Petra Soesemann Artist Talk
Petra Soesemann Artist Talk

CAT: Hi, I’m Cat Sheridan. I’m the director of the Ohio Arts Council’s Riffe Gallery which is what you are currently seated in, and today, we’re gonna hear from Petra Soesemann, who is the artist of all the works behind me. Petra is an Individual Excellence Award winner this year, for the Ohio Arts Council, congratulations on that. She lives in Cleveland and is a 20 year teacher for the Cleveland Institute of Art, heading up their foundations which is, first year, fantastic. So, Petra earned a BFA at CIA and a Masters at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.That one always throws me off. And then, I’d also like to note that she is an accomplished quilt artist who creates fiber-based work adhered to paper, and has taken part in a variety of artist in residence programs in Mexico and Spain as well as the Fulbright Fellowship in Peru. And, her work was included in 2017 International Quilt Festival in Chicago. and is in the collection of the Cleveland Clinic, Progressive Insurance, and Museum of Contemporary Art and Museum of International Folk Art in Mexico. Well done, you. Without further ado, I’m going to hand it over to Petra, who’s gonna talk to us about her artwork and show us a couple of her pieces. PETRA: Thank you. Hi. Thanks for joining today. Maybe I’ll start by telling you a little bit more about myself. In undergrad at school at the Cleveland Institute of Art I was actually a sculpture major so I was always really interested in dimensionality and those kinds of forms. Although, I had been sewing my whole life because for a time, my mother was a professional seamstress, so I think I was using a sewing machine by the time I was in kindergarten. I sewed a lot of my own clothes at that time and I think in 2005 I thought I invented bell bottoms. you know, from sewing. But, by the time I got to art school, somehow I had the association of fabric and sewing with all sorts of things domestic and I just wanted none of that. I didn’t want to have anything to do with that. But nonetheless, as I was doing my studies, I kept coming back to fabric in various ways. It was a time in Ohio, interestingly, where the art quilt movement was just getting started. A lot was happening at the Southeastern Cultural Arts Center and the Diary Barn was starting to organize quilt shows. And so, I really dove into that and at a certain point I was getting sick and tired of heavy sculpture that I had to move around and to store. And somehow I got more and more involved again in fabric. Originally, I started with quilt format. Sort of exploring traditional quilt formats and then kind of pushing forward on that a little bit. I tried some experimental things, you know, sort of pulling some things from my sculpture background into the work. And sort of pushing on the medium a little bit. In the meantime, I had gotten really interested in pattern. The mathematics behind pattern, the origin of pattern, and also, pattern as metaphor. Like repetition, you know, a field of pattern, when you are looking at it, I think it really changes your state of consciousness, not unlike meditation, right? how thematic it can be, kind of a meditation. And the other thing that I really thought about a lot is, as you ponder a field of pattern, I think it really changes your state of consciousness, not unlike meditation, right? Your mind actually works a little bit differently. At the same time, though, one of the things about pattern, even very complex pattern, and part of the intrigue about pattern is trying to figure out how it works, how it can be constructed. So, when you have patterns that are very regular, very uniform, at a certain point once you understand the pattern, it becomes a little less interesting, right? The regularity of it, it becomes predictable. So, that’s kind of been a challenge for me, this draw to patterns, especially active pattern, and at the same time, trying to figure out ways to get it out of the realm of predictability. So, interested in things like order and disorder, or disrupting pattern, or finding other ways to create conflict within a pattern. I have also gotten very interested in well, in a number of related issues, landscape architecture, I ended up spending a summer at Harvard University exploring landscape architecture and land art, in a way. I had the opportunity to start going to Mexico and Guatemala and had a chance to see Mayan art and architecture. And, part of that interest was in the structures themselves, again, how those were constructed. But in the case of Mayan art and architecture, also I’m looking at the cliffs, and kind of the mystery of these cliffs, and at the time that I started going down there, there was a minimal amount of the cliffs that had been deciphered. Now of course, there have been a number of people who have managed to really understand the Mayan cliffs. which is pretty interesting, that idea of text in the structure. It’s pretty interesting. And then I had the chance to, with the help of a Fulbright Fellowship, I had the chance to go to Peru for a year to study Incan architecture and pre-Incan structures. Slightly different focus there because they did not have a written language like the Mayans. And their method of record-keeping, which I think is referenced in one of these other pieces in the show down there, are these khipus, knotted bands of string and rope and they just really interesting that they were using a textile method to record, and of course, nobody knows really how those work but also, really amazing tradition of Incan weaving. Super fine textiles that were more complex weavings that really played with this idea of patterning and complexity in a way that I like because it wasn’t and it didn’t get predictable very quickly. There’s always more to really sink into those patterns. So, those are some of the things that have informed me. At the same time, with my quilting background in undergraduate school of art, I was also very intrigued by minimal artwork. And again, because its relationship to almost like a meditative state, or a different state of consciousness, so I have to say in my own work, it has been this kind of two sides of me, my minimalist me and baroque me. that are in constant debate. So, sometimes, I will end up with work that ends up being very pared down, and other times I end up going the opposite direction in work that can seem very complex and that I can get lost in in a different way. So, the work goes in different directions. It’s not always just one particular way, and the other aspect of that is when I do large, and I do quilted works, large quilted works, that is a very different commitment in terms of time and energy and focus, I just finished a quilt that I started in January and finished it end of April and I was working on it a good ten hours a day, steadily. But that kind of effort and energy, then you need to get away from that a little bit and work on projects that are a little bit more expedient and use different parts of your energy and brain So, I thought I’d focus on these pieces that are in the gallery today. But I did want to show you the origin of these. So, you’re welcome at a certain point to come up and look at these. This is a piece that’s made out of sheer fabric. This was actually the origin of the patterning unit that you see on all of these pieces on the wall. All these pieces on the wall have one and the same repeating unit. which is kind of this looks like a block shape, and I started with this on a much larger scale and it was intended to be hung up so that the light passes through it. I don’t always start out work with some idea of content or meaning exactly, usually I have an idea of like a visual condition, or a visual event that somehow is going through my mind. And yes, I’ll be thinking about certain things and in this case, you know, I had been to Berlin and I had gone to a lot of museums and I had seen the (inaudible) ruins and it goes back to my interest in the ancient ruins, but I was thinking about how ancient architecture, the state that we find it in, as opposed to what it might look like when it was current and in use. So, the idea of how things change and deteriorate or give evidence of time that kind of move into slow destruction, right? And I was thinking about that and history and the idea these shapes at reference blocks like
building blocks at the same time not of transparency or fading. So, I was thinking about the idea of these shapes that reference blocks like being really solid anymore but if it was
that visual condition were v and I building blocks not being really solid anymore. But it was that visual condition I wanted to see first. So the ideas are usually visual in origin. And it’s usually not until I am actually getting more and more involved in making the work that I understand what the content is. So that might be different than some other artists. But, I’ll start with a visual idea and as I’m working on it, then I sort of become a little bit more conscious of like, ‘Oh, now I understand a little bit more about what this piece is about.” and what direction it’s heading.” I think when I start with very specific ideas, it’s usually not quite that successful for me. because I’ll end up illustrating an idea or concept which I’m not as interested in as the process of discovering while I’m working on it. So, the process becomes really, really important to me. When I’m in the studio working, I really become engrossed in the work and you know, I can be working ten hours and never realize how much time has passed and I forget to eat, but it’s getting that flow and working through problems or issues or whatever as I’m working that becomes important to me. So, this was the origin of this particular shape a number of years ago. And when I made this piece, I had a lot of extra box cut outs because I didn’t know how many colors I needed or how many to complete this piece. So, a little bit of time went by and I went back to thinking about those blocks and I wanted to explore the other possible things I could do with this one repeating unit. I want to talk a little about how it links to mathematics. I can’t say it links in a real logical or clear way, and maybe mathematics in terms of calculus, algebra, visual person geometry is something that
I’m really interested in and the that is not my forte but I’m a sculptor and a visual person. Geometry is something that I’m really interested in and the illusion that you can create. Illusions of dimensionality. So, I spent a lot of time with graph paper and watercolors and things like that just to explore what the possibilities are. So, I decided to make an exploration of all the different ways I could assemble this one basic block. It goes back to that idea of trying to undermine predictability. I mean, here you have the same block it’s repeated over and over again, the pattern is disrupted by the color. The way it’s placed, the way they’re combined is always (inaudible). So, if you look at these works, you can identify this blue-green shape there, that’s the basic block and everything that is here is combined of this particular block. The two black ones here are just that block cut in half. So this is the block and I realize while I’m working on this larger piece, that by combining