South-African artist, Hannalie Taute’s contemporary take on embroidery happens on rubber stitched together from discarded inner tubes. Her work is dark and edgy. I can only think of words I would not use to describe it, like: sedate, subtle, or delicate. The faces stitched into the abandoned materials scream at you from their tough leather looking exteriors – this is not your grandmother’s embroidery.
I’m a fan of Taute’s work. She masters the askew – doming it under bell jars, framing it in silver serving plates, leaving threads to dangle out of her stitching, letting the danger seep into our realm. I find it difficult to look away from her strangely beautiful things.
As time drew closer for me to call Hannalie for our interview, I imagined a husky sounding woman picking up, morosely explaining her work to me. All of that dreaming, fell completely out of context when this sweet-sounding mother, who admits she sometimes patterns her work after pop culture offerings, greeted me with a cheerful ‘Hello’.
What we assume is not always so. Hannalie owns many expressions of her personality which allow her to evolve creatively. Just like embroidery is composed of more than feminine linens stitched with sweet sayings for butts to sit on.
Before we get started, Hannalie apologetically warns me that Afrikaans is her first language, so the interview might get a bit rocky. She mentions this after we have gushed on about The Little Prince, Minecraft and an Andy Warhol penis.
I think she did just fine…
This is the first time I have seen embroidery on rubber. To your knowledge, are there any other artists that work with this material?
Hannalie: I know that there is another South African artist, Nicholas Hlobo – part of my inspiration. He works with rubber as well, but he uses it differently. He takes ribbon and rubber, and makes sculpture & abstract works – but he doesn’t embroider per say. He works with the medium, but I said to myself, ‘I can get a lot of artists that use oil paint, and each one would employ it differently. I can use rubber as well, but make it my own.’
It is a lovely medium to work with. Even though I’m inspired by his use of rubber, our process and concept is very different.
That is what’s lovely about inspiration; that spark you can spin into something else.
On average, how long does it take you to complete a piece? I want people to get a sense of how labor intensive your work is.
My huge wall hangings can take up to six months. A smaller work, like the one I sent for the STITCHED show at Paradigm Gallery took about 2 months – that includes sourcing the rubber, cutting the rubber, cleaning the rubber, stitching and framing the piece.
What a process … How do you prime the rubber to then begin working with it?
I get it in a tube from the company. Some companies just throw them away, so I go and collect them. I wash, dry, and polish them before I draw on them. I don’t have an assistant at the moment, so I do everything myself.
Creep(er) embroidery on rubber, 2017 – now on display at Paradigm Gallery for the STITCHED group show. | Taute explains how Creep(er) self-portrait came to be: “Minecraft is a computer game and my children play it a lot. Apart from Zombies and Skeletons, one can also encounter a ‘Creeper’, and they normally explode. A Creeper can be recognized by its tall vertical structure, and green pixellated skin. I can relate to their need to explode, so I decided to embroider a self-portrait wearing a ‘creeper’ jacket, but instead of holding dynamite or some sort of explosive, I decided to embroider an Andy Warhol inspired-penis.”
I’m curious, are you constantly bending your needles trying to pull your thread through the rubber?
I’ve broken a couple of needles…the rubber is not that tough, its’ softer than leather actually. So I don’t need to make my holes beforehand, the needle goes straight through. I’m struggling to work with fabric at the moment because I’m used to the thickness of the rubber.
How long have you been working with this medium?
I started in 2012 – so a short while ago. My first Solo Show was called Rubber Ever After. I’ve got so much to learn still.
There is something macabre about the aurora of your work, which I find quite interesting. But then, I suppose it might be a bit difficult to go sweet with rubber.
Yeah, all the connotations to bondage and stuff. (laughing)
Maybe ‘sweet‘ and leather is the perfect juxtaposition.
You also draw inspiration from books and your children’s interest. Does each piece start with a particular memory?
I love reading and listening to other people’s stories about their relationships, and such. Even if I don’t find my inspiration directly at that moment, I’ll collect those moments, write out my thoughts and revisit them later. Mostly, its driven by how I feel at a certain stage.
‘What is essential is invisible to the eyes’ is on display at Paradigm Gallery for the STITCHED group show. | Taute on this piece: ‘What is Essential’ was inspired by The Little Prince – I read it every year at least once. The quote goes, “What is essential is invisible to the eye. It is only with the heart that one sees rightly.”
How has your work been received in South Africa?
Very good… I won my first art award working with rubber. I like it when people come up to me after a show to chat – I’ve had a few great discussions with them about ancient embroidery.
Ancient embroidery? Is this art form older than most realize?
Oh yes. There’s a pretty good book called Subversive Stitch… you know, men used to do this too and not just women. The book has a detailed history of how women used needlework in the 18th and 19th centuries. Stitching has such a rich history throughout the world. The origin of it is fascinating.
My mother-in-law does needle work as well. When she sees my work, she gets so frustrated because she believes it must be perfect. If she makes a mistake in her work, she will pull everything out and start again. I don’t allow myself that luxury, I keep on going and working. Its’ ok to make a mistake and carry on.
Well then, your imperfections make for unique pieces. I really enjoy your sculptural work; they are fascinating and a bit scary. There’s one from your series Implanted Memories that I love – the pig face on the body of a young child.
That’s She Wants to Build a House with Thread.
It is interesting what people find scary. My children watch monster movies; I remember scary monster stories from my youth. Compared to theirs, my monsters are cute and cuddly. I’m wondering what is scary out there still?
She Wants to Build a House with Thread, 50 x 30 x 30 cm Medium: Fabric, found object, cotton thread and rubber
I don’t know. Maybe we’re afraid of the ‘imagined threat’. I still get chills when I read older stories from The Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen. That’s what I meant when I said I love the scare factor in your work, because they remind me of darker fairy tales – the ones without the cute moral endings.
I had an exhibition called, The Grimm Needle. I asked people, ‘What did they fear? Could they name a fear for me based on the unknown?’ Their responses were quite interesting. I suppose there is a lot of fear around that – the unknown.
Because you don’t know what to expect. If you can’t prepare for something, then comes the onset of anxiety.
I guess that is why people fear death because it is the unknown.
So many questions swirling around that.
Wonder if I could stitch it…
“Heks/Witch” Altered photograph, cotton thread, rubber and wood. 61 x 42 cm
The More You Know: