Textile art is often relegated to the realm of the outdated or purely decorative, but Erin M. Riley’s controversial take on the medium is angling to change that. Riley’s hand woven tapestries do not depict beloved pets or abstract designs, but photos plucked from instagram and twitter of scantly clad women taking selfies, as well as of cars, drug paraphernalia and drunken revelry. “I was fascinated by the way my generation was searching to connect and remind each other that we exist moment by moment, ” Riley told Juxtapoz magazine.
Her work speaks to the relationship between intimacy and anonymity that rules our digital interactions. Riley’s subjects remain faceless yet specific in their rendering and surroundings, the materiality of the weaving highlighting the details we might miss in a stand alone selfie. The weavings maintain the quality of a found Polaroid or misremembered dream; something as unplaceable as it is specific.
Riley renders these one-off snapshots using a Macomber floor loom, employing a process that can take her from forty to eighty hours per piece. Riley also treats and dyes her yarn herself before she even begins weaving. Like a regrettable twitter post, the weaving process that Riley uses ensures that once a piece is completed, it is nearly impossible to unravel.
Riley has also been adding a more personal dimension to her work by creating weavings from her own selfies and asking past lovers to send her back pictures she sent to them. Erin tells Arrested Motion Magazine:
“Tapestry is how I feel the most comfortable presenting the images that stand out the most. The images I am weaving are traditionally images that might be sent through Snapchat nowadays, or the ones that might be deleted after a hookup. I try to take pictures of the condoms after I have sex, the pictures I send to people, pictures of tables at parties, substances & liquids that change the coarse of events. I am taking the time to recreate these images as physical tapestries, because these are the events and objects that are significant to me.”
Riley’s work forces the viewer and the artist herself to step back and contemplate moments that we would rather forget or leave behind in a drunken stupor. In this way they speak to the gravity and significance of the actions they capture as much as to the culture of impermanence in which they are generated.
Erin recently had a show at the Joshua Liner Gallery in New York, has an upcoming show at Hashimoto Contemporary in San Francisco, and will be the artist in residence at The Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in New York this fall.