Beauty In The Eye of The Beholder – The Embroidery Work of Hannalie Taute

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 master’s 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.

 

Woah.

Yeah.

 

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 AfterI’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 much order 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:

Ask A Curator: Wassan Al-Khudhairi Talks About The Exciting New Exhibit Third Space At The Birmingham Museum of Art

 

The new contemporary art exhibit at Birmingham Museum of Art, Third Space  borrows its name from philosopher and Havard Scholar, Homi Bhaba‘s term ‘third space,’ which he defines as a space that “challenges our sense of the historical identity of culture as a homogenizing, unifying force, authenticated by the originary past, kept alive in the national tradition of the People.”

Wassan Al-Khudhairi is the Hugh Kaul Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Birmingham Museum of Art; as curator for Third Space, Al-Khudhairi is quite aware of the power of shared experiences.  Her personal experiences growing up in one place and traveling to others color the exhibition.  She reaches, through the selections to explore the commonalities that draw communities together and make them stronger.

Third Space is intended to create a dialogue that allows for the discovery of connections between the American South and the rest of the world,” Al-Khudhairi said. “We hope visitors walk away from this exhibition with the desire to have those important conversations related to the experiences we share.”

We put together a brief Q & A together for Wassan Al-Khudhairi – we hope this will allow the readers to understand some of job responsibilities of a curator and how Third Space came together. 

 

Wassan, can you tell us how the idea for this exhibition come about?

The exhibition idea was inspired by thinking about the Birmingham Museum of Art’s collection and its relationship to Birmingham, the American South, and the Global South. The American South is often discussed within the parameters of the United States of America and within a North-South dichotomy.  I was interested in thinking horizontally and creating an opportunity to have an south-south conversation.  The Global South refers to a loose geographical space, a space that is often a post-colonial space.  I wanted to explore the Museum’s collection through this lens of post-colonialism — a condition that is quite similar in many ways to other places in the Global South.  The exhibition title, Third Space, is a term borrowed from Homi Bhaba a philosopher and scholar who coined the term to describe another space, one where commonalities come together to create an alternative space.  The term felt like the perfect way to encompass the exhibition ideas.

 

What was the largest hurdle in pulling it all together?

Pulling it all together– being sure the exhibition ideas are being communicated to the visitor and creating the conceptual space for people to feel like they can reflect their ideas and experiences onto a work of art.

On another note, the exhibition is open for 2-years and within those 2 years we will have 3 changes in the galleries. The first one takes place this August– many of the large works will remain on view but photographs and works on paper throughout the exhibition will be replaced with other works from the collection.  This will happen 3 times in two years… it was a challenge to think ahead in planning the works that will be on view for example in Fall 2018.

But these changes every 6 months will mean that there will always something new to see for our visitors, so we hope people will keep coming back!

 

How did you go about selecting these works of art?

It’s not such a linear or defined process as you might be imagining. It is more of a constant back and forth between building the framework for the ideas of the exhibition and selecting works that help shape and push those ideas further. It is a back and forth, back and forth until it feels like you have been able to find the right balance.

Wassan Al-Khudhairi Talks About Third Space At The Birmingham Museum of Art

Jose Bedia Mpangui jimagua (Twin Brothers), 2000 (Acrylic and conte on canvas with objects)

Assuming you had more pieces in mind than the show could contain, and how did you narrow your choices?

Its a juggling act– and many different things factor into how to make those decisions. You have to take a lot into consideration and one decision affects another so its a domino effect.  Which works speak to the exhibition ideas the strongest? How works relate to each other in the space? Will the work physically fit in the space? What works will our visitors respond to?

 

What piece do you think will receive the most attention (whether its via social media or conversation gold) and why?

It depends on who you’re talking to or what platform you’re looking at. Contemporary art has the ability to allow for multiple interpretations and what I hope Third Space will illustrate to our audiences is that there’s something very personal about what works you are most drawn to and that you may see something in a work that I don’t– that there are many interpretations and the hope is that all our visitors can find something to relate to in the works of art in Third Space.

 

I thought it was an interesting choice to use perspectives of the selected works for the audio guide, instead of the merely quoting the artist. How did you arrive at that decision?

This was a very deliberate decision that my colleague Angela May and I made– we wanted to include voices of people in the community speaking about the works of art in the exhibition. The hope is that by hearing a ‘non-art professional’ speak about a work of art our visitors will feel empowered to make their own interpretations and speak about the works in the exhibition as well.  We also wanted to weave into the exhibition the voices of people in our community to show that there is no one way to talk about these works of art and that the exhibition should be a place for conversation and sharing of ideas.

 

I noticed a mention for the upcoming video diary allowing for visitors to share their experiences with the exhibition. How will the museum utilize those perspectives?

We aren’t sure yet how we will use these perspective immediately– but including an audio guest book was a way to create another space for visitors to the exhibition to leave behind their story, their voice, their perspective. If we want the exhibition to be a space to share ideas and create conversation then we needed to keep our work by offering the space for that to happen…. we hope it will be ready soon, so if you’ve visited the exhibition already please come back!

If you’re still intrigued, please check out our 10 of our favorite pieces from the exhibition, they’re sure to provoke stirring conversation on the exploitation of people and land, identity and race relations.

THIRD SPACE, SHIFTING CONVERSATIONS ABOUT CONTEMPORARY ART @ BIRMINGHAM MUSEUM OF ART : 10 ART PIECES THAT SPOKE TO US

THIRD SPACE, SHIFTING CONVERSATIONS ABOUT CONTEMPORARY ART @ BIRMINGHAM MUSEUM OF ART

I travel to Alabama about once a year, one of my favorite places to visit while in town is the Birmingham Museum of Art.  A few weeks ago, I got a chance to experience their latest exhibition, Third Space: Shifting Conversations.  Third Space includes their visitors in the examination on the cultural crossing of Alabama and the American South’s relation to the Global South – the concept that the state of our cultural climate is not chained to a geographical location; that were are united by a connected past that defines our present. “It is an imagined place that ties cultures together by their common experiences and considers the voices of people who are often unheard.”