these blocks in different ways, I could create this illusion of dimensionality. And at the same time, I really like the transparency because it’s almost like rather than something that’s given and something that’s solid and unchangeable like blocks of the pyramid, the transparency of the fabric sort of keeps these studies in the realm of possibility in a way. Did that make sense? They’re stable enough as a composition and yet they seem to waiver in terms of how how solid they might or might not be right? The other aspect of this is, gosh there’s so many things, I don’t know where to start. You’ll notice the blocks have these color gradations. That gradation is something that I’m very, very interested in. Again, it’s almost like a metaphor of like, something is happening, it’s not static, there’s a chain that happens. It produces a kind of asymmetry or movement. And to me, that’s interesting as kind of a mature artist, I teach the Freshman and I teach them all the most basic visual principles, visual language and it’s really interesting to me that the most basic things I teach, color theory, all basic elements of design keep coming back keep coming back in different ways like
the first thing I ever learned in art school, and then you build experience on that so as you deal with those things again, you know, it keeps getting more and more sophisticated, but the very first elements never go away. They always inform my artwork and I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve always loved teaching Freshman, because these are principles that no matter what direction the students go or whatever field they’re going to go into, those things always come into play. So I was really interested in these gradations. I don’t have enough time in my life to dye fabric. That would be another whole career. And the fabric that I’m using here to get these effects is a synthetic fabric. It’s usually polyester, acrylic, or even nylon, and that’s really hard to dye to begin with. So, I am always on the lookout for fabric that already has this done, this gradation of color and that’s kind of where the palette comes from, the color palette. Because I’m not creating the colors, I’m buying them. And that’s another challenge, right? But the reason I’m interested in these very sheer, synthetic fabrics, is that when you layer them, the weave in those sheer fabrics create moire patterns. Those interference patterns that become noticeable more or less depending on the color and fabric. Again, that’s another way for me of suggesting it’s not static; something suggests some kind of movement. Well, in any case, not static. So, the moire effect, you can see it pretty well in the black here, what happens is if you take these two, it doesn’t happen with all sheer fabrics, you have to explore, if you take two layers of sheer fabric and you offset them a little bit, then those weaves will create interference patterns. And I make it permanent by taking two sheer layers and I fuse them together and they make like a real right so I put them in between two
layers of fabric and then it gets heat set and then that moire pattern stays
in place and then it was a big experiment in terms of trying to figure
out what goes on top what goes underneath what kind of an illusion
does it create and they tend to shift a little bit usually these things you
can look at them and you’ll see the perspective maybe shifts a little bit, which way is the right way? You can see it in multiple ways. So that gives it a little bit of energy. Really when I started I didn’t anticipate that wasn’t happening so much in the bigger piece but when I started isolating the elements, shift in space a little bit it becomes another interesting element to me. And then, because I wanted to again, the construction of large quilts is always a major time commitment and effort you’re sitting at the sewing machine for hours, and your back hurts, so I wanted a more precise way of highlighting the individual compositions that I was getting so I mounted them on paper and I have a whole wad of these explorations now There’s something about the precision of these that I both like and I don’t like. But again, it’s minimally arguing back and forth. And that’s all tend to be moving in different directions in counterbalance. But my ability to continue with this metaphor has a little bit to do with the fabric I find. Since I’m not dying or making it, I’m using what I find so, sometimes I have to take breaks from this kind of work I have to build up my I did want to show you a few more things and again, this goes back and forth between the different ways that I work These are all studies for a much larger quilt that I recently finished. That quilt is going to be exhibited in California a year from now for the 50th anniversary of the Hubble Telescope. So, these were studies and you can kind of see that this fabric that I’m using in here articulate hexagons, trying a few
different ways to present this. Now, the final quilt is like six feet by six feet. I was working with a very specific grid so that goes back to the fascination of mathematics following the grid trying to figure out how to articulate different grid lines lines to create a sense of space and depth. So, this one is a lot about stitching, it’s and instead of this kind of fabric that articulates colors that maybe almost look like celestial bodies. This is one of those kinds of grids that you can sort of reproduce on a smaller and smaller scale on a paper grid, they can have the same lines. Or, looking at again this goes back to
trying to work with the regular pattern but disturb it in some way or show
you the different possibilities within one pattern in a way that limits that predictability, using different color thread to articulate different shapes that appear in the same grid. This one actually is a real nod to mathematics because within the grid pattern, I found like mathematics symbols like
plus/minus, percentage, things like that so I could start articulating these forms just with something that I find inside the existing pattern. This was actually a very interesting exploration because this can kind of go on endlessly and you know this discovering patterns within patterns and even something anonymous goes back
to the structures of their resemblance to these blocks Something that starts to look like cat’s
cradle, but this gives you an idea of a working process because all of
these that I’ve shown you, and I have about another ten of these, these were all studies for the big quilt If you figure out like you know what is going to be effective what’s going to work and then I don’t know if you can see it so well but you can see where all the layers of stitching overlap in the center on the
larger quilt when that happens on the black background you get this
visual effect of simultaneous contrast where all that light creates optical
fatigue and in stars like flashes so on the big quilt, the white stitching on the black background adds to that vision of sky or galaxy because these little white intersections have twinkle so those are things again sometimes, even though I teach all these visual
principles sometimes I just forget until I discover it in my own work. So when I mentioned before that I don’t
really start the work with a particular meaning our concept in kind, it starts to surface as I work, as I put the work together. I’m talking too much. This usually happens to me the first
week of classes when I’m teaching because I talk too much so when I choose these
shapes and the colors in a particular way of putting them together, I’m really thinking visually, I’m always looking at like trying to understand what order, and why
do I want to see it in this particular way and in this particular case, things start to surface like, okay maybe the reason I wanted to see this
this way is you realize the background issues that you’re thinking about at the same time and the idea of climate change was in my mind and you realize how it surfaces in the work: core, water sky it was not something I was thinking about that addresses climate change, but the meaning emerges You start to recognize the patterns of blocks linked together to fit together the fluidity of some of the patterns, or even just the illusion of how light works. You can create this effect of glow. I think it would be interesting to see
this piece free-hanging next to these pieces to compare and contrast how they work and how differently the same cloth can work in a bigger composition like that and how they are isolated in this manner. The precision is apparent in the construction of these. It is not exactly intentional I just happen to be the kind of person, when I work, things come out straight and I sometimes I envy my students who can be very spontaneous and make big gestures and somehow when
I work that’s just the way it comes out and I wish almost I had that fluidity to work in a much looser way. So again, working back and forth,
I’m trying to find this different way of working. I’m not sure what all else I can tell
you about some of these pieces but I would love to hear some questions that
you might have or even just some comments. One thing that’s interesting to me is people seem to respond a lot to these pieces and because I’m in the studio making them I see one thing as the maker, but I’m not always sure what other people see or what they’re drawn
to in the world. The process is not only are the pieces transparent the
process was transparent to me as I’m making them. I think sometimes how they’re made is a mystery to other people and maybe that’s something that pulls people for awhile and they try to figure this out. AUDIENCE MEMBER: You were talking about ancient buildings or ruins and how they look today and imagining how they might have looked a long time ago and making a connection to these shapes and representations. It made me think of the idea of culture and how culture is something that is just in our heads and it’s conceptual and in a way
you can describe it in a couple different ways but in a way what these things just make
is kind of platonic sort of a realization of platonic notions of shape and
form of relationships of form to each other and that is partly the reality behind the physical forms because all of these things are simply
the products of our culture and our imagination. PETRA: Well, that’s a really good point, in some ways when you look at this, because of their precision, you could on one hand say that
it represents a kind of ideal or an idea and the difference between the idea which usually leads to manifestation of actual form in life,
that’s part of it, and at the same time, trying to give little hints or gestures that move them just a little bit from perfection, maybe something that you don’t see right away, but if you spend a little time looking at it, then you’ll notice things like the moire pattern or an overlay of color that is an ideal but when the ideal starts to become
something in the real world, something always changes and shifts. AUDIENCE MEMBER: To me, it’s an idea of culture always being in a state of plus, it is not something that is definite, it’s not something that is exactly one way or another but it’s what are products of in terms of the things that are around us that influence us. So, these representations of shape and ideas that represent the fluidity of culture, it’s constantly changing. PETRA: Well, one of the other areas that I am really, incredibly fascinated by in terms of changing is contemporary physics, which of course I have no background in to really understand contemporary physics; theory is very difficult for me to grasp. Nonetheless I’m incredibly fascinated and I read every kind of physics book that’s written for lay people like me and usually I’ll read it all the way through and I’ll start again at the beginning and maybe by the fourth time I’m reading it there are one or two things that really sink in. The whole idea of culture being in flux, the idea of thinking about the physical world that we live in and how we experience this world in terms of time and space, the really fascinating element that modern physics tells us is the world is very different than the way we experience it, that time is very different, that space is very different, that the structure of matter is very fluid and it’s all about possibilities
that eventually take one form or another. To me, that’s really
fascinating because of how it relates to consciousness and the different levels
of consciousness and the fact that the audience in terms of witnessing certain physical events at the sub-atomic level, that actually changes the reality at that level. It’s not something that we
perceive in our in our everyday life as much, but I think about that a lot,
how that relates to states of consciousness and how I might capture some of those thoughts whether it’s something that suggests permeability or insubstantiality or a temporary
nature, how the colors are working, the fact that it’s not exactly okay all goes back to eventually metaphorically as well, in a way. Are there any other questions that you
would like to ask or comment? CAT: I’d love for you to talk a little about your process. I know that it’s perceived knowledge when it’s your own so could you explain to us in a bit
more detail how exactly you’re getting these precise shapes and also what you mean by “fuse” and all that stuff. PETRA: Okay. When you’re doing it, you forget that you’re the one doing it and other people don’t have that experience of the making. So again, I start with these sheer fabrics that are mostly synthetic fabrics and the material is just called fusible web comes in a few different forms but it literally looks like dense
spider web made of like fine nylon filaments. So you have two pieces of
fabric and you put this fusible web in the middle and you iron it, put it in the steam press and it
literally like melts the two layers of fabric together. You have to have the right
fabrics because if you have the wrong fabric the fabric itself can melt, so you
have to find that balance but it works with most fabrics. It is much more
difficult when you’re working with sheer fabrics because if it’s the wrong kind of
fusible web, that becomes really apparent so they make different thicknesses and densities of this fusible web. So that’s part of the process and there’s the first challenge: you never know exactly if it’s going to work or not because you can fuse the fabric and you think
everything has gone really well and you set it aside and the next day you go to use that fabric and you see air bubbles have formed. So that goes right out the window. The several hours that it took to get that
ready, now it’s gone, but if you’ve got pieces where the fusible worked, the next step is to cut the shapes and I just made really simple templates of cardboard or
plastic and I trace around the templates to get the shape and then for these mostly I use a rotary cutter which actually looks like a pizza cutter
except with a razor-sharp blade on it and I can cut along a straight edge. I
get more precise edges that way than if I’m doing cuts with scissors, it
depends on the shape but I will cut the shapes. The way that the shapes are then
attached to the paper backing is, in this case, they’re attached with a double-sided adhesive there’s double stick tape only it’s exactly the same thing except it comes in big sheets and on
either side it has a wax paper protection so you can peel the wax
paper off of one side, then you can lay the shape or the fabric down on the adhesive you can cut your shape out before or after it is on adhesive and then when you’re ready to put it
on the paper backing, you peel that other protective layer off the double
stick adhesive and you put it down and that’s where the next problem comes in because as you’re working, you can think that everything is
working perfectly, you’ve already thrown away the multiple pieces of fabric that had air bubbles in them, you think it’s all okay, now you get it down, adhered to the paper, looks great, and you look at it the next day and suddenly these air bubbles have re-appeared or it wants to wrinkle on the paper. So, it’s really
susceptible to humidity and conditions and the other thing that’s a really big problem in doing work like this is lint. You’re working with a really fickle color like yellow, you fused it, you don’t have any air bubbles but you look at it closely and there’s a little piece of lint. So there’s another thing that you throw away. So, I guess it does require multiple steps of being demanding about the process and some things you can live with, and some things you can’t, but you do actually have to live with these a little bit because you know for sure that nothing is going to change. Usually, when they’re in a gallery setting, there’s a constant in terms of humidity and temperature and so forth when people get these pieces. So far, nobody’s had trouble with these, but sometimes three months later there will be a little wrinkle and you’ll have no idea why it alludes to another place.So that’s the basic process. But, it does require quite as precise placement of
these shapes because once you add the double-sided adhesive on and
then you want to lay it on the paper there is a way that you have to do it starting from one edge and then you roll and lay it down so that you
don’t trap air bubbles underneath, but these are forgiving enough that I could place
these individual units on top of each other and if something’s off by a 16th of
an inch that’s not an issue here. It’s a forgiving enough composition that
I can make those moves. I tried a few other compositions, there’s a limit to the degree of perfection I can achieve in the studio, so that becomes a limitation, “Okay, how far can I push this? What can I do?” Sometimes you can take advantage, but you have to be open to that in the studio. I think that’s one of the things I tell my students and sometimes I have to remind myself to take my own advice. You have to let the work talk back to you. You can have some big plan and you can work and everything is going according to plan, this is the idea that was in your head, and then you look at it later and you go, “You know, it worked perfectly, but boy is it boring.” And that happens when you don’t let the work talk back to you. There has to be a time where you make it, you stick it up on the wall, you try not to be judgmental about it because that’s really easy to do, we’re all our own worst critics, but you have to give it some time and then come back and look at it when your brain is a little bit cleared up and you’re trying to be as subjective as possible in the process, saying “Okay, I gave it a good shot.” “I really need to work harder, I just didn’t get there.” Or sometimes it’s perfect. We all know that as beginner’s luck. I think it’s because beginner’s luck happens because you’re doing something new and our conscious, logical brain isn’t familiar enough with it to interfere and I think
beginner’s luck happens because you’re trusting your intuition a little bit more, then you do a few more of those and then try to have this intellectual overlay and that’s when things get hard. That’s a little bit about the process. CAT: I’m also curious, in your work, it looks like you tried to remove the artist’s hand as much as possible as far as seeing it’s so precise it almost, you know it’s done by hand and it almost feels machined and in these as well, you see these grids and really super complex patterning, when you talk about it, it’s all very process driven, hands-on and I’m
curious, do you delve into the digital realm to draft out ideas or do you keep
it very in hand and can you describe your reasoning behind that? PETRA: Well, it’s interesting, just you thinking about it and perceiving the work in that way. For me, it’s all about the all
about the tactile connection and I guess it depends on the body of work. Sometimes you see it more than you see it other times, but it goes back to that connection of some people can work very splashy and messy and spontaneously and for whatever reason when I work if I’m doing this online it just comes out straight, for example, people have asked me over and over again on the large piece, “How do you get that stitching so straight?” and I said I just did it free hand on a sewing machine. I think that’s basically what it is. I guess that it’s just the tendency I have. Now, if you take a close look at it, you’re going to see all the little things that aren’t perfect where you’re going to see the places where the front row or the line looks a little bit crooked, but the overall impact of the image is such that you don’t notice it so much. I know it because I have a back ache for four days because I spent 10 hours just sewing these
straight lines. But, the tactile quality of the work is incredibly important to me. I
get to touch these things, and you can too today, later if you want to come up and touch it. I can touch these things because I made them. But, we’ve all learned that when you go to the museum or a gallery, you don’t touch the artwork. But, I’m kind of relying a little bit on the memory that you have, we’re all intimate with fabric; it’s next to our skin, and there’s that whole history. There’s also the history that I think people aren’t aware of now but, goes back to when I was studying in Peru and looking at all these ancient weavings, that there was a time when one of the most valuable things, objects, that you could have were textiles, because they were all hand-woven, all the thread, all the yarn, it all had to be hand spun. So if you have a very large carpet or rug or whatever, that was something that was reserved for royalty. There was incredible value in textiles and so with the democratization of materials through industrial processes, now the material itself is by the wayside, so that ship goes into the process that the artist or the maker is doing. It’s not in the material anymore. But that memory, that tactile quality, that connection into the world is really important to me. I don’t work digitally very often. I’m not as good at it as I should be, for one thing, but I don’t like seeing things on the screen, for me personally, it’s not satisfying, for example, to see digital images printed out. It has no texture, there’s no materiality to it,
so I go old school because for the reason I work with
graph paper is I can sit down and draw a pattern over and over
again, but I need to do that to understand exactly how the pattern was constructed
and I think that’s the difference. Digitally, you can put all sorts of images together and there’s so
