In a new exhibition at Hashimoto Contemporary in San Francisco, Erin M. Riley will debut a series of weavings, examining themes of sexuality, violence and identity. Riley’s meticulous hand-woven tapestries are intimate portraits into past experience, of both personal and communal memory. The large-scale work confronts viewers to contemplate subjects often considered socially taboo. Frequently autobiographical, her work addresses the innate trauma of womanhood and the objectification of the sexualized body.
Simple is a culmination of her previous bodies of work and serves as an investigation into the complexity of the feminine identity. The artist explains that because of the Internet’s infiltration into our personal lives, “Intimacy is blurred, bodies exist in this surreal way, sexuality is abstract. A few specific pieces in the show are of experiences I have had throughout my life... These are the moments we prepare ourselves for with self-defense mechanisms and paranoia. I am trying to evolve from these moments but also want to acknowledge them so as not to live in denial or make people feel like they are alone.” The work physically memorializes moments of our fleeting digital life by depicting selfies, text messages, and screenshots of pornography.
The exhibition also features weavings of car wrecks and images of abuse, often accompanied with lines of text. One piece entitled “Portrait of a Father” portrays a crashed semi-truck, with the interwoven caption “you don’t deserve my forgiveness.” Riley utilizes the truck as a metaphor for “how sexual violence knocks us off our axis” and challenges the viewer to consider the inherent aggression women face in our contemporary society.
An opening reception will be held on March 4th, 2017 from 6-9pm.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, what prompted your interest in textile work and your weaving?
Erin M. Riley: I found weaving to be an interesting and challenging medium, wrought with complications and implications but that made it all the more interesting. I grew up sewing, painting, and drawing, so textiles were an obvious direction as soon as I entered the college atmosphere. It was the perfect medium to explore.
What is your studio set-up like? How many hours a day do you spend at the loom?
Leading up to a show I am working 12 hours a day, everyday, in my live/work studio. I am fully immersed in the creating of the works and steps away from the loom at all times. I have 3 looms in my studio, a 2, 4 and 8 foot floor loom which I weave on using hand dyed and hand plied yarn.
Your work depicts events of sexuality and violence framed within our digital age. What continues to draw you to these moments and ideas?
As I explore my sexuality and express it openly, I am met with backlash and aggression. People assume sexuality is the light aspect of a person's life, that if expressed and encouraged they hold no baggage. I never realized that being sex-positive could actually be seen as violence to people who are being oppressed by their bodies, by society's standards, religion, a partner, etc. For me, my work has always been in spite of that, it allows me to grow and flourish and feel safer in my body. I want to show with this work that a person can be sexually active, sexually open and "free" and still not feel safe in their body in certain situations. I am trying to continue to show the layers people have and the experiences that 1 in 3 woman have in common.
How does the historic legacy of textiles intersect with your contemporary subjects?
The main legacy I am changing is that the artist weaves their own work. I honestly have no interest in the dialog around "womens work" or domesticity of textile work. Its not something I ever related to, and it is not my intention to upend the domestic sphere in regards to hobby art.
Many of your pieces are autobiographical. What is it like to see your intimate moments translated into these large-scale tapestries?
It feels the same as sharing and absorbing intimate moments from strangers and friends through the internet. Intimacy is blurred, bodies exist in this surreal way, sexuality is abstract. A few specific pieces in this show are of experiences I have had throughout my life. For example, once my tires were slashed by a woman who in her spare time would drive by the man I was seeing's house to see if my car was there. The same women sent a box of broken glass vases in the mail with dried flowers and trash. In Unsolicited, a series of texts are unanswered. This male added me on Facebook, soon asked if I wanted a dick pic, and upon my refusal, found my phone number and started following my every movement on social media. I was concluding my stay at a residency and without thinking about it mentioned that publicly and he made it clear that he would be waiting outside my house when I got home (in the wee hours of the night). These are the moments we prepare ourselves for with self defense mechanisms and paranoia. I have experienced assaults both personally and observed them as a child, physical and verbal, there was a lot of holes punched in walls, broken furniture, erratic driving, threats, etc. I am trying to evolve from these moments but also want to acknowledge them so as not to live in denial or make people feel like they are alone.
Your weavings are extremely time-intensive, yet they often memorialize the aftermath of instantaneous memories. How does time operate throughout your practice and concepts?
I devote time to images that I feel are important or impactful. They make me feel major feelings and I want to share these images in a new way so that the viewer might take more time with them as well.
Do you see the new pieces in “Simple” as a culmination of your previous bodies of work?
Yes. I have always wanted to show the intimate moments of a human woman's experiences. The pictures in which she is feeling herself for herself and not for a partner. But with Simple I want to allow for some complications. That, someone dealing with a stalker, who feels scared, might still masturbate, might still sext, that doesn't null her simultaneous fear. So much of a person's behavior before and after an unwanted incident is picked apart and examined for insinuations of want. Sending nude selfies might be all a woman who has experienced sexual trauma is up for, that might be how they present themselves online, that has no correlation to the amount of IRL sex she wants, or is having. Its complicated and constantly changing. Sex might not be triggering, but language, pop culture, social media might be.
I have been thinking a lot about objectification and sensitivity. How, if sexualized bodies are too distracting to take seriously, to see depth in, maybe using car crashes and other symbolism might allow entry into abuse, violations and violence. I have made parallels in the past into the relationships men have with their cars being far greater and more intimate, expressive than their relationships with partners. If a man understands the heartbeat of his automobile, can tell when things aren't right, even just so, maybe they could understand how sexual violence knocks us off our axis. How this new lexicon of body language and cues might allow men to start to infer when a partner is uncomfortable or feeling violated, and believe them. I am desperately grasping for some way to enter the psyche of people, specifically men who blame victims. You'd never blame your car for its tire being slashed, for being crashed into, but you blame a woman for being assaulted. Objectification is at its core very BAD, but I am trying to find a way to visually show our experiences so they are relatable to the basest of audience. How do men who clearly have no understanding of the blows women absorb start to understand that their aggressions even the micro ones have long lasting effects on us.
Text plays a key role in these weavings, what informs the selection of language and typography?
I came to weaving online imagery in 2009 when images was a new medium to the casual internet user. It was raw and intimate and allowed for voyeur to look into someone's life. But we have evolved into memes and gifs, images with watermarks and language. Text is a huge part of our visual experience and I think that is important. I used a lot of text in my work in college, but fell away from that to explore imagery. This is an integration that is challenging and interesting.
What drew you to to the title “Simple” for your exhibition?
This work was inspired by research into dating and domestic violence, and while looking at domestic violence police reports I kept finding the term "simple assault" which just reads as insulting. Simple Assault. Theres nothing simple to being assaulted by a partner, or by someone in your household. Violence against bodies is a cycle that needs to stop and I hope that by sharing some of my experiences I can help people see situations they are in from a different perspective.
What’s on the horizon for you? Do you have any exciting projects ahead?
I am continuing to work with similar themes around dating, control, aggressions and pushing myself to show more intimate and personal imagery. Expressing myself as a queer person, as someone who deals with the impulse control disorder Trichotillomania, and such. Its all very exciting and scary.