Gabriel plays with string, and creates intricate kaleidoscopes with them. Beyond simple colours, he examines the collide between textiles and masculinity, originating from his Mexican roots. We talk with him about masculinity, string and the curious disconnect between the two.
What inspired you to start playing with thread? Your Plexus series remind me of a loom gone crazy, a beautiful controlled chaos. (Ed - like in that terrible movie where they pretended guns were table tennis bats and made Morgan Freeman swear!)
Before doing the thread installations I had been working on embroidery as well as on the Pain series pieces, and in most of that work I used deconstructed clothing, which relates to the body and how we need to protect it from the outside world. Because this work is somewhat related to fashion, I was included in a show that was about collaborations between fashion-related art and architects.
It occurred to me that taking the main material of fabric and clothing, thread, and using it on a larger scale than normally used, an architectural structure could emerge, and that was what the show was about, mixing architecture and fashion. I started doing experiments for my contribution for the collaboration, and it sort of started to take a life of its own. My experiments got bigger, and led me to cover an entire wall in my studio which resulted in Plexus No. 1.
From the Plexus No. 3 series.
How long do these masterpieces take? What's the hardest part?
To me the hardest part is installing the structure holding the anchor points for the thread. It requires working with power tools, which I feel ill-prepared for and too clumsy to use.
Luckily I'm usually able to rely on people who are more at ease with them. Once the structure is up, I can go ahead and start threading, which is very demanding, but I thoroughly enjoy it. Depending on the size it can take me from one to four weeks to complete, one thread at a time and by myself. It becomes an endurance piece in a way.
From the Plexus No. 4 series.
Which is more fun - putting a piece up or taking it down?
I think I prefer putting them up, although taking them down has its charms. I usually start by releasing the thread from the bottom and once the thread loses the tension, it ripples in beautiful ways. It almost becomes a second piece.
Although I cannot recollect the thread to put the installation up again, I keep the thread, which becomes like a mound of color and in a way becomes a sort of relic.
You mention the dissociation between textiles and masculinity in your native Mexican culture. Is it more so than in other part of the world?
To be honest, I am not entirely sure. It might not be more so, but between the different places I've lived in, it is certainly the one where there is more prejudice against it, at least in my experience.
But even in the US where I am now, if you go to the fabric store, the majority of people in there are female, and I think that's very telling. Perhaps there is no stigma attached to it here, but this informal statistic says a lot about it.
From the Fear series.
Out of the countries you've worked in, which has been most open to genders crossing into textiles and using them to make art?
Again, I don't think I would really know. I started working with textiles once I left Mexico and I don't go back that often, so I'm not really sure what's going on there right now. I think both Canada and the US are fairly equal on this matter, and I know there are a lot of men doing textile work in both countries.
Just a couple of weeks ago, in the room next to where Plexus No. 4 is at the Dallas Contemporary, a show of embroidery by Fort Worth artist David Willburn opened.
The colour flow of some pieces is flawless - how'd you get so many shades of thread in such precise order? It seems like it'd be a bit of a headache.
It's just a matter of logistics. Beforehand I calculate the number of colors, the number of anchors and where my transitions are going to be. It can be a bit daunting at times, but it is great for me to channel my obsessive streak.
From the Don't Ask Don't Tell series.
With your DADT series ('Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is a U.S. law banning 'out' gay men or women to serve in the military) I absolutely love and cringe at the boots with metal shards inside. Could you talk a bit about the not-so-subtle message there? What inspired you to do a political piece on such a specific U.S. law?
After living in Canada for seven years, where there is legal equality for all, coming to the US and seeing the lack of equality just felt like a big step backwards. When I first started the project, I was doing research on masculinity and social constructs and that led me to try to combine my findings with what I felt was a big injustice. I felt compelled to do something that would address the lack of tolerance and of equality that exist in this country.
From the Plexus No. 2 series.
What do you want the audience to take away from your pieces?
With the small work, I want people to reflect on how things like their fears and their pain contribute to make them who they are.
With the large-scale installations I want people to have a response that bypasses the rationality of the mind and provokes a spontaneous reaction that engages the senses. Once that happens, I think the mind can then engage at a deeper level than what it would without that first reaction.
View more of his work on his site, gabrieldawe.com