Saturday, April 4, 2020

Dreams and Memories during pandemic

This “stay at home” time has dramatically slowed down our fast pacing rhythm of everyday life and besides following scary news how the pandemic is taking over more and more not yet red colored spots on world’s map, forces to think how this could happen. I found thought provoking a view of British environmental journalist Gaia Vince ( )who argues that this COVID-19 pandemic is a human creation. This pandemic spread precisely because of species we are in our biosphere, and because the planet we created.

We dominate and alter the local and global ecosystem cumulatively to suit our lifestyles and improve our survival, including habitat loss for other species, introduction of invasive species, climate change, industrial-scale hunting, burning, planting, infrastructure replacement, and countless other modifications. Humans currently threaten 1 million of the world’s 8 million species. while other species do not naturally cause extinctions (with rare exceptions). Wild animal and plant products are being extracted from intact ecosystems at an unprecedented rate. As we plunder these wild-lands for the resources we value, we disrupt established ecological niches, including those of pathogen and host. Viruses and bacteria that evolved life cycles in a wild animal get opportunistic exposure to humans. 75% of the new diseases affecting us in the past 30 years have animal origins. Communities adjacent to exploited rain-forests, with their wild animal markets, are the first affected by novel diseases, such as Ebola, HIV, MERS, SARS, and, most recently, COVID-19.

Humans now operate as a globalized network of over 7.5 billion hyper-connected individuals: We have effectively become a super-organism in our interactions with the natural world. However, we are still a part of the biosphere and as we blunder into ecosystems, we must be mindful of the greater systems that we are all a part of. A tweak to one part of the network can have far reaching consequences (good or bad) for us all. COVID-19 has exposed every type of oppressive/exploitative condition/relation. Every inequity explodes and festers by the spread of virus. Nothing remains contained as this catastrophe blasts forward.

Everybody must find a way how to resist, how to overcome anxiety, fear, hopelessness at times like these. History tells us that needle arts appeared as responses to collective trauma. In Ireland, during the famine of the 1840s, philanthropists across the country established crochet schools; they trained impoverished farming families to make lace for export in a relief scheme that grew into an art form. During WWII in London, people sheltering from the blitz were encouraged to pass the time by knitting.

Numbers of COVID-19 cases grow exponentially. When crocheting hyperbolic plane, the number of stitches grow exponentially. Everybody who is participating now in the project to create installation Dreams and Memories has experienced this exponential growth in very tactile way. Original idea of creating a meditative piece about our dreams and memories, about past and future unexpectedly has acquired another dimension – dimension of our social connectivity and impact on each other lives. Be strong, be healthy! And if you have an opportunity -- put the memory of a resilience during this pandemic into some creative piece.
PS - these are pieces put together from what I have now here in Ithaca - thank you all who have submitted! Riga Biennale is currently postponed until further notice giving us more time to reflect, dream, remember, crochet...

Saturday, March 14, 2020

The Modern Thread

Have you heard about Marie Cuttoli? I have not until my recent visit to Barnes Foundation where I was fortunate to see exhibit The Modern Thread from Miro to Man Ray. I was fortunate a) because it is great exhibit; b) Barnes Foundation is temporarily closed due to Covid-19 pandemic.

In 1930s Paris Marie Cuttoli (1879-1973) convinced the most celebrated artists of her time - including Picasso, Miro, Leger, and Man Ray - to create designs for the historic tapestry workshops of Aubusson, France. Cuttoli's venture gave new life to an artisan tradition and brought modernism to new audiences. In Barnes Foundation exhibition it is possible to see designs for textiles, which they call cartoons (some of them later were sold as paintings), and tapestries made from those designs. Why the name cartoon? Because those designs were made as large as the tapestry will be woven and put underneath, so weaver could follow the pattern.
The first object is this fabulous  evening dress, embroidery for which was designed by Natalia Goncharova, Russian avant-garde painter whose costumes for The Ballets Russe Cuttoli admired. In 1922 Marie Cuttoli opened her fashion house and boutique Myrbor in Paris, in the same neighborhood as Chanel and Lanvin. In 1926 Cuttoli renovated her boutique and rebranded it as Galerie Myrbor, presenting modern art alonside fashion and rugs.
The red silk jacket's embroidery design is also attributed to Natalia Goncharova.

Still Still Life with Guitar by Georges Braque and a tapestry 
Braque incorporated sand in his oil painting. In the tapestry that effect is done by light absorbing wool and light reflecting silk.

Cuttoli's venture related closely to mural decoration, a topic that fascinated artists in 1930s. Tapestries had many of the same qualities as murals with the added benefit of portability. Designing for Cuttoli pushed artists to take their work in new directions, experimenting with scale and process alike. Man Ray used a rayograph in his design, bringing an innovative photomechanical process into an artisan tradition. The architect Le Corbusier, who was flattered to join a group that included Picasso, Braque, and Leger, worked up sketches for a cartoon titled Marie Cuttoli, an experience that informed his later conception of tapestry as mural for the modern era.
The back side of the tapestry shows that the weaver got colors very well but over the years the tapestry has faded.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020


by Mark Strand (1934-2014)
Trying to recall the plot
And characters we dreamed,
     What life was like
Before the morning came,
We are seldom satisfied,
     And even then
There is no way of knowing
If what we know is true.
     Something nameless
Hums us into sleep,
Withdraws, and leaves us in
     A place that seems
Always vaguely familiar.
Perhaps it is because
     We take the props
And fixtures of our days
With us into the dark,
     Assuring ourselves
We are still alive. And yet
Nothing here is certain;
     Landscapes merge
With one another, houses
Are never where they should be,
     Doors and windows
Sometimes open out
To other doors and windows,
     Even the person
Who seems most like ourselves
Cannot be counted on,
     For there have been
Too many times when he,
Like everything else, has done
     The unexpected.
And as the night wears on,
The dim allegory of ourselves
     Unfolds, and we
Feel dreamed by someone else,
A sleeping counterpart,
     Who gathers in
The darkness of his person
Shades of the real world.
     Nothing is clear;
We are not ever sure
If the life we live there
     Belongs to us.
Each night it is the same;
Just when we’re on the verge
     Of catching on,
A sense of our remoteness
Closes in, and the world
     So lately seen
Gradually fades from sight.
We wake to find the sleeper
     Is ourselves
And the dreamt-of is someone who did
Something we can’t quite put
     Our finger on,
But which involved a life
We are always, we feel,
     About to discover.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Strands to Stitches

Let me introduce you to Ithaca fiber artist Saundra Goodman. Her colorful crochet creations are currently on a show in State of the Art Gallery in Ithaca.
I first noticed these three pieces through the window and from afar the first thought was - are they quilts? When I looked closer, I could see very fine crochet stitches.
Then there are these sculptural pieces.
On Saturday February 15th I went to Artists talk. I was curious to learn about Saundra's practice. 
Since she was a child she was fascinated by knitting and crochet because that was a way to create something tactile.
In Saundra's hands strands become her palette and she is creating her own colors by combining these various strands.
These two pieces originally were like the previous one but then Goodman decided to make something more interesting and she cut them to create quilt like pattern. Cutting crochet work? That is really something brave! Even after Saundra explained me how she did it I don't know if I will ever try to do it with my pieces.

Currently Saundra is experimenting with stitches what she calls vertical crochet - she created this technique to be able to make more three-dimensional works and have more adventures with crochet.

Saundra Goodman was born in New York City. Soft spoken and very kind, it is hard to believe that she is a former Woman Marine who served in Vietnam War. She holds a degree in psychology from University of North Florida, studied drawing and painting in School of Visual Arts in NYC. You can learn more about her work from her website

Monday, January 27, 2020

Memories and dreams too

Several years ago I received a big box with yarns and some unfinished projects. The box was sent to me by a caretaker of 92 year old Latvian woman who came to US at the end of WWII. All her life she had worked as a nurse, often taking night shifts since she didn't have a family of her own. During those long nights at the hospital she was knitting and crocheting. As many of us know - we dream up of the project, buy yarns, start it, then something interrupts us, and we put our handiwork aside to finish later. At the old age the woman was losing her eyesight and realizing that she is never going to finish to go through that box. She asked it to be sent to me. I found a beautiful soft white yarn in the box, and the first thing I did was to knit a shawl for her. She loved it. And when she passed away few years later her wish was to take that shawl with her. I have used yarns from the box over the years. And what was left now were six neatly crocheted strips. I put them all together - her dreams, my memories...
Let me know how you are doing with your projects...

This is description of the project (instructions are in the previous blog post)

Dreams and Memories

If we have a dream it can’t get lost. Could be that some dream just turns into a memory but nonetheless had made us more secure and stronger in order to move forward. What was a dream yesterday may turn into a reality tomorrow. As Albert Einstein once said: “A person with big dreams is stronger than that who has only facts.”

And it’s okay if some dreams are not fulfilled but instead are turned into memories. Memories are the collection of our life experience. They hold our successes and losses, joy and sorrow. They, like glue, hold our lifeline together. With years passing by, our memories might fade but they never age.
We cannot always express our dreams to others with words. It may be easier to give our dream or memory some tactile form through crochet - to re-purpose a scarf that still keeps the loving memory of a beautiful moment or some hidden tears; from old tape we used to listen when we were happy or sad, some T-shirt, plastic bag, or whatever.

We will join this all together – each piece in a single color. In the spring I will sort them by color, then we will see which is the most popular. But for sure they will all make one big collective blooming work at Riga Biennale of Contemporary Art.