vignettes: kathryn shinko

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Vignettes Series: Cute Girl. Industrially woven tapestry, 55″x65″
Marisa Espe: So, tell me about this mill.
Kathryn Shinko: They specialize in tapestries and throw blankets like pastoral scenes or dogs relaxing by a fire, really idyllic scenes like that. So, my thesis advisor sent my weaving files to the mill to have them woven, and it was like, three months before my thesis. Generally, from the time it takes to send the files and the time they get woven and shipped back to you is two weeks. Two weeks passed, and we contacted them saying, “We haven’t received an invoice yet, are they leaving soon?” They didn’t respond. So another week went by and again, we’re like, “we really need to know what’s going on with these weavings.” That’s when they contacted us and said they were having issues with some workers on the floor who objected to the content. Well, as I was told, there are two shifts, the main shift and the evening/night shift, so they had to have someone come in during the night shift to manage the factory floor and get these pieces woven during that time.

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Vignettes Series: 2 White Girls. Industrially woven tapestry, 55″x65″
That makes it even cooler, I think, because the production is so integral to the piece.
I think there were only a couple of people who objected, but nevertheless, it was a strong enough objection that they needed to take those steps. But in the end, they got woven in time. The most ironic thing about the whole story is that while the work is up for interpretation, it really is anti-pornography. So the fact that it elicited such a strong reaction, I think, is natural. These are harsh words, but these are not my words, they are appropriated from the website pornhub.com.

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Vignettes Series: Busty Brunette Babe. Industrially woven tapestry, 55″x65″
How did you choose the titles? Were they top rated or the most searched?
Yeah, I went to the popular page. The language patterns I see in mainstream pornography are violence, racism, and jocular descriptions. There are very explicit descriptions and not just of the women themselves, but of their body parts, giving the women characteristics more like merchandise than human beings. This excessive explicitness is one of the hallmarks of internet pornography, as opposed to its origins in adult cinema and then videos and DVDs, where things were more general to appeal to a broader audience. Now, you can choose anything down to the most minute detail: hair color, size and shape of organs, ethnicity, age.

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Vignettes Series: Tight Pink. Industrially woven tapestry, 55″x65″
Which is exactly shopping. The search criteria to yield different results.
Exactly. I also chose mainstream pornography featuring women because it’s closer to my heart and important to me. I tried to pick titles that reflected the language patterns of mainstream pornography, so you know, sexism, racism, jocular slang, violence.

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Vignettes Series: Extreme Close Up. Industrially woven tapestry, 55″x65″
It’s funny too that the workers opposed the production of these because, without the words, formally these are beautiful weavings. Can you tell me a little about the choices for the backgrounds?
We’re so well indoctrinated to passively accept pornographic imagery in the media that really the only way to identify the brutality of it is to isolate the language. I’m using the landscape imagery because landscapes in art serve as an allegory for purity, divinity, something bigger than ourselves. Using these pure, unsullied, noble scenes as the backdrop for these pornographic titles just amplified the contrast between the two. Also, many of these pairings are very deliberate, for instance, in “busty brunette babe” there is a mountain formation that evokes breasts, or in “cute girl getting her ass destroyed” there is a rock formation rising out of the sea that has a hole in it, so there’s a visual pun. “Picked up teen fucked” is a more conceptual link, almost as if afterwards the teen got dumped into some isolated forest. Also, the nature of the medium truly affects this work.

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Dirty Sampler Series I: Iv Tasted U. Hand embroidery on cloth, 20″x20″.
Yeah, let’s talk about your relationship to fiber: as a woman artist, how you got into it, the relationship between handmade and industrial?
I come from a hand embroidery background and though I never deliberately chose to get into fiber, I grew up with my mother cross-stitching. She didn’t make her own patterns or designs but she had these kits and floss all around the house, and I would watch her work. I took it up after receiving my BFA in graphic design, feeling disillusioned with the hyper-commercialism of the discipline. I picked up hand embroidery and it was really natural for me because it was very familiar.

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Detail, Dirty Samplers Series III: How Bout U Ridin Me.
The vast majority of the work that I do is hand embroidery. I’m used to a really intimate, personal, sensual relationships with fibers, and here I am doing a 180 with industrial weavings. In a lot of ways, this parallels sex itself. It’s supremely intimate but it can also be hyper-commercialized and industrialized. It’s the same with fibers: from weavings on a little personal loom to having them sent off to a remote location and woven on a machine. Not being able to touch the work and getting in there to feel it with my hands posed similarities between sex and pornography. I design these on the computer in Photoshop and Pointcarre (the program that inserts the weave structures). It was really strange because I was doing everything on a screen and there’s no way that you can simulate what the actual weaving is going to look like in real life. You have to kind of estimate how certain shapes, colors, or weave structures are going to interact. Then you send it off and only when it comes back are you able to reclaim it under your own touch. That gnawing ache that I experienced from wanting to touch the fibers and manipulate them with my hands was a desire. It’s interesting because when you watch pornography, similarly, you take what you know about the human body or about you own sexual experiences and you project that onto the pornographic scenario, imagining what it would be like. But at the end, there’s this emptiness, a desire for physical closure that is unsatisfied.

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Sick Study: Mouth and Eye. Hand embroidery on cloth, 12″x18″
I also think there are a lot of parallels between the human body and fibers. We inhabit bodies and we touch and interact with other bodies, knowing what others feel like or smell like. But in certain situations, we are not permitted to touch them. So you can only touch other bodies in some circumstances but in others it’s strictly forbidden. It’s the same with textiles. The weavings are very blanket-like, and because textiles are so ubiquitous we can look at them and imagine how it would feel in our fingers, the weight of it resting on our shoulders. But because it’s hanging in a gallery space or a studio space, it is (at least to the general public), forbidden to touch.

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Marisa Espe in conversation with Kathryn Shinko