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Art of embroidery is an extension of personal identity in 'Strings of Desire'

The exhibition Strings of Desire at Craft Contemporary in Los Angeles showcases the works of 13 artists who put the art of embroidery at the centre of their multimedia works.

by Dilpreet BhullarPublished on : May 07, 2023

The seamless narrative across embroidery, painting, sculpture and architecture gives shape to a 'hybrid aesthetic' to visually translate the ideas of human desire and longing in the group exhibition Strings of Desire at Craft Contemporary in Los Angeles. The work of embroidery as part of art practice by 13 participating artists—Chiffon Thomas, Kang Seung Lee, Sophia Narrett, Ardeshir Tabrizi, Jenny Hart, Jordan Nassar, Carmen Mardónez, Aubrey Longley Cook, Ken Gun Min, Diem Chau, Erick Medel, and a portion of the 25 Million Stitches project is an extension of their personal identities. Thirteen artists were selected to show a variety of meanings, messages, and techniques—much of the work is multimedia, where artists are employing embroidery in their painting or sculpture practice. The use of the internet as a tool is a subtext. The works of each artist are grouped together and in visual conversation with one another. During the inception period of the art exhibition, Suzanne Isken, the Director of Craft Contemporary, mentioned the idea was simple—to survey how contemporary arts are employing embroidery. The idea was a modest survey but the research led her to look at how artists were using embroidery in different ways to express ideas about human desire.

Grounded, 2021. Mixed media with embroidery, Chiffon Thomas |Strings of Desire | STIRworld
Grounded, 2021, mixed media with embroidery, Chiffon Thomas Image: Courtesy of Chiffon Thomas and PPOW Gallery, New York

In an interview with STIR, Isken talks about the significant presence of craft in the field of arts, when the former is not distinctly absorbed in the discipline of arts. “As a contemporary craft museum, we have never seen a difference. We see a continuum with no valuation of one set of materials and processes over another. The intention of the work rests with the artists. Artists like Kang Seung Lee consider themselves to be conceptual artists whose research takes the form of this exhibition as embroidered work; sometimes paired with video and objects. Others like Ken Gun Min venture from painting practices: they are all artists, using what tools and materials are available,” says Isken.

Through Closed Eyes, 2020. Embroidery thread, aluminum, and fabric |Strings of Desire, Sophia Narrett| Strings of Desire | STIRworld
Through Closed Eyes, 2020, Embroidery thread, aluminium and fabric, Sophia Narrett Image: Dudley and Anne Crawford DeZonia

The inherent to the act of embroidery are the elements of anticipation and desire to attain the state of fullness. The artwork Through Closed Eyes by Sophia Narrett highlights the scenes of the female figures engaged in erotic positions. On the other hand, the male counterparts fail to do so. In the press release the artist admits, “While romance can be an escape from tragedy, isolation, and even boredom, its power can be tied to those moments when excitement borders on toxicity, or play bleeds into manipulation, and when the inherent danger of power exchange (real or imagined) comes to light.” The source of the images is the internet, she painstakingly browses through the data available on the internet to prepare a collage of images, only to stand as an inspiration for the hand-stitched erotic female-centric narratives. The final narrative is a take on the changing pattern of relationships and desires with the onset of the internet. The ‘material reality’ of the tangible work is an extension of the tactile relationship antithetical to the virtual world of bonds set into motion by the dynamics of algorithms.

Green Spring Purple, 2022. Hand embroidered cotton on cotton over canvas, Jordan Nassar |Strings of Desire | STIRworld
Green Spring Purple, 2022. Hand embroidered cotton on cotton over canvas, Jordan Nassar Image: Mason Kuehler, Courtesy of Jordan Nassar; Anat Ebgi, Los Angeles; James Cohan, New York; and The Third Line, Dubai

The construction and consumption of media around the romanticisation of Los Angeles for Aubrey Longley-Cook is a reflection of his longings to establish his sense of belonging in his adopted home Los Angeles. The cross-stitch panels, A Few Palm Trees, showcase his selection of L.A.-based films such as Rebel Without a Cause, Nowhere, Clueless, and Real Women Have Curves. “Embroidery, here, is a means of freezing the pixels and extracting the moving image from its role as a vehicle of desire,” informs the press release.

Dusk, 2021. Hanging sculpture on pillows and hand embroidered bed sheet, Carmen Mardόnez| Strings of Desire | STIRworld
Dusk, 2021. Hanging sculpture on pillows and hand embroidered bed sheet, Carmen Mardόnez Image: Carmen Mardόnez

The detailed antique gold thread embroidery Untitled (Put Badly, Gi Hyeong-do) by Kang Seung Lee speaks about the sparse representation of queer people on public platforms especially media in Korea—the home country of the artist. The artist created a three-channel video with his friends, which is a documentation of the threads drawn on their skins. He juxtaposes them with an installation of objects and embroidered imagery. His latest piece, Untitled (Put Badly, Gi Hyeong-do) is a tribute to the Korean poet, Gi Hyeong-do. The artist stitched the gold embroidery of his poem, Put Badly, foregrounding his creation. The body of the poet Gi Hyeong-do was found at a gay theatre. The intergenerational histories and memories of queer communities situated in geographically distanced lands talk about the possibility of emancipatory changes in future as one digs through the archives.

The rich tapestries of figures, wild animals, anatomical drawings, flowers, Western fabrics, and rich landscapes in Night Lake by Ken Gun Min is an amalgamation of narratives from his experience of coming into his queer identity in 1980s and 90s and his formative years in Europe and the US. Moreover, also how his Korean heritage informs his practice. In Night Lake, the artist orchestrates “the stage for his childhood awakening as a gay boy in 1980s Korea with the backdrops of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake and the local modern crime story of MacArthur Park Lake murders in Los Angeles, where he currently resides." As the two worlds and identities overlap, the experience could be a double bind, i.e. traumatic and transformative. The silicone body parts serve as the entry point for Chiffon Thomas to initiate the arts of embroidery, and architectural elements—an epitome of representing the fragments of trauma and multiple identities. The expressive materiality of the assemblages reminds personal feelings of nostalgia and assertion of self-identity in difficult situations. Embarking on the journey of multiple identities is also a survival tactic for the queer community and people of colour.

A Few Palm Trees 9, 2022. Cotton thread on aida cloth, Aubrey Longley-Cook.  |Strings of Desire | STIRworld
A Few Palm Trees 9, 2022. Cotton thread on aida cloth, Aubrey Longley-Cook Image: Aubrey Longley-Cook

Isken concludes the interview with the statement, "The history of those materials and processes is most relevant to their expression. I would hope visitors come away in awe of the beauty of human creation."

Suzanne Isken’s Portrait |Strings of Desire | STIRworld
Suzanne Isken Image: Symrin Chawla

The exhibition Strings of Desire is on view at Craft Contemporary in Los Angeles until May 7, 2023.

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