Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Pae White Q&A: Textile-Topia

Her newest works might be massive cloth tapestries, but California artist Pae White is a hard one to pin down. Over the past decade, White has turned the Venice Arsenale into a giant birdcage, transformed small pieces of paper into sprawling museum installations and elevated junk-drawer detritus into opera-house d├ęcor. This month, an exhibition of some recent works opened at the Power Plant in Toronto. I was fortunate she took some time to chat with me; the condensed chat is out in today's National Post. Here's an excerpt:

Q: You’ve said your smoke tapestries [displayed at this year's Whitney Biennial] are about “cotton’s dream of becoming something else.” Is all art about this desire for transformation?

A: I don’t think so. I’ve thought about this because it’s come up a lot in my work. And is it an aggressive thing? Is it a challenge? Is there a setup for failure? Maybe there’s material failing at its struggle to be another — or not. Or maybe the inanimate object is being brought to life somehow. Anthropomorphizing the material is what somebody accused me of, and I think that’s true. To me, materials or colours have an inherent personality, a fluctuating

Q: Speaking of hierarchy, you use a lot of “crafty” materials, such as cloth and paper. Some might also see your work as more design than art. How do you deal with these value assumptions?

A: I don’t see any lesser value to paper in serious artmaking. I remember a friend who did very, very meticulous drawings. They took him forever. He also was involved in paintings — they were process and would take half an hour. That these drawings were never taken as seriously as these paintings — I always found that absurd. And for myself, I’ve never seen “craft as craft” or “design as design.” As far as I’m concerned, I’m always making art. Maybe it uses the language of design or the language of craft, but it’s always making art.

Later on, we talk about the difference between weaving an image and printing it as a photograph on paper, as well as White's upcoming installation in the London Underground.

(Image of Pae White's Oslo Opera House curtain from Musicweb)


Ingrid Mida said...

Great interview. I can relate to her comment about the meticulous drawings not being appreciated....

Leah Sandals said...

Hey Ingrid, thanks for your comment.

Yeah, it's a funny business, these value judgments that happen on the basis of medium.