Amanda McCavour


Written by Betty Wood
Photos and illustrations by joetta maue, julie yonehara, agata piskunowicz, amanda mccavour
07 Sunday 07th August 2011

Amanda McCavour is a Canadian artist who creates amazing 2D everyday life tableaux out of suspended threads. Stitching into perishable fabric, McCavour sews delicate illustrations before chemically disintergrating the material to leave behind just the delicate thread formations. We find out how she does it, why she’s such a big fan of Spirograph and how hours spent playing cat’s cradle have paid off.

The process you follow seems like it’s really precarious - a lot of work potentially could be lost; are you quite laid back about your work? Or do you find every piece carries its own risks?

I think that there are risks to every piece. The dissolving part of my process is both the scariest part - so many hours of work that could be lost - and also the most exciting part! The work seems to have this life to it after the base is dissolved... I've done a lot of experimenting with the material so I have a better sense than I did when I started using the water soluble fabric and thread. I did a lot of tests to see how little I could sew and still have the piece hold together. I have had some things fall apart or dry in strange ways.  So yes, every piece is a risk! The work tends to change a lot once the base has been dissolved. Things become looser and the lines become a bit more wobbly. I think that the soft nature of the line adds a character to the work.

Your work reminds me of Charlotte's Web. That might sound like a weird comparison, but there's something rather innocent and charming about your work that plays on a childlike fantasy - even the 2D nature of your work seems to blur the real with the cartoon world of childhood fantasy... Could you tell us more about that?

I think that there is a relationship between childhood and my work.  When I was making the piece about my old kitchen space (Stand in For Home) I was thinking about shoebox dioramas and doll houses - things that I made and had as a child. I think that there is a blurring of scale when you are a child. The small spaces could seem like real spaces you could step into. I would like my work to be that way too, especially with the larger installation work; I would like it if people felt as though they could step into this space that looks real but is really more like a set. I also like looking at children’s books and the illustrations that are inside them. My current art practice is a reflection of my childhood too, which I spent constantly drawing and making things.

The Cat’s Cradle pieces were a reflection on games I played with string when I was younger. For me, play can be linked to instructions and to rules and to playing within boundaries. I was thinking about instruction manuals, of the order and sequence involved in of games such as cat's cradle. I liked the playful relationship between thread as my material and the thread or string used in this childhood game. I think that my interest in linking my work to childhood games and diagrams may stem from my interest in crafts when I was young. I can specifically remember being interested in macramé and making friendship bracelets which involved tying embroidery floss into decorative patterns. These sorts of crafts were something that I spent a lot of time doing.

I also did an exhibition with Adriana McNeely, my friend and fellow artist-in-residence at the Harbourfront Centre, Toronto. It focused on craft activities we did when we were younger and was filled with glitter, Spirographs, folded paper, and gimp and pearler beads. It was a good way to explore that connection between how we make things now and how we made things back then.

You worked up in the Yukon Territory of north east Canada and are based in Toronto. How has being Canadian influenced your work, and what sort of responses do you tend to get domestically to your instillations?

I think I am influenced a lot by place and that a lot of my ideas stem from an interest in spaces. A lot of my installations are based around locations (most are interior, personal spaces) but other installations have been influenced by the history of the space. I guess you could say that my work is Canadian because it has been inspired by Canadian places/spaces but Canada is such a big place that it is hard to define what being 'Canadian' is or what might be distinctively Canadian about my work. Working in Toronto was a completely different experience to working up in the Yukon.

In Dawson City, I was doing a residency with the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture. It was a great experience to travel to the Yukon and I really wanted to make a piece that referenced the City of Dawson and its history. Dawson City was a gold rush town. While in Dawson I was staying in a house that was rumoured to be haunted. I think both the City and the house I was staying in affected the piece that I made, which was a thread rendering of an old steam pump that was left on the corner of one of the main streets in the city which ended up looking almost ghostly.

Whilst working in Toronto I made pieces documenting my apartments.  Because of changing circumstances, I've found I move apartment almost every year; this has influenced my work and the way that I think about the idea of home. I have recently started recreating my apartments in embroidered installations on a 1:1 scale. I’ve had positive responses so far!

You're clearly a fine artist though your medium bows more towards the craft-end of the spectrum; have you experienced any prejudice about that? Or do you think that the art world is becoming less snobbish and more inclusive of craft and textile skills?

I have had some experience in both art and craft circles in Toronto. I studied in a Fine Art program in University where I concentrated on drawing and installation work. It was my interest in line that brought me to thread - from there, I was accepted into the Artist Residency program at the Harbourfront Centre's craft studios. For me, I was more worried about my skill level in the craft community - at school I was teaching myself to sew. I think that experimenting was a big part of my work and because I was studying in a program that didn't have a fibre department I wasn't sure about where my work stood in the context of craft. 

I like the history of use that is held within thread and sewing - it references a ‘use’. Although the work isn't functional, I feel a strong connection to craft practices and feel that my work can be considered both craft and art. There’re lots of artists working specifically with textiles that are successful and the art community is generally inclusive and supportive of this way of working. The lines are being blurred all the time between craft and art.

What can you tell us about yourself as a person? What would we find you doing on a typical weekend?

My weekend days are full of sewing and working on projects! I like to go to thrift stores and I really like my local coffee shop. You can find me there most days, not only weekends as well as farmer’s markets and on the back deck of my apartment! And if it’s a real weekend, my parents have a cottage close to Lake Huron so I'm there!

You can see more of Amanda's work here

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