Iranian-born artist HOMA SHOJAIE's background in architecture and painting informs her work in frayed canvas. Architecture responds to the needs of the body in space, while the repeated, meditative gestures in her painted surfaces and deconstructed canvases respond to the need of the spirit to be embodied. Homa received a Bachelor of Architecture from The Cooper Union in 1991. She attended the year-long BOLT Residency (Chicago) in 2011-2012. Her frayed canvas works, which bridge painting and sculpture, have been displayed in solo exhibitions Ascent in the BOLT Project Space (2012) and Cocoon at Flash Atolye in Izmir, Turkey (May 2013). Most recently, her work was included in the group exhibition Fibre to Fabric at Madder Moon (September 2013) in Singapore, where Homa now lives and works.
OtherPeoplesPixels: Your 2012 solo exhibition Ascent was a series of sculptural and wall-hung works made from frayed canvas. Tell us about the process of fraying. What led you to begin to deconstruct the surface that you had previously painted on?
Homa Shojaie: During a studio visit, my friends Jonathan Miller and Anna Kunz
challenged me to re-examine the surface on which I painted. At that
point I was painting on store-bought, stretched canvases. So I bought a
50 yard roll of raw canvas and got to work.
The series Frayed Canvas Works started as an examination of the surface and site of painting. My first gesture was to cut a piece of raw canvas out from the roll and then fray the edges to create a defined surface. The warp threads that are freed from the surface of canvas have an uncanny energy when piled together, and the wefts hanging from the edges have such fluidity. These discoveries began to drive the process. Some of the themes that emerged were: body and persona, border and boundary, connectivity and freedom, complementarity and separation, masculine and feminine, maximum and minimum, tension and compression. As I was pulling out these thousands of threads, I pretty quickly realized that I had started to put lines into my painting for the first time. Before I started fraying the canvas, my paintings were fields, so I really owe the introduction of line into my painting to all those pulled out threads. They were physical lines that emerged from the surface of the canvas, as if they had placed themselves there.
OPP: Many of the pieces in Ascent relate to the body. Did your training in architecture play into this body of work?
HS: Canvas is such a beautiful material. It is like skin. Then you fray it, and it looks like hair, which also brings you to the body. Then there are the spines: each one is a group of threads bound together by a central column that approximates the height and width of an average human spine.
My friend Sheila Mostofi, who has the best eye in the world, helped me to hang the show, and there were certainly hours of architectural debates during the installation. But my architect side also showed up earlier in the creation of work for the show. In order to respond to the height of the Bolt Project Space, I made Ascent, the piece that lent its title to the whole exhibition. The smaller spines measured about 36 inches. Ascent was a 21-foot-long spine. The idea for this scale shift came up in one of the Bolt Residency group discussions when we were planning for a group show in the Bolt Project Space. Even though I ended up presenting Requiem For Waking Things, an architectural collaboration with filmmaker Melika Bass, in that show, the idea of responding to the dimensions of the room lingered. I later made Inside and Outside, two columns that each measure 1 x 1 x 12 feet, the exact size of actual architectural columns throughout the exhibition space at Chicago Artists’ Coalition.
There was also the presence of a persona in the project called Girl on the Lower Deck, which is the title of the piece that began the fraying. Most of the writings on the spine pieces are investigations into who this character is, what she thinks, feels and wants. Sometimes I refer to this dimension of the work as the emotional side. Architecturally, the Girl on the Lower Deck is the inhabitant of the whole series.
OPP: Aside from the canvas itself, I see connections between your frayed work and your paintings, in the presence of a repeated gesture. Is the repeated gesture a kind of meditation?
HS: The repetition existed in the earlier paintings in the form of the brush stroke. Later in the Word Series, I was really meditating, sometimes on the subject and sometimes on the word. I wrote the words over and over in the hopes that the painting would become what the words described or pondered. The act of writing in itself is a repetition. It is also an act of weaving, both literally (the rows, weaving a textural field) and metaphorically (weaving a world of meanings and associations).
OPP: Aside from its presence in your work, what does repetition mean to you in your life?
HS: There are repetitions I cherish: a walk with a friend on a path we’ve been on before, the way my parents answer a Skype call, the love of the familiar. And then there is the default repetition of habits: going to grocery store again, emptying the dishwasher, listening to the rotating CDs in the car stereo that I haven't changed for a year, hearing myself repeat a sentence I have said before and will say again, complaining.
In my work, sometimes I fray canvas for days. The act of pulling out the threads one at a time becomes a measure of a large chunk of time and the area of the canvas that becomes free. . . these are all repetition. I do it because these works demand it. I imagine that one day the work/ the process might not demand it anymore, and then I will no longer do it.
OPP: Last year, you moved from Chicago, where you were part of a community of artists, to Singapore, where you knew no one but your family. How has this move affected your studio practice and your work?
HS: My work changes every time I change my studio space. Even
in Chicago when I moved two blocks away into a new space, my work would
change. My initial thought when I got to Singapore was: I will never
fray another piece of canvas. I did a series of Skype portraits during
the first three months because I was on Skype six to seven hours every
day talking to friends and family all over the world. But soon, at the
suggestion of my new studio neighbor and now friend, Susanne Paulli,
I was knotting threads to a piece I had brought from Chicago, and it
genuinely felt real. With every knot, I was tying the cut-off past to
the possibility of a future, creating a continuity. As long as I find
these wonderful and brilliant friends, things always work out.
Right now, I am working on two different bodies of work. One is a series of paintings called Sexiness, and the other is called How To Stretch Canvas named after the essay Jonathan Miller wrote for Ascent. It is an investigation into the space, structure and materiality of stretched canvas. I’m exploring the relationship between the canvas and the stretcher by taking it apart and reconstructing it in a new way. So in a way, after 14 months, I am back to my usual studio practice: two parallel bodies of work, seemingly unrelated, but each feeding into the other.
OPP: Do you have any advice for other artists about moving to a new city where they have find their way into an existing art community?
HS: Be open and do your work. Go to museums, openings, artist
talks, discussions and shows. I knew that as soon as I got to Singapore I
needed to find a studio and start working. Preferably this studio would
be in a community setting where I could be in contact with other
artists. I started to call different artist organizations. I went to
gallery openings and asked the gallerists where their artists had their
studios. I sent tens of emails to artists I found on the Internet. I
joined Singapore Contemporary Young Artists (SYCA),
a wonderful group of artists and the only art group in Singapore that
accepts non-Singaporean members. It was crazy, but it paid off. I found a
studio in a setting where there were 15 other artists, and a lot of my
friendships started from there.
That’s the practical side. There is also the emotional side. Allow yourself to feel displaced, homesick, lonely, sad and all the other emotions that come with a big move. And then seek solace. Nothing pulled me out of homesickness more than seeing a great show, lecture or a movie. I joined a film group last year. We watched masterpieces of Asian cinema, and this year we are watching Singaporean movies. This has been such a great way to feel the culture and begin to embrace it. Give yourself time, encouragement and get Skype.
To see more of Homa's work, please visit homashojaie.com.
Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and spiritual significance of repetition in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibition I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For is on view at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) until December 6, 2013, and she is currently preparing for another solo exhibition titled Everything You Need is Already Here (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.