The tapestries of Erin Riley are a thing to see. And good news citizens! If you’ll be in Miami during December you’ll be able to see her work at Select Art Fair! Erin’s work is revealing, it is an in depth and honest discussion of feminine values and insecurities within current culture. In keeping, her interview is as lucid as it is interesting, read on:
Last time you introduced yourself as a Scorpio from Philadelphia, in that time, have you discovered your rising sign? And are you still in the Philadelphia?
I have not done much more in the astrology research realm, although I still keep up with my monthly forecasts, because when you work for yourself its hard to know if anything is going to happen in a month other than working every day in the studio. So its nice to know I might be rich or get some cool opportunity, it makes life way more exciting. (even if none of it happens) I am not in Philadelphia anymore, I am living in Brooklyn now, I just moved my studio up here in October but it rules so far.
What have you been working on recently? Where has your work taken you recently, ideologically, intellectually and emotionally? What have you learned about yourself and about your medium of expression? Do you ever experiment with other media?
I have been working on a ton of new work this year, I am working towards a February 2014 show at Space 1026 in Philadelphia that will be all objects, the first time this work has been shown exclusively and I am really excited about it. I have had a bunch of awesome shows this year as well, 2013 has been good to me. I am spending a lot of time reading about feminism and birth control, discovering the whole new world of positivity off of hormonal birth control. (if you know, you know) I have been straddling the fence for many years calling myself a tapestry weaver but never obeying any of the rules of tapestry per se so I am rouge now, I call my work “Wool, Cotton” and have been working to call myself a visual artist rather than just a tapestry weaver, it was pigeonholing my work too much. I also got tired of telling traditional tapestry weavers that despite having a masters degree and 6 years of textiles/fiber education, I choose to hem and weave my work the way I do because that’s the way I want to do it. (bratty much? hmmm) I am also constantly thinking of going back to the days of “destroying” my work, using roofing tar, resin, wood stains, etc to obliterate images and make the pieces much darker or faded. I also have a project that will happen in the next year or so working with made to order weaving facilities that make blankets and things, but using my own images. Jacquard weaving but in a much more approachable realm.
How would you describe yourself physically? A lot of your work is self-portrait, how do you think your work describes you? How do you think the medium of tapestry functions differently in self-portrait than say painting or photography? Do feel like you’re behind a veil? Or would you say that you’re showing as much of yourself as a photograph would? Self-expression is inherent to art, but the person we see when we turn the magnifying glass on ourselves isn’t necessarily the same as the person our friends and family see. Do you think self-expression twists and distorts the self? Do you think it’s an accurate representation of yourself? What parts of yourself do you like to show? And which do you hold back?
I completed a series of self portraits back in 2012, all of which are the only pieces where the figures have tattoos. I found that initially people didn’t approach these work differently than the other pieces, although with the collectors who have purchased these pieces I realized through talking to them they had discerned these were self portraits from the pictures of me that are on facebook or instagram. And eventually I found myself comfortable to tell friends or post on Instagram that these were self-portraits. I think that tapestry allows a certain separation that photography does not, these are highly stylized, and the only identifying marks are the tattoos. I had a few that were extremely revealing and I never put those on my website and probably will never show anyone those because they are more than I personally would like to reveal. They were exciting to make and might be revealed as I get older. I’d like to say I appear the same to everyone but I know that I am much more free expressing myself with my art, the work is more interesting than I am.
You had mentioned in the last interview that you talked about the self-destructive culture of insecurity imposed on women. Do you think that has changed in the last year? How has it changed for you personally? What have you done as a person to challenge and overcome your own insecurities? How is that reflected in your art? Do you think society has changed at all?
I think that society for sure has not changed and so much of the sexualization of women or conversely the slut shaming comes from these insecurities. I find it super super interesting when pop stars are judged by the way their bodies look in super revealing clothing, as if they would have any success in mainstream pop culture if they wore anything BUT revealing clothing (sad but true). I have found myself in many discussions questioning why girls are judging other girls, what makes one person’s sexual experiences more or less respectable than another. I try to consciously avoid statements that judge women based on how they look or dress, because that is something so ingrained in society and is pointless and destructive. I try to be more accepting of the idea of finding beauty in many things, I think my work has reflected these changes by showing more gentler or revealing images with less judgement, or at least I hope. I am constantly growing.
How immersed do you get in the backstory of each individual piece? The ideas, you’ve mentioned, are photos we might delete, or photos we might snapchat to each other. How do you think social media and ease of access to cameras and video have changed our personal identity, has it made our culture more self-absorbed? Did selfies exist before cell phones? Do you think the millennial tendency to self-absorption can be overcome? Or does it need to be?
What I have been finding really interesting is watching random documentaries of film photographers or artists who would take self-portraits that look mildly like a “selfie” but there is a large film camera in the mirror, or its blurry because the focus is just off. There was also digital cameras, and webcams which started the mass depiction of ones self. I think people have a need to be reminded that they exist, I have gone months without hearing my name out loud and the first time you hear it again its almost like you remember you exist. For a while I kept this note in my studio wall from a friend I went to MassArt with and it was a nice reminder that despite being alone in the studio, someone had once thought of me. I am very interested in the lives of the young women I depict, because late teens and early 20s are such a tumultuous time in our emotional lives that I almost want to relive it through them. I read something about how people who spend lots of time on the internet on social media actually end up feeling more lonely than others, I understand that as the constant gratification that “likes” give you, that it becomes sad when there is a lull and no attention is being given. I don’t think self-absorption needs to be overcome but it would probably be best if more people lived real lives rather than internet ones, maybe not. I do find that an authentic life is harder to have when you can edit every interaction.
Tell us about the piece you’re bringing to Select? What’s going on in it? A lot of your work is highly sexual, what kind of narrative do you think you’re creating for your viewers? Do you think they’ll walk away wanting to take the same photos portrayed in your work? Do you think your work empowers women? Do you think it needs to?
I am bringing a large piece of a girls behind, she is pulling up one side of her cutoffs to reveal more of her butt. I have been trying to get away from the idea of nudity or revealing clothing relating to sexual behavior, I am looking at the viewers reactions for some sort of gauge on how they consume the nude figure. I find that while some people see the pieces as fairly tame, some see them as offensive and explicit. I think the varying reactions are the best part of making this work. I hope that women feel more comfortable seeing other women participate in this self-documentation as a way to further express their sexuality in a healthy way. And that by seeing images similar to the ones they have taken or sent, find more secure ways of sharing these images so strangers like me cant find them!
Are you excited to have your work shown in Miami? How do you view being shown as part of a group show different than being in a solo show? What are you working on now?
I am so excited to be bringing a brand new piece to Miami, my work has never been exhibited in Miami so I am really looking forward to it. I enjoy group shows because it allows the work to have a dialogue with each other. It shows what is being made right now and how vastly different contemporary art can be, it provides a support system for the artwork. I am working on a solo exhibition that will be up in February of 2014 at Space 1026 in Philadelphia, PA. I am also working on some secret projects that are SO exciting and I can’t wait to announce.
My favorite restaurant growing up was this Chinese food restaurant in Falmouth, MA called Peking Palace.