: My idea was “The Patron Saint of Submission”. I wanted to create an erotic image with a somewhat religious undertone. When I was doing burlesque back in Indiana, the heavy metal bar I danced at doubled as a sort of secret S&M club after hours. During that time I got to know a lot of interesting folks who were heavily involved in the fetish community. There were several who almost viewed their kink as a religion of sorts.
CLAIRE-MÉLODY CASCAIL: I am pretty fascinated with addiction mechanisms, ascertainment and observation. We are all addicted to something, and some are to web porn content. Like a real need, you know? It is a clear example of addiction to substances that come from inside us.
ANNIE LAYNE: I had been meaning to make this piece for years. I have been showing work for almost 15 years, a lot of it contains single words or short phrases.
This particular phrase: Once was curiosity, twice became perversion was uttered in 1993, when I was a senior in high school. On a field trip for an honors humanities class we were chaperoned at as walked down 9th avenue in NYC. There were still movie theaters showed pornographic movies. Once of my classmates attempted to leave our group and take in a movie…the second time he was escorted out of a theater lobby and required to re-join our group he was told, “Son. Once is curiosity…”
PATRICIA DOLTON: I’m a feminist. I am also a suffrage historian and singer. I started creating embroidered portraits based on women neglected by history. Then, last spring, a friend of mine, who had just gone back to college, read “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. When I confessed that I had not read it, he told me I HAD to. I did and was blown away, ripped apart, and put back together again.
KATHRYN SHINKO: I received the texts featured in the Dirty Sampler Series from a co-worker many years ago, but I kept them in my phone.
When I explain to gallery-goers the story behind the Dirty Sampler Series, I often receive incredulous comments like: “So, didn’t you respond to his texts? Where are your responses? Why don’t you show them?” In situations like that, I’ve learned that the best way to answer is to point to the borders around the words. “Here,” I say. “These colors, these shapes, these progressions – these are my responses.”
QUESTION 2: In terms of your process translating imagery into your art, how do you organize your projects/ideas? Do you keep a sketchbook, journal or clip file?
DAPHNÉ JAMET: When I start a new project, I usually collect photos I make and other pictures and texts I find relevant in a research file on my computer. At the same time, I start putting ideas and making little sketches in my current notebook. For the embroideries, there is a phase of back and forth between working the images on computer and drawing them on unattached sheets. I also often use a lightbox to report some part or the entire design. At the end, I collect the final sketches in a folder in my studio.
When I am working on a video or a stopmotion project, I write down all sort of informations about the editing that make great sense at the time but may become a little obscure few months later, when the project is done. Nonetheless, I keep most of my notebooks since they also contain titles of movies, documentaries or books I would like to watch or read and names of artists I would like to know more about.
KIRSTEN LUND: I like using my sketchbook to work out different ideas. When I’m working on the piece I don’t always adhere to the sketch 100% – things can change during the process. With this series I definitely have a lot of sketches for other pieces in the works.
KATE JUST: I keep a Dropbox folder of images of all the artists that inspire my own work and it just keeps growing! I guess I should stop sometime but I keep find new material as well as recalling old material that inspired me way back when!
CLAIRE-MÉLODY CASCAIL: So one of my addictions are lists. I have lists, lists of lists, image boards and list boards.
Lately I try to centralise everything on one called BRAIN on Trello, but Google Keep and note books are still present. The most important is to be able to see what is the next creation, what will give sense to your next days.
ASHLEE MARCUS: The large majority of my pattern making is done digitally, and most of my work is stored on mycomputer. When I get an idea, I often start on a google image search of keywords and examine the visual landscape of the idea, collecting images into a file in my digital portfolio.
I love working with vintage photographs, and I often find source material from these somewhat random searches.
If I can’t find what I need, I will combine elements from several photos, take my own photographs, or make some sketches to help me flesh out the idea.
ABBEY AICHINGER: I keep a running list of ideas that pop into my head on my phone. I do a lot of photo research on my computer and keep a huge file full of reference photos. I do almost all of my sketching with a tablet in Photoshop so I can constantly change things without it getting too messy.
LYNDSIE FOX: This needlepoint series is very different from my usual work in that it is largely computer-based and doesn’t require any sketching. I do a lot of my research on my computer (although I am working on expanding my physical collection of vintage porn), I do all of my image manipulation on my computer, and I create all of my patterns on my computer.
QUESTION 3: Sharing your artwork online is an easy way to reach many more people than you can by showing your work in exhibitions in real space. What value you do find in submitting to and displaying your work in gallery shows like Stitch Fetish 5?
KATE JUST: Mostly I show in institutional spaces- museums and public galleries, which are hugely beneficial to show in as they reach mass audience and are an important part of critical debate around contemporary art. Showing in artist run spaces and smaller shows like this one are a way of staying connected to communities of artists taking things into their own hands and in this case, working materially in very similar ways. I wish I could be there to meet the other artists!
DAPHNÉ JAMET: Well, as a viewer I love the experience of the exhibition and as an artist, I love to know that my work is outside, to see it in a space that is not mine. Some of my works also demand a certain posture from the viewers and these postures are part of the meaning of the piece.
MATTHEW MONTHEI: I started out making cross stitch specifically for the amusement of Tumblr. And when that took off I opened an Etsy shop. But I didn’t consider it art or consider it “my work” until Ellen Schinderman invited me to submit some of my work for Stitch Fetish 2. Each year I have been in the show I have been determined to do something completely different and unexpected from the year before. And showing in a gallery is a completely different experience and form of validation than showing online.
ASHLEE MARCUS: As with most art forms, photos don’t always do justice to the work, and embroidery is no exception. With embroidered art, the medium is as important as the message. I believe the way to truly experience embroidered and textile work is to view it in person, not only to get a sense of the textures and small details, but as an integral component of experiencing the work.
The beauty of a show like Stitch Fetish is that it has created a community of kindred embroiderers, who can sometimes feel isolated from other art shows due to the unique nature and subject matter of the work.
MARK BIERAUGEL: I love to be creative and make things. It is so fun to get those things I make out into the wild and see what other people think of them. Do they understand my idea? Do they like it? Having a curator like Ellen Schinderman validate your work and have it in a show is super thrilling. Plus I meet and learn about lots of other amazing artists in the show.
KIRSTEN LUND: There’s an amazing community of people online and off that has developed around all things stitching (Mr X Stitch for example). It’s great to connect and see people’s work online, but there’s also nothing like seeing the work in person, especially detailed tactile work. I was hoping to go and meet the other artists in person, but sadly that didn’t work out. Since Ellen has made this an annual show, maybe next year? Plus I absolutely love L.A. so that was an added enticement.
CLAIRE-MÉLODY CASCAIL: I use technology intensively for organisation, but social medias and digital promotion feel more like a work. After pattern creation, and embroidering the pattern, I have to confess that the created piece kind of lose interest to me. I have them all in boxes since they can’t fit on my shelves.
I like the exhibition process, to observe people observing art. To discuss it and discover the way they interpret it. How they feel It.
Stitch Fetish 5 is an opportunity to share a wall with my hero artists. Embroidery scene is growing every day and it’s not frequent you can meet people that have the same way of expressing themselves: with needle and threads.