We recently had the chance to visit artist, Michaela Kane, who just received her BFA from VCU's Craft and Material Studies Department. Michaela is currently living and working in her home studio in Richmond, VA.
MG- Within your tapestries, you incorporate text pretty often. Is that a subject matter that you feel the need to shift away from with your beadwork?
MK- I’ve been shifting away from text for a while with my tapestries too, though I have a couple text pieces planned for whenever I buy my own floor loom. At first I was into the poetics of language but then I became very enamored with symbols because they can often convey ideas better than words, and many originated before written language. Now I’m starting to get interested in fractals and geometric patterns, which I can easily execute very precisely in beadwork.
MG- Continuing with the comparison between your weavings and beadwork, can you talk a little on your adjustment to the plasticity of the beads you're using and the more natural yarns of your tapestries.
MK- In my tapestries, I usually use a fair amount of acrylic yarn in addition to wool. The acrylic yarn comes in handy when I want to use an unnaturally vibrant color like neon yellow, or want a part of the tapestry to have a soft sheen. Wool is very matte in comparison. The plastic pony beads I use are also made from acrylic. Using plastic in my work is mostly a result of a material fascination. Also, it’s really gratifying to