Art in Uncertain Times: Erin M Riley Practices Self-Care in Brooklyn, NY
The mandated quarantine measures have gripped us like a vise Being in New York, there’s a palpable post-apocalyptic energy on the streets, most of us not used to long stretches in our tiny apartments. Along with millions cloistered indoors, we continue our series Art in Uncertain Times to better understand how self-isolation measures not only intrude physical space but also our psychological universe, affecting the practices of artists all around the world.
Today we talk with Brooklyn based textile artist Erin M. Riley. Accustomed to working alone for long periods of time, her tapestry works are lovingly laborious and time-consuming. Working through some poignant subjects of trauma, sexuality and more recently, death. Riley’s work rustles thoughts about memory, nostalgia and the significance of self. Let's dive in.
Scared, wool, cotton, 100" x 60", 2019 (courtesy of P.P.O.W.)
Jess Ross: Has the subject, tone or style of your work changed at all since being in quarantine?
Erin M. Riley: I have been working on pieces lately about memory and the depths of identity. On March 1st I started weaving a piece about my great grandmother’s murder. The source material is mainly of this newspaper article detailing the shooting. It's got some other details but its been intense to weave while being constantly updated about sicknesses and deaths around the world. I have lots of ideas of self-portraiture and sexuality that will bring levity to the next few weeks, hopefully, or maybe they will just make my feel more cooped up. Who knows!
Affair, The, wool, cotton, 100" x 73", 2020 (courtesy of P.P.O.W.)
What’s the biggest shift in your studio practice, now that you’re confined to home?
For the past 6 years, I have worked from a home studio so not a whole lot has changed besides having to really never leave, cooking more and dealing with more unrest on the outside world. My sleep schedule has been tested over the past couple of years and its been the worst lately, but I just work until I am tired and try not to dwell on being such a bad sleeper, it’s not like I have to be coherent for meetings or studio visits! I had a few lectures canceled so the time that I had planned on working on those is now freed up.
Top 3 things that are currently making you feel better about the state of the world?
How people are using the internet to bring the world together, the ways that resources are expanding for people who need it and the lack of CARS driving around Brooklyn.
Jesus Calling, wool, cotton, 100" x 67", 2020 (courtesy of P.P.O.W.)
I do think this term is a bit overused, but what "self-care" rituals do you partake in? Or even just basics that make you feel more of a person when quarantining?
Since I am used to working from home my typical rituals are making my bed, getting dressed for the day and making sure to clean up ever so slightly before quitting time.
On a scale from fresh laundry smell to dumpster fire, where are you emotionally right now?
I have been walking around as a Febresed dumpster fire since 5th grade so nothing has changed.
What things, big or small have helped to keep you sane, motivated or creative during this turbulent time?
Reading more, tending to my plants, delving into the subjects that have been on my mind, knowing that we are in this together and that hopefully, people will stay inside so we can get this virus under control asap. I have also been trying to be more disciplined as far as the negative energy I allow in my life. Being more generous with my time to help with anyone who needs something that I can provide.
An Accident, wool, cotton, 100" x 67", 2020 (courtesy of P.P.O.W.)
What's the first thing you're going to do once self-isolation has ended? What are you fantasizing about?
I want to get my favorite Vietnamese food, I hope they are still open after this! I also hope that a group show in LA that has been pushed back to June happens and I get to go!
What are you eating, watching, reading during this time?
Eating tons of tofu scramble, carrots and hummus, iced tea, lots of coffee. Watching Married at First Sight because whatttttt people are terrible. Listening to a lot of podcasts, I really like Family Secrets and Last Day lately. Reading In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado, and I just downloaded Jack Goldstein and the CalArts Mafia, its an interestingly casual insight into a time and place. I also just picked up Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi.