Meet Lia Cook in our Artist Showcase

Meet Lia Cook in our Artist Showcase

Know the Weaver #14

Lia works in a variety of media combining weaving with painting, photography, video and digital technology. Her current practice explores the sensuality of the woven image and the emotional connections to memories of touch and cloth.

Working in collaboration with neuroscientists, she is investigating the nature of the emotional response to woven faces by mapping these responses in the brain. In her works, she uses DSI (Diffusion Spectrum Imaging of the brain) and TrackVis software from Harvard to look at the structural neuronal connections between parts of the brain, and integrate these “fiber tracks” with the actual fiber connections that make up the woven translation of an image.

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  1. You’ve experimented with many art forms and even incorporate them in your works, what is it about weaving in particular that got you hooked? 

I have worked with many different art forms, processes over the years. I originally became attracted to weaving when traveling in Mexico and observing the weaving process. I traveled to Sweden specifically to learn advanced techniques in weaving and studied at Handarbetets Vanner, a traditional hand weaving school. As I wanted to study full time, I worked one-on-one with the director and joined classes at the same time. I traveled in Europe during that time – seeing both historical art and very contemporary art such as Documenta and Venice Biennial. On my return to the US, I attempted to integrate the traditional weaving techniques I had learned with contemporary art concepts. I was attracted to weaving not only because of the structure, but it seemed to be an area to explore in terms of contemporary art which had great potential, room to play and experiment by combining the tactile with the visual. I liked the limits of the structure, which I could push against and try technical variations that hadn’t been done before. In early weavings, I translated parallel line techniques used in scientific illustration into a woven structure to create what I called “Fabric Landscapes”. I was influenced by some of the optical work being done at the time but I wanted to make illusion tactile.  The textile itself has remained an important subject of my work.


  1. How have your perception and/or interpretation of textiles evolved over the years? How has that influenced your works?  

My work has visually evolved over the years as has the development of my ideas, although many central interests remain the same. Although the specific techniques I have used to translate my images through weaving have changed, the main themes that follow through all the work are:  the textile, cloth as subject matter, the constructed image through weaving and the emotional response to the tactile. From 1990’s to the present, I have first explored the touch of the hand on fabric, then cloth on the body, the emerging body and finally the face becoming central to my work.

  1. Is there a common thread running through your works – in terms of a specific style or a technique that you employ? How would you define your works within the sphere of contemporary art?

Research has been an important part of my work from an early project on 19th century Jacquard to a recent Smithsonian artist research fellowship. I often research something of interest in depth many years before it gets incorporated into my work. In the early 80’s, I had a research grant to look at the 19th century Jacquard mechanism which I thought would have potential for weaving imagery in contemporary art. I studied at the V& A in London, Lyon,France and at Lisio’s in Florence, Italy. I brought to my studio an original 1824 Jacquard mechanism from Lyon France and a turn-of-the- century jacquard loom, punch card machine.  In the mid to late 90’s. I started to use my earlier research knowledge as well as the evolving Jacquard technology in my work. The flexibility of the new technology allowed for an immediacy that did not exist before. In 1999, I was able to acquire the first TC-1 to be able to operate each thread separately combined with low-tech hand weaving processes.

  1. One of your projects involved investigating the relation between textiles and neuroscience – could you tell us more about it? Also, what are you currently involved in?

For the past 5-6 years, I have focused almost exclusively on faces, and on how my particular woven translations create different emotional experience for the viewer. I was surprised by the strong emotional response to my work.  I wanted to know more about the nature of this response. I had the idea that when someone looks at my work – which looks like a photograph at a distance – moves closer to the work and discovers that it is woven and tactile, something different is created in their brain. There is a great desire to touch (feeling entitled to touch but not allowed) and this experience might evoke a more emotional response. In the last few years, I have worked with neuroscientists to do research on this topic using FMRI imaging, eye-tracking and a number of other techniques of the neuroscience laboratory. I have done behavioral studies conducted within the exhibition space itself. With the help of a data engineer, I have used the analyzed data from these studies to create data visualizations that are in turn woven back into my work. The work with neuroscientists is an ongoing collaborative process that is complicated and although there are many creative similarities between research scientists and artists, the working environments are often very different. I am interested in both the scientific answers as well as my own artistic response to the process and of course unexpected tangents. One such exploration was the structural imaging of the neural connections in my own brain, which I then integrated through the weaving process back into images of myself as a child or as a young artist.

I would say that my current work is very image-based and close to photography or even painting except that the image is constructed rather than printed or painted. Chuck Close’s face based work definitely has some similarities.

  1. What is that one essential personal takeaway from being involved in the process of weaving? And what do your aspire for your audience to experience when exposed to your art works?


Weaving combines both technical and artistic creativity and exploration. Weaving involves the tactile, touch part of the brain in connection with the visual and optical part of the brain.

I hope that my audience experiences an emotional response to my work. I want them to experience motion in relationship to the work, moving from a distance connection to the images, toward the breakdown of image into pattern and finally to the discovery to the tactile woven threads. I want audience bring their own experiences, connections and stories to these images.


  1. You’ve been weaving on the TC1 loom for years now, has it been a good companion?

The TC-1 has been a constant companion since 1999. I love the flexibility of being able to make changes in structure quickly and during the process of weaving a project. I also like that it is slow enough to be able to think about the project as I move through the process. The old punch card Jacquard didn’t have this flexibility. Power looms move too quickly for frequent changes and inline experimentation. Also limitations in the mill set ups of the warp and weave structures can inhibit free flowing experimentation.