many things you can do, you can swirl things, you can pixelate things, but you don’t have an understanding unless you’re really a geeky programmer, you don’t really know how those effects are happening and you don’t know what the
underlying structure is, so for me to go to graph paper, to go to draw an image or cut paper, if that’s my way of getting a deep understanding of how a pattern works, then it helps me understand how I might want to manipulate that to get away from the predictability. So, I know there are great people who do things digitally, but I’m not one of them because I need this contact.There are so many ways in which we become ever more
removed, even given the difference between writing things by hand and typing, there are these levels of removal that, to me, aren’t comfortable. Maybe that makes me old school, I don’t know. I like the contact with the material, it’s really important to me. I have begun now as I was working on this and thinking about this kind of grid pattern, as opposed to the how the moire patterns are working, one of the things I want to explore now that’s textile-like but not exactly is, I’m working with window screens, I even have some bronze window screens, but I’m starting to manipulate layers of screen
now. It requires the actual depth instead of things that are on top of each other, but I get more and more interested in this moire pattern and the topics of that and something about the meditative state that that produces when you’re pondering those patterns. So, who knows, it might be my way of going from textiles back into relief sculpture or sculpture. Any other questions? AUDIENCE MEMBER: I just have a comment. The way you occupy space in very two dimensional ways but if I sit here for a long time and look at these pieces, something comes to life. (inaudible). PETRA: It’s interesting that you see that. Yes? AUDIENCE MEMBER: When you were talking about patterns, and the meditative aspect, and the fact that and then the idea of understanding a pattern and having some logic and people take comforts in just the repetition. PETRA: Right. AUDIENCE MEMBER: But then you said how you like to make it so that they’re not as clear and easily read or perceived. Wouldn’t you say, you said that you did some landscape, wouldn’t you say that’s a basic principle of aesthetic or something that has aesthetic appeal to it? That it has
regularity but then there’s an interruption to that regularity or a
variation so that it’s not completely monotonous? It has some sort of eccentricity to it? PETRA: There are times when you want the comfort of a pattern that is predictable, and harmonious in that sense, maybe the best way for me to explain it is when I think about music a
little bit. I’m not a musician. I tried but I don’t have that talent. I tried the accordion, I tried the flute, I tried the guitar, but if you think about the different lines that happen in music, you’ve got, usually, a percussive element, you’ve got a melody, you’ve got little grace notes and things that happen and they’re all happening together at different times and there are things that you recognize that move through a whole piece and again, if there are passages where there’s a different focus, it will shift. Sometimes you hear this, sometimes the other element will take over. So, when you’re looking at a regular pattern, it can still be very regular and predictable if it’s active enough that it has these elements where it’s like the difference between a basic black and white
checkerboard or a red and white check picnic blanket, and then patterns that get more complex, as long as there’s something that will hold your interest
and there is a lot of variation that you can pull into a repeated pattern. I think that’s what this is. This is a repeated pattern, over and over again the repetition stays the
same, but here I’m trying to change the focus just through the use of color. So, it could be something as simple as that and and even here it’s the same pattern repeated all over again but I try
to find areas of focus. Sometimes to reveal the pattern. But I think it works both ways. Sometimes we definitely do want that comfort and harmony of something that is soothing and there’s nothing that’s distorted that pops out at us and other times, we want it, it gives us something. It’s actually a strategy that
different artists have used over time. There was an artist named Eric (inaudible), whose entire body of work is based on mistakes, so he would create a
composition and he would undermine expectation by little tiny bits. For example, a glove that appeared in his composition either would be missing one finger or it would have six fingers. Part of the reason is we’re very astute observers, we have to size up the world we live in all the time. What’s this big shape over here? Is it dangerous? We work that way. So, what he discovered is that when you build in these errors, it pulls the viewer’s attention, because you’re like,”Wait a minute, what is that?” You’re trying to figure that out and reconcile that and his idea is anything that holds a viewer’s attention to the artwork can only be a good thing. So, it works in that way too. It takes you off of automatic pilot and you have to spend time figuring it out. Anything else? No more thoughts from me but I thank you very, very much for coming and for your interest. I really appreciate it and feel free, you’re the privileged audience today, you can come up and feel and touch these and take a closer look if you’d like. CAT: And folks can see this
exhibition until July 6. PETRA: July 6! Thank you very much.

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