Kayla Mattes is an artist living and working in Portland, Oregon. Her work primarily takes the form of tapestry and installation and is guided by the interaction between the internet, memory, consumerism and technology. She most recently has shown at FISK Gallery and S1 in (Portland, Oregon) and Trestle Gallery (Brooklyn, NY) with upcoming exhibitions at Disjecta Contemporary Art Center (Portland, Oregon) and Front/Space (Kansas City, MO). In 2011 she received her BFA in Textiles at Rhode Island School of Design and is a recent recipient of the Regional Arts & Culture Council Project Grant.
My work is influenced by the normalization of computers, smartphones and the internet into our day to day lives. I’m drawn to moments of childlike candidness that occur when experimenting with these fairly new digital tools. The unsophistication of the early web in terms of it’s chaotic organization and unapologetic use of color is a frequent reference point. I’m particularly interested in how these new technologies continuously create new outlets for self expression and social communication. How do we choose to interact with these tools and how do we manipulate them over time?
My latest tapestries reconfigure familiar arrangements of geometries commonly seen on computer and smartphone screens. The forms are vague but familiar. Colored squares coexist with elaborate grids and white boxes. Raised textures create dimensions from window to window. The pieces dissect our understanding of how digital information is visually organized. When looking within the woven layers you can piece together emblems of information. You can feel the user’s imprint from interacting with such ubiquitous digital interfaces. There’s points of playful activity that seem to pinpoint a passing of time.
Process plays a huge role in the development of my work. I’m interested in interacting with the restrictions tied to the grid-based structure of weaving. These constraints guide the way shapes, forms and textures can be built. The grid is analogous to the structure of digital pixels. Weaving without a plan forces an interaction with these restrictions. The forms are build upwards in relation to each other and the grid. This process results in moments of order and chaos both in the work and my process.
Q&A with Kayla Mattes
by Emily Burns
Hi Kayla! Can you give us some insight into your process? How do you begin and how do you create your compositions? Does drawing play a part in your work?
Hi Maake! Thanks for talking with me.
I’m interested in building up my compositions by forming relationships between shapes, color and woven structure as I’m weaving. The precursor to this involves visual research which usually means scouring the internet. This research helps me create new visual languages that build up within the compositions. Eventually certain patterns and combinations of materials reappear from piece to piece.
In this context drawing feels too much like designing, so I rarely relate drawings back to weavings. If there is any kind of plan on paper it’s the vaguest of outlines. For example, the shaped pieces I’ve been working on for the past couple of months are abstractions of digital floor plans. I’ve been researching the nature of various building tools that allow you to create interior space (think the SIMS build mode and Google Sketch Up). The shaped outline of these pieces were taken from actual floor plans found online. The printouts of these floor plans gave me a starting point, but the “interiors” of the shapes were built up through a fluid investigative process.
Likewise with the ‘user interface’ pieces I started with day to day visual research. Often this consisted of just being more aware and present in my mundane daily interaction with phones and computers. From there I began paring down the structures of the interfaces to their bare bones and transcribing the vocabulary of these visual arrangements within the woven grid.
How did you initially begin working with weaving and tapestries?
I began weaving at RISD in the Textiles program. The facilities were top notch. I was able to work with traditional floor looms, computerized dobby looms and an industrial jacquard loom.
Learning how to program weave structures made me curious about the relationship between weaving and technology. Punch card Jacquard looms from the 1800’s influenced the development of early computers, so there’s this inherent correlation between weave structures and computing.
Working with tapestry came later when my access to facilities was limited. Right now I work with an upright 2harness floor loom. To an untrained eye it looks complicated but it’s actually a pretty simple loom.
I’m attracted to the balance of fluidity and structure of the grid enabled by weaving. Tapestry is essentially the process of building up forms vertically along the gridbased plane of the warp.
The process doesn’t require multiharness looms or a computing element. Working with tapestry has allowed me to explore detailed forms and colors through simplistic functions. I think I’ll begin working again with more complex looms when my work evolves to the point where it’s necessary.
Can you tell us more about your installation, Cheesy Rituals at Little Paper Planes? How does your installation work relate to you fiber work?