The exhibition opens up that dialogue with over 100 contemporary art pieces – most culled from the museums’ own collection.  A few of the pieces are on display for the first time, having been in storage, due to the museums’ lack of space. The works of art and the ideas that inspired them are meant to resonate regionally, as well as reach out on a global level. Photographs, sculptures, and paintings are just a few of the mediums represented here along with a rich multitude of artistic representation from Alabama, Brazil, Cuba and South Africa – to name a few.

“This important moment for the Birmingham Museum of Art and our collection of contemporary art extends an exciting opportunity to recognize and explore a shared human experience,” Gail Andrews, R. Hugh Daniel Director of the Birmingham Museum of Art, said. “Works of art offer ways to see the world from a new perspective, serve as points of discussion and can create empathy and respect, at a time when our country seems to need it the most.”

Your journey is tied to reference points that guide you in finding personal meaning within the art. The sections are: representation/agency/gaze, tradition/memory/history, landscape/nature/spirit, and migration/diaspora/exile.  Third Space will run for 2 years, during that time the works of art will change every 6 months, shifting your travels.  You can also use your iPhone or iPad provided at the museum to access the Smart Guide, an interactive feature that allows you to listen to different perspectives on selected works of art from voices of children, musicians, activists and a host of others from the Birmingham community.

And as we are invited to share our perspectives and interact with the art, in no particular order, here are 10 art piece gems in the exhibition that spoke to us:

  1. Dennis Oppenheim’s Slow Clap for Satie, 1989 (Acrylic, wood, steel, motors. ficus trees, pots, turntables, vacuum formed masks, loop recording of Erik Satie piano music)THIRD SPACE, SHIFTING CONVERSATIONS ABOUT CONTEMPORARY ART @ BIRMINGHAM MUSEUM OF ART
  2.  Jose Bedia Mpangui jimagua (Twin Brothers), 2000 (Acrylic and conte on canvas with objects) – Jose Bedia’s years studying and experiencing Afro-Cuban and Native American spirituality are reflected in the two representing men drifting together in the boat communing with and pulling their collective spiritual forces.  Is it a representation of Bedia continuing to pull the spirit and traditions of his heritage along in life?  As your eye pulls away from the boat and notices the figures on the large canvas, you have to wonder…are you staring at two figures or do they represent a blending of one?THIRD SPACE, SHIFTING CONVERSATIONS ABOUT CONTEMPORARY ART @ BHAM_Glenn Kaino, Bridge
  3. Skylar Fein See You at the UpStairs Lounge, from “Remember the UpStairs Lounge”, 2009 (latex on wood) – This is a recreation of original sign from The UpStairs Lounge,  a gay bar in the French Quarter of New Orleans.  In 1973 a fire broke out, claiming the lives of 32 men.  The fire was set intentionally, and the 15 survivors were persecuted afterwards for being at the bar. A more in depth history of the event can be heard here.  THIRD SPACE, SHIFTING CONVERSATIONS ABOUT CONTEMPORARY ART @ BHAM_Ebony G Patterson
  4. Ebony G. Patterson Among the weeds, plants and peacock feathers, 2014  (Mixed Media) – It wasn’t until we looked through the lens of the camera did we see the body scattered among beaded tapestry.  Patterson’s work explores themes of identity and class, race and gender in the media. Among the weeds draws the viewers in, revealing a heartbreaking discovery.  Too often we bypass the crushing and Patterson calls our attention to a prevailing attitude.  Third Space at BHAM_Nick Cave
  5. Nick Cave Soundsuit, 2009 (Fabric with appliqued crochet and buttons , knitted yarn, and mannequin)Third Space at BHAM_Glenn Kaino
  6. Glenn Kaino Bridge, 2014 (Fiberglass, steel wire, and gold paint) – Made from a cast of Olympic athlete Tommie Smith’s arms and fist, the sculpture harkens back to that iconic moment when, along with John Carlos, Smith raised his black gloved fist in the Black Power Salute during the metal ceremony in the 1968 Olympics.  Do yourself a favor and listen to Chenoia Bryant, Social Justice Advocate and Feminist speak on the audio companion about the larger meaning behind this piece.Third Space at BHAM_
  7. Whitfield Lovell Rise of the Delta, 2013 (Conte on wood, silver plated platters, penny, wrought iron scone ) – Lovell was commissioned by Birmingham art collectors Norm and Carnetta Davis to create this piece from of photograph of Carnetta Davis’ mother. I love the halo of silver and pewter serving plates placed around Davis’ mother.  They symbolize her mothers’ love of hosting guests in her home, while the pewter piece at her feet is reference to ‘Birth of Venus’.
  8. Kerry James Marshall As Seen on TV, 2002 (Enamel on plastic vase, plastic flowers, framed video still, wood and glass shelf with steel bracket and chain)
  9. Glenn Ligon Runaways, 1993 (Lithographs) – This series of prints are inspired by advertisements for runaways slaves from the early 1800s.  Ligon makes use of the advertisements bearing physical descriptions and personal details, wording that humanized people perceived as property, standing in opposition to the advertisements obvious lack of humanity 10-must-see-pieces-at-third-space-birmingham-museum-of-art
  10. Esterio Segura La historia se muedre la cola (History Bites its Tall), 2013 (Painted fiberglass) – Using a bound Pinocchio as a metaphor for the history of lies told us by our governments was brilliant.  Even more stinging when you think how apropos it is when applied to the lies we tell ourselves.