Art Spiel Photo Story
“…I try to follow the threads where they lead in order to track them and find their tangles and patterns crucial for staying with the trouble in real and particular places in time.”
– Donna J. Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene.
The undulating asymmetry of Stephanie Eche’s weavings in her solo exhibition Handmade Landscapes: Ocean Meets Sky that ran through July 26th, 2021 at High Line Nine, leaves space for you to interpret. The first work that your eyes encounter, Agua/Cielo, mirrors staring out at an ocean horizon that becomes the air above, a direct embodiment of the show’s title. The loosely woven piece speaks to the cyclical nature of water; its evaporation and transformation into rain that returns it to earth.
The piece is gathered in one area, causing the border of the weaving to bow inwards, creating form that is reminiscent of the movement of water – a mimicry that continues in other works. This piece immediately brings to mind Juan Uslé, and a work he also made in 2021. Soñé que revelabas (Hudson blue) is showing at Galerie Lelong & Co. simultaneous to Eche’s show. Clearly the pandemic sent both artists to the waterfront, and quarantine had them seeking the open space of horizons.
As you turn into the room you encounter a bulkily woven cotton piece, hanging from driftwood, titled Handmade Landscape, Ocean Meets Sky. The variegation from the way the cotton takes the indigo brings a depth to the work that extends beyond the material itself. The freedom with which Eche approaches her medium in these works contradicts the mathematically ordered grid that is fundamental to the weaving process. It’s as if she had the wind at her back while making these, changing the size or color of the weft thread based on the strength of the gusts.
Did the artist listen to the wind asking her to let the air take form and become matter? If so, a smaller work beside it, Thunder Mountain, Valley Wandering, might be the result. The driftwood both pieces hang from makes an obvious reference to the ocean, but there is also a methodology to their creation that makes one think of the elements that shape the sky and sea.
Deeper into the exhibit we find Eche engaging other binding techniques – cord is no longer woven to create planes but stands alone. A trio of wrapped, tied and knotted cord is displayed, and if you read them right to left, they read as if from order to disarray. The first in the series, Estuary, is beautifully and methodologically bound with indigo thread. Hung by two loops, it appears to be deeply intentional, like the distinct lines that water creates when it moves in and out of land over time.
The next piece, Skipping Rocks, becomes more interwoven. The indigo is no longer creating a steady line, but wraps itself in various ways around the white cord, creating a seaweed-esque form. The third work, Arroyo, becomes even more entangled, as if it was caught in a surprise deluge and emerged in this baroque form. Yet it has a certain dignity in the way it drapes against the wall, as if telling us it doesn’t believe itself to be any less perfect for becoming enmeshed.
The show continues with a number of droplets from an endless sky, or Hydrospheres. Wrapped cord, some with white, some dyed with indigo, creates these round sculptural works that pop off the wall. They reminded me, in their own two toned ways, of Sheila Hicks’ wrapped three dimensional works, Life Lines and Secret Chamber, from her 2018 show at Sikkema Jenkins & Co., Down Side Up. Around the corner a bright blue piece, Rivulet, hangs from the structure of a steel pipe. The contrast between the textile and steel creates a structural power that is pronounced by the intensity of the color, the only non-indigo blue in the show besides some blue wool that found its way into a few pieces.
Deep in the back you have Jubilee, another piece made of indigo bound cord, wrapped as if in preparation for an ikat dyebath. The referencing of this recognizable textile method is a nod to its lineage within the fiber arts. Jubilee’s indigo bound ropes come down from within the clouds, the rhythmically spaced deep blue suggesting welcome droplets of water, respite for a parched earth.
Jubilee left me with the impression that if the sky overflowed, Stephanie Eche’s work would pour out from the clouds. A video showing her process playing in the background cements a sense of continuity that brings us back to the cyclical water systems that she speaks to in her statement. Just as the work suggests it was guided by elements, it was also guided by the artist’s intuition and by the nature of the material itself. The works read as collaborations between the material, the indigo dye process, the air, the river, the sea, and the body, mind and spirit that brought this particular life to the work.
A show about water, it made me wonder if an artist’s intuition is not also made up of 70% water. The synergy apparent throughout the show reminds us that water has shaped our past, shapes our present, and will shape our future. It brings us back to what many Indigenous water protectors have sought to remind us in continued resistance against extractive industries and fossil fuels—that water is life. If we, like Eche, follow Haraway’s lead and find a way to stay with the trouble, celebrate the tangles and read the patterns in the winds, maybe we will find a way through the challenges ahead.
Katherine Earle is a textile artist, multimedia sculptor and writer based in Spanish Harlem. She has shown work in two-person and group exhibitions internationally including Copeland Gallery, Art Aqua Miami, Sculptor’s Alliance, Site:Brooklyn, The KUBE, and Diagonale. She has participated in residencies across North America including 77Art, the Concordia FARR Residency, and ChaNorth. Katherine has a BFA in Fibres from Concordia University in Montreal.