I’m interested in altering space and going beyond the white wall. My installations tend to use a singular color or simple pattern to activate this sensory form of exploration for the viewer. They use cultural iconography to enact memory. I think my woven work does the same but the installations have a more interactive weight to them.
Cheesy Rituals was the culmination of a month long residency at LPP in San Francisco where I researched pizza’s place in contemporary culture. The installation was this precisely arranged ritualistic zone. The walls and floor were concealed in that red and white checkerboard pattern that’s synonymous with pizzerias. At the opening I organized a performance where myself and several friends ate an entire uncut pizza pie within the installation. The movement and process was this collaborative intimate act of breaking bread.
While my day to day weaving practice is important to my process, it’s helpful to take a step back and work in a larger more immersive scale. The process is very different.
What is your relationship with color?
Color is a guiding point for me. It informs my process. There isn’t any color mixing or layering with weaving. Sometimes I’ll hand dye skeins to achieve a particular color or gradient, but otherwise color is immediate. The tones and textures of each yarn in my studio are cataloged in my brain. I instinctively draw from that catalog and build up the pieces from the bottom to the top as I’m working.
What is a typical day like for you?
My typical day-to-day usually varies but I always start off with coffee and email time. In the mornings I work on freelance stuff and often spend time applying for grants, shows and residencies.
The rest of the day and most often nights I’ll be working in the studio. You may find me warping, weaving, researching, editing photos, creating digital works, planning installations, or finishing the ends of work just cut off the loom.
Certain nights and weekends I teach textiles classes (weaving, machine knitting, etc) at a school in town called Wildcraft Studio.
What are some of the biggest challenges that you have overcome as an artist so far in your career?
Finding my niche has been a bit of a challenge. I’ve found that working predominantly in an outsider medium like weaving instantly puts me in this box. I’m not a painter or a sculptor even though my work sometimes falls along those lines. In some cases it seems to confuse people when weaving is thrown into the mix.
I think a lot about how mediums of craft based origin have historically been labeled as “women’s work”. The gender demographics of art school Textile Departments still reflect that fact. And then you can look at the lack of representation of artists who are women in the art world. How can we not question whether a medium like weavings history in contemporary art is limited because of the ties it has to women’s work? If weaving was a male driven medium I think we very well might have had a more accepting and vivid history of weaving in contemporary art! Major props to Anni Albers and Gunta Stolzl for breaking those boundaries.
As of lately I’ve been realizing my work addresses these ideas in certain ways. The user interface pieces use weaving to pick apart and reconstruct a visual language designed by the male dominant industry of the tech world. The newer floor plan pieces focus on the process of building domestic zones through digital tools.
I do think that the dismissal of craft based processes in contemporary art is shifting. We are starting to see more galleries represent artists whose work lies in conversation with craft, especially with fiber and ceramics. There are so many new groundbreaking artists who are using weaving at the forefront of their practice. It’s exciting.
Can you describe your studio space? What are your most important workspace essentials?
Right now my studio is an extra room in my house. It’s a quiet neighborhood in Portland with lots of trees and birds and cats. My loom is the center of my studio and is arguably the most essential component of my day to day. I also have a ton of yarn storage and a flat file for storing work. Plants, art books and my computer desk fill up the rest of the space.
There are definitely pro’s and con’s to having a home studio but it’s worked out nicely for me over the past couple of years. It’s convenient and I can get bursts of work done at any moment. When the budget allows it and the timing makes sense I will probably transition outside of the home. I’ll eventually need more space for other looms. Plus it would be ideal to have the space to make larger scale work, get messy and to piece together installations before show openings. I’d still want to be a quick bike ride from home.
Favorite studioworkathon food?
Juanita’s! They are the perfect tortilla chip. As far as I know they can only be found in the Pacific Northwest.
What do you listen to while you work? Is this an important part of your practice?
I’m way more productive when mentally engaged, so I’ve naturally become an obsessive podcast listener. Sometimes I’ll switch to Netflix binges.
My iPhone acts as the listening device, which I prop up on my loom shelf. While making the user interface pieces I’ve thought a lot about how the internet and smartphones have encouraged this overconsumption of media. It’s a form of distraction. Perhaps it’s fitting that I’m attached to my phone and distracted by media while making the work!
