The work of Robyn Love is playful, yet evocative. She works to combine contemporary concepts with traditionally domestic techniques such as knitting or crocheting. Robyn also uses her work to give her audience the opportunity to satiate what she calls, “a hunger to work with our hands”. She has had work shown in the Brooklyn Museum of Art, as well as numerous site-specific pieces around the globe.
Drive twenty minutes outside the center of Ithaca, N.Y. head along Ellis Hollow Creek Road and you will find the Constance Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts. The Saltonstall foundation supports artist and writers of New York State, annually awarding residencies and stipends by jury. There I had the pleasure of speaking with Robyn Love, an artist based out of Newfoundland, Canada and Queens, New York, who was finishing up the last few days of her month long residency. It was a rainy June day, and the land around Saltonstall was especially verdant. After a short ride up a meandering driveway I came upon a small house where Robyn was staying; there we spoke about her work and process:
VM: How did you begin working with textiles and more craft-oriented mediums?
RL: Well when I went to art school I did train as a painter and I continued to work as a painter probably for six years after art school. Then I did a residency at the Vermont Studio Center in 1994, where I realized that I kind of hated painting. For some reason, I don’t know why, but I had brought a lot of fabric and embroidery supplies with me to my residency. That was my breaking point; I put all of my paints into a corner and I started using fabrics and began to knit. That was when I made my first pieces, suddenly I realized that this was what I actually wanted to do…I had seen a show with work by and artist named Elaine Reicheck-- she was the only artist that I had seen at that point using textiles as serious fine art with no reference to craftiness. It was serious conceptually sound fine art, that she knit embroidered and stitched. I felt as though I had been given permission that I had not otherwise felt.
VM: As you have gotten into working with textiles have you found you have been able navigate a way to place yourself in a realm where you can show your work with out being called too crafty? Or do you not care?
RL: Well the landscape has changed so much, it’s kind of unbelievable really. I want to say I try to sidestep that conversation, but that not really true. In some of my early work with knitting I did some site specific pieces and I really wanted the knit craft to be strong. So I do care about that aspect.
VM: I’ve seen two of your installations, Unconditional Yes (2010) and, The House Museum (2005-2010), they both seem to create or use home-spaces. I would like to talk to you about how you see the home as a space to work or a place where art can be created. Do you work from home?
RL: I have a studio, but it is much different from here. So coming here was different to be working in a “white box”. I found myself bringing material over into my living quarters to be in a more domesticated space while I work…I’m always interested in blurring that line of what is art and what is life and why are we separating them. I am currently helping curate a show of visual artists who use craft techniques, mixed in with local people from Cape Breton who knit, spin, and embroider functional objects. We are going to present them with no hierarchy; a sweater will be next to a fine art piece… to me that’s very exciting.
VM: Unconditional Yes (2010) and similar projects engage the audience through participation. Could you talk about how you see the role of the audience as producers in the work and the relationship that exists between you and your collaborators and audience?
RL: I think a lot of that comes out of being curious about people… It had been a process of doing projects where I didn't necessarily intend to have other people involved but somewhere along the way I find I need help. And I realized that it was this participation, that is what is really amazing about the projects. I decided to see if I make the project about the participation, then what happens? Sometimes what happens is that I realized that people are so hungry to touch real things and make things. I did a project at Wave Hill, a botanical garden in the Bronx (House Study/ Handmade). It was so unexpected-- I thought I would make dye from plants and I’ll sit in my little studio and spin. I don't know what I thought I was gonna do [laughs]. But people started wandering in and asking questions, and I would show them how to card wool and how to spin.The next thing I knew there were hundreds of people, and the place was packed for two days a week. I had to have volunteers come help me. There were 75-year old men sitting next to kids, all spinning. It was crazy. I thought, wow, what is this hunger? I think it taps in to something. I think (SpinCycle 2013) also taps into this.
VM: I agree- SpinCycle was a really interesting project in the way you set up the relationship between yourself and the audience using a mirror. Could you talk about that decision and concept a little bit more?
RL: For a while I had the idea to turn my bicycle into a spinning wheel, so that I could ride somewhere and spin. After talking to my cyclist friends and trying to figure it out technically I realized, it would be cool if someone else sits on the bike and they would power my spinning wheel. It all just happened pretty organically. Even the mirror part, I needed something so that we could see each other. So what happened was that distance that you talked about made it safe… That little distance combined with the activity of pedaling encouraged people to really open up, in a very short time, three minutes or five minutes. People would start telling me these intimate stories and there we were together making this beautiful thing.
Special thanks to Robyn Love for opening up her gallery to us. Check out more of her work at her website here.