Meet Johanna Friedman in our artist showcase!

Meet Johanna Friedman in our artist showcase!
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Know the Weaver # 16

Born 1982 in Lund Sweden, Friedman resides in San Francisco, USA and has a bachelor’s degree in textile art from Konstfack University College of Arts, Crafts and Design, Stockholm and a Master’s degree in fine arts from California College of the Arts, San Francisco.

Her work has been shown in numerous art galleries and museums around the world, such as Hordaland Kunstsenter in Bergen, Norway, Regina Rex in NYC and The Swedish Embassy in Washington DC, where she was exhibited for the first time in the US. As of today her work is in 3 national collections in Sweden, among them Malmö Museum of Art.

  1. What are your first memories of textiles?

My first memory of textiles is from when I was around 4 or 5 and in daycare in Lund, Sweden. Like many Swedish daycare centers, we had a “craft’s corner” with shelves of cubbies filled with yarn, fabrics, beads and other such paraphernalia. I remember I liked to run my hands inside the boxes of yarn and thread just to feel the materials, though I don’t remember being particularly interested in the actual crafts projects assigned by our teachers.

One evening when I was waiting for my parents to pick me up late from daycare (along with a few other kids who were waiting for their parents after hours) I opened up a box full of yarn and with a tiny set of scissors. I went through all the balls of yarn and cut them right through the middle, so they all expanded and frayed and unraveled. I remember being amazed and joyous about it. I went through the whole box, cutting all the balls of yarn into tiny pieces, until finally one of the teachers woke me up from my happy daze by pulling the scissors out of my hand and yelling “Johanna, what in god’s name are you doing?!”.

Not really understanding the impact of my action (nor the basic usage of yarn or thread) I froze with fear. The teacher got me to help her clean up the mess and throw all the fragments and yarn stump in the trash bin.  She asked me (rhetorically, I now know) why on earth I would sabotage this beautiful yarn supply that I shared with all my peers? Why would I destroy our supplies?

I remember I felt so ashamed that when my parents finally arrived I burst out in tears and swung my arms around my mom’s neck, while the teacher filled them in on my vandalizing escapade. Clearly no one understood that I had been working on a masterpiece.

2. When and why did you decide on picking up weaving? What got you to choose a TC2?

My love for weaving actually started when I was introduced to jacquard weaving and the TC1.

I had taken some weaving classes before, both as part of a year in preparatory art school and in my BFA program. As much as I didn’t mind the activity of weaving, the final results never really impressed me. I found it too neat, tidy and predictable and I felt like I couldn’t produce the kind of work I wanted. I understood that people that had an affinity for colors and materials, and that makers who preferred a more minimalist approach to creating, found great satisfaction in weaving. But I was looking for a more cluttered and chaotic expression so I never had the patience to develop my skills further.

I was also using photographic imagery in my textiles, so for a long time my media of preference was silkscreen.

When I started my MFA at California College of the Arts I was lucky enough to have Lia Cook as my main supervisor and when she saw my work she promptly recommended that I learn jacquard weaving. For a short period of time our advisor sessions were transformed into full on technical classes and I struggled a bit at first, learning to weave through PointCarre (now I make my weave files exclusively in Photoshop). Once I got the hang of it I was hooked. Today, I appreciate much more about weaving than I had previously thought possible – like structure and material and any of the other small details that used to bore me.

I got my own TC2 in October last year. I had by then had two artist residencies that allowed me to work on jacquard loom, one at CCA and one at HDK-School of Design and Crafts at Gothenburg University, but they had both ended and I was out of ideas on how to get access to a jacquard loom once again.

I thought long and hard before getting a loom since it’s a huge commitment, but in the end I realized that it had become my main source for art-making and research, and I just had to believe that taking the plunge would pay off. The jacquard loom made my previous tools and equipment seem almost primitive in comparison and the prospect of going back to them was downright unexciting. And if there’s no excitement around artmaking, then what is the point?

3. Which of your projects have you been most proud of and most disappointed by?

One of the projects I’m most proud of is “Daddy Does Not Want To Attend A Gender Equality Course”. I made it in 2010-2011 when I was still at CCA. Glenn Adamson picked it up and exhibited it in a show he curated called Shot Through at Hordaland Kunstsenter in Bergen, Norway.

I made the weaving from a photo I took during a conversation at my father’s apartment in Paris where he used to live temporarily while teaching (he is retired now).  He did not want to attend a gender equality course that the University required the entire faculty to take. The weaving shows five women from three generations of my family – my mom, two of my sisters, my niece and my nephew’s fiancé. They’re all looking at my dad while he’s talking but he does not actually appear in the photo.

It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment and it’s fortunate that I managed to capture it.  But that is also the thing about it that sometimes disappoints me. It’s a moment I was lucky enough to seize…but it will not necessarily come again or lead to another piece of art. I usually work in collections or with one topic repetitively, but with this piece I could not take it any further, and may not ever be able to.

4. What’s coming up in 2017?

There’s a lot coming up in 2017 that I really look forward to!

I’m working on a few pieces to show at the 2017 CCA Gala here in San Francisco. It’s a group show consisting of 15 alumni and this year’s event is honoring David Kelley.

The traveling exhibition Textile Subtexts is opening at Malmö Museum this June. This is a modified version of the original show that was held at Marabouparken in Sundbyberg last year. The exhibition shows a range of textile work by Swedish artists from different generations.

The city of Gothenburg commissioned me to make a permanent wall piece for a newly built school in the neighborhood of Kärra. I am working on the piece now and expect it be ready in the summer of 2018, together with the opening of the building.

5. Is there an aesthetic or technique that you would say characterizes your works?

My work almost always has an element of repetition. Of course, the act of weaving is itself repetitive but I like to think there is more to it than that.

One of the reasons why I was drawn to textiles and craft from an early age is my fascination with patterns and repetition.

I see my work as a balancing act between meticulous planning and the repetitive “mindless” work that allows the pieces to grow and take a shape of their own. Rhythm, repetition, and the aesthetic principle of the serial have always been essential elements in how I depict the things I see around me.

I often strive to seize the moment between pattern (organized) and clutter (chaotic) – the moment where I believe, but am not certain, that I can make sense of something.

Textiles also have an unusual ability to simultaneously appear two-dimensional and three-dimensional. A textile often seems to be a plain surface from afar, but up close the structures of the fibers challenge viewers to look more deeply.

Also, when translating photographs into textiles I try to evoke a tension between the image and the surface of the material. It is similar to watching something through a stained glass window. The focus shifts back and forth from the details of the surface of the glass and to the world that lies beyond it.

These tensions between the textile surface and its depiction, and between pattern and clutter, make nice complements to the tensions between fiction and reality, humor and seriousness and between heavy theory and trivial everyday activities.

I like to think my work has an element of dark humor.

6. Have any particular individuals or life experiences had a substantial influence on the manner in which you perceive and/or create art?

My parents are both social anthropologists and committed structuralists and I think that has had a meaningful influence on my personality and art practice. I have also been a dual citizen since birth, and I’ve moved around a fair amount, always with one foot in a different culture.  There has always been an urgent need to quickly make sense of constantly shifting surroundings.

My parents always tried to paint me the bigger picture, no matter my age or resistance to abstract thinking. From playground drama to teenage anxiety – there was always a “book I could read to get some more perspective on human nature” or “societal constellations”. It left me constantly searching for something in between a personal experience and humanity at large.

Of course, a wide network of fellow artists, both in Sweden and the US, has also played a big role in shaping my art practice. They are not all textile artists but generally they are all female and make art with equal parts persuasion and light-heartedness. Most of them also have somewhat politically active and/or feminist backgrounds.

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7. Your thoughts on “Fashion-Tech”. Is it something for you – as an artist, as an end-user?

I am not working with tech-textiles in my art practice, but I am definitely interested in their emergence.

The loom itself functions through a form of programming, so I think the majority of weavers have a natural inclination to understand and appreciate the possibilities of digital language –  whether or not they are elaborating on that inclination.

In threading a shaft loom to making punch cards and digital patterns for jacquard weaving, we all at some point learn the language of the binary – the ups and downs and the zeros and ones.  Weavers enjoy their understanding of the grid system – the horizontal and vertical lines that constitute both weave structures and computer screens.They know that it is found organically in so many things around us, and that it represents infinite possibilities. Seeing technology evolve together with weaving is exciting.

But hi-tech, whatever that means, can also be frustrating.  I see many companies in the San Francisco Bay Area grappling to find solutions to problems that have not even been invented yet. It’s just strange. I also confess I am not completely comfortable with the evolution of “The Internet of Things” as they call it. Especially since the discussion about its repercussions isn’t moving nearly as fast as the development itself.

I live in San Francisco, California, which is considered the technology mecca of the world, so naturally I have seen many tech-fads come and go.

At the risk of being overly simplistic, I think people unfortunately conflate hi-tech with the industry of the internet. Fashion-Tech is interesting in and of itself, but I am hopeful that we’ll see Fashion-Tech applied to higher priority problems that concern people as a whole, as opposed to creating high-end products that only apply only to a small slice of society.

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