Has there ever been a book/essay/poem/film/etc that totally changed or influenced you? What are you reading right now?
I just started Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me. It’s brilliant.
What are some of the artists that you look at/feel that your work is in dialogue with?
Gunta Stolzl, Mike Kelley, Matisse, Annie Albers and Frank Stella are some more historical favorites.
Some of my favorite artists working right now: Tauba Auerbach, Samantha Bittman, Mathew Zefeldt, Alex da Corte, Morgan Blair, Matthew Palladino and Margo Wolowiec.
Do you have any advice for recent grads that are looking for teaching jobs, transitioning out of graduate school, or looking to begin their career as studio artists?
If making work is your priority, find a way to make studio time your priority! It can be really tricky to balance all the ebbs and flows of life and paying bills but I think it’s super important to somehow engineer a schedule that allows you to focus on your practice as much as possible.
What is the art scene like in Portland?
Portland is fairly small but there’s a network of interesting artist run spaces and galleries. Many of them are projects that exist for a year or two or three but new ones always seem to popup in their place. I’m sure this happens in most places.
There isn’t a vast landscape of commercial galleries, museums or institutions like you can find in larger cities. One of our only museums, the Museum of Contemporary Craft is closing it’s doors in April. We do have a Biennial and PICA hosts the yearly TBA Festival. There’s a few grant organizations in Portland and throughout the state. They are an important and unique source of support for artists in town. My recent show at FISK Gallery was funded by a local grant organization called RACC.
The city is growing fast, which means it’s quickly getting more expensive to live here, especially considering rent control doesn’t exist in Portland. This obviously isn’t a great thing for artists and galleries. Hopefully this growth leads to more support for artists from the city and the wealth that’s moving here.
Has there been an influx of artists moving from other cities lately?
Definitely. I’ve only been in Portland for three years so I’m one of them. Raise the pitchforks!
There’s some of that mentality since so many people in general are moving to Portland right now. Something like one million new people are projected to move here within the next 20 years. Right now Portland has a population of around 600,000. The scale of the city is really changing which frightens people. It’s sad to see the way developers are treating the city. I’m curious to see in what way this growth might positively affect the art scene here. I’m hoping for a MOCA!
It seems like you keep up a pretty rigorous exhibition schedule! Do you have any advice for emerging artists who would like to get more involved with galleries and museums and connect with exhibition opportunities?
I’m still figuring that out myself but my advice would be to keep making work and keep seeing work! It may be cliche, but I think a devoted and committed work ethic is the most important thing. Lot’s of work needs to happen in order for work to evolve. At the same time it’s easy to get holed up in studio but engaging with a like-minded community is just as important. So go to openings and hang out with humans IRL and discuss questions like this one because they aren’t asked enough.
I really appreciate that Maake puts focus on questions related to the realities of maintaining a practice as an emerging artist. It feels like these are taboo subjects to discuss openly. Everyone is trying to present themselves as stable, but truthfully everyone is figuring it out. Can you start a podcast please?
As an artist, what is your relationship with social media? Do you have a favorite or least favorite platform
Instagram is the main platform I use, although Facebook is a handy reminder for events. I use Instagram to share my process/work/visual research and to keep up with other artists and galleries who do the same. I imagine it must have felt much more isolating being an artist in places like Oregon before the internet.
Do you have any exciting news or shows coming up
I have work in a group component of the Portland Biennial at Disjecta Contemporary Art Center this Summer curated by Michelle Grabner. I also contributed to a collaborative weaving project organized by Helen Mirra at Armory Center for the Arts which will be up in June.
Early next year I’ll be working on a social engagement project at Front/Space in Kansas City. It’s still in planning mode but my boyfriend and I will be collaborating on a project that gathers ‘data’ from visitors of the space. I’m going to be creating a database of digital patterns over the next year. He’s a coder and will be programming algorithms that input the patterns in a way that relates to the viewer’s responses to a set of engineered questions. It’s different than anything I’ve ever worked on before. I’m excited!
Thanks so much for sharing your work and talking with us!
Of course, thanks Maake!
To find out more about Kayla and her work, check out her website.