An Interview with Erin M. Riley
This March, examining themes of ritual and addiction, Erin M. Riley and Lucien Shapiro set forth a dialog constructed through personal narrative and contemporary craft at Hashimoto Contemporary in San Francisco.
Based in Brooklyn, Riley transforms found imagery from the Internet into meticulous hand-woven tapestries. The artist meditates on subjects often considered taboo. From sexually explicit iPhone screenshots to a neatly organized row of used tampons, the Riley’s pursuit of challenging content allows for self-contemplation and opens up a greater discourse surrounding current social issues. For “ANEW”, the artist focuses her weavings around various objects, often those specifically associated with womanhood. Riley elaborates further on the subject: “There is so much about being a woman that is hidden. We are meant to be clean, precious and virginal, and yet there are bodily functions that are off limits... I want to face the daily objects that so many women use, but so many women hide. The more comfortable we are around certain things, the less they can be used against us.”
You work with textiles, primarily through weavings, to create your often large-scale tapes-tries. What drew you to working with these materials? What excites you about the medium?
Erin M. Riley: I found weaving 12 years ago in college. It was new, challenging, and limitless. I enjoy how every day is very different, yet similar. Working with yarn to create images is quite hard, but I get bored easy so I have to stay engaged.
Can you tell us about your creative process, what is an average day in your studio like?
I wake up, get coffee, eat a snack and get organized. I try to prep all the colors I will need for the project ahead of time, so that I won’t have to stop my weaving flow, but sometimes things need to be prepped mid piece. Prep days can be 5-14 hours of plying yarn together for various shades and combinations. I generally weave for 12-14 hours. There is lots of coffee involved.
What fascinates you about the internet culture of photo-based social media apps like Snap-chat and Instagram?
I never actually used Snapchat, but was interested in how the slut shaming culture actually fed the “need” for snapchat, as if our dirty deeds needed to only last 10 seconds in case anyone found out. I spent my youth connecting, dating and relating to people through screened interac-tions and therefore it was both self-reflecting and observing. I am a voyeur just like the rest of us.
Your work focuses on events of sexuality, intimacy and violence - such as drug parapher-nalia and pornography. What initially drew you to these themes? How do such images transform through the process of weaving?
I think a lot in extremes. I grew up around drugs, people getting arrested, people overdos-ing, people dying of drunk driving accidents, and with sex it was always considered deviant be-havior because of family members’ past traumas. Sex and drugs were both bad and intimacy didn't exist. As an adult, I am trying to break free of the issues that I grew up around, to be both comfortable in my own sexuality and support others who might find their interests to be extreme or “not normal.” My weavings allow contemplation, challenging content allows me to connect and unravel the inner turmoil surrounding these things.
Have you seen your work create a dialogue amongst your viewers around sexuality? If so, does that conversation re-inform or add to your concept?
My work allows me to talk about the things I feel shame around. I think anyone who is com-ing to terms with issues they grapple with publicly brings comfort to the people around them who are struggling in similar ways. I am always happy when I can allow dialogue about hard topics.
What drew you to focus on the objects of womanhood and sexuality for this new body of work?
There is so much about being a woman that is hidden. We are meant to be clean, precious and virginal, and yet there are bodily functions that are off limits, there are needs and desires that are not supported. I want to face the daily objects that so many women use, but so many women hide. The more comfortable we are around certain things the less they can be used against us.
You recently had a residency at the Museum of Art and Design in NY, what was it like mak-ing work in this new environment alongside artists of different practices?
The residency was actually one artist per day, so that wasn't something that effected my practice, but it was interesting to weave my work with an audience. I was working with my car crash series, which is all about death, trauma and loss so it was inspiring to talk to people who had lost loved ones along the way and how that effected their lives after. It was an interesting, eye-opening experience.
What can we look forward to with your exhibition alongside Lucien Shapiro? Do you see a commonality between both of your practices?
Lucien and I both touch on ritual. There is a repetition in the making of our works that is similar and we both have an interest in using our past relationships as inspiration for our work.
Do you have any long-term goals or aspirations for your work? Whats a dream project for you?
I am working large-scale and hope to some day have an exhibition where I can show 8-10 8ft by 8ft tapestries. These pieces really change how my work is perceived.
Riley's work is on display alongside Lucien Shaprio's in ANEW at Hashimoto Contemporary in San Francisco through March 26th, 2016.