Monday, October 10, 2011

Interview with "Fiber Focus 2011" artist Kathy Weaver

by Janna Añonuevo Langholz

Art Saint Louis Fall 2011 volunteer Janna Añonuevo Langholz has been interviewing some of the artists featured in our current “Fiber Focus 2011” exhibition.

Janna’s third interview is with Kathy Weaver. Weaver is a fiber artist based near Chicago, IL who explores the colorful, often humorous dimensions of robots and their robotic worlds. She was trained as a painter and taught art in public schools before beginning to work with the medium of fabric. Her work has been shown in many exhibitions nationally and internationally and also took part in Art Saint Louis’ “Fiber Focus 2009”.


Janna: I read that you have a background in painting, art history, and art education. When did fiber art come into the mix?
Kathy: As a young girl I was always making things with the scraps of cloth my mother used for her sewing and needlework projects, but as an art student I never equated these with fine art. During the feminism movement of the 70’s Miriam Shapiro, Judy Chicago and other “legitimized" these materials and, further, made them speak eloquently about women’s issues. I also traveled around the world in 1974 and saw and relished gorgeous fabrics and weavings from Asia and India. When my painting became increasingly political I saw the quilt medium as an ideal way to make the message more approachable and to a wider audience of people than those just in the gallery/art world.

Kathy Weaver. Invader. Satin, Airbrushed, Hand Embroidered, 57"x 43".

Janna: Why did you choose robots to be the main subject matter of your work?
Kathy: This came about as a fluke when I was teaching children art in the public schools. We did many projects with robots and I realized the expressive nature of the articulated robot and also the power the figure had for the audience. The robot became a natural spokesperson for my political concerns, speaking of the future, the environment, and technological issues related to militarism. Also, I had always been interested in cutting-edge technology due to my father’s involvement in the electronics industry. The space race and early tv serials about outer space added to the mix.

Janna: What does the simultaneously sensitive/loving and mechanical/destructive character of your robots reveal about human nature?
Kathy: It reveals that we as a human species choose our path. We can use technology to advance mankind through discoveries in medicine, robotics, artificial intelligence or we can follow a darker path, using technology to employ drones, carry heavier and more deadly loads into combat, persist in ever increasing surveillance.

Janna: On your website I saw a piece that includes an embedded video. Will you ever work with video again?
Kathy: I think it’s tricky because it has moving parts dependent on others to plug in, fix, etc. I love the effect but just don’t know.

 Kathy Weaver. Fire Slinger. Satin, Airbrushed, Hand Embroidered, 48"x46".

Janna: Could you tell me more about the specific piece you have in the "Fiber Focus 2011" exhibition, Optimized Persistence?
Kathy: My work addresses the intersection between technology and art, artificial intelligence and robotics. I examine life on both a macro level and a cellular, nano-scale plane.

In my “Organic Series,” represented here by Optimized Persistence, I see the unearthly, thoroughly alien environment from an automaton’s perspective. In these fiber, mixed media works the environment is devoid of overt action, yet filled with anticipation, a premonition of surprising behavior.

Airbrushing on satin in large scale with scientific themes, I focus on inventing a robotic world in which plant and cellular forms seem stranger than life and pregnant with meaning. The robot’s environment is steeped in a visceral aura and reflects, as source material, my studies of artificial intelligence. My works also draw from photographic, microscopic scans of simple celled plants and animals. These species represent the life source, the spark in the primordial soup from which we evolved.

Kathy Weaver. Optimized Persistence. Satin, Airbrushed, Hand Embroidered, 36"x36".

Janna: Where does the robot environment intersect with the human environment?
Kathy: We are all part cyborg as Donna Haraway, writes in A Manifesto for Cyborgs, Routledge, 1990. If you take into consideration devices like diabetic pumps, pacemakers, prosthetics, phones and computers that are practically appendages of our fingers and bodies, one can see that we are already dependent on the tasks these robots do for us. As time goes on the boundaries between robots and humans will intersect in ever more complex ways.

Kathy Weaver. Mimetic Concerns. Satin, Airbrushed, Hand Embroidered, 44"x57".

Janna: What are the organic forms based on?
Kathy: They are based on electron microsopy of brain scans, neural networks, amoeba and other simpler celled animal/plant forms and on abstractions of sketches I do from nature and from my imagination.

Janna: Who are some of your favorite artists?
Kathy: At present my favorite artist are William Kentridge, Kathe Kollwitz, Sue Coe, Jean Baptiste Chardin, Franz Hals, drawings from the Italian Renaissance, street art from Nigeria and Ghana.

Janna: Are you part robot?
Kathy: My FB image is me in all my gear getting ready to airbrush and what with respirator, air compressor blasting, protective gloves and smock, ear plugs, and with shammies covering my shoes, I am definitely separated from this world. It’s just me and the satin in front of me and my ability to make sense out of that space; so yes, I feel quite single minded and divorced from “real” life in that situation….quite robotic, but with lots of feeling.

"Fiber Focus 2011" remains on view at Art Saint Louis through Thursday, October 13, 2011. Art Saint Louis is located at 555 Washington Avenue, #150, St. Louis, MO 63101 (downtown on Washington between 6th & Broadway). Gallery is free & open to the public Monday 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m. 


Janna Añonuevo Langholz is a Fall 2011 volunteer at Art Saint Louis helping with the “Fiber Focus 2011” exhibition. A St. Louis native, she recently moved back to the city after graduating with a BFA in Fibers at Truman State University this year. After taking some time off to travel and work on her portfolio, Janna plans on attending graduate school and continue her studies in fibers and mixed media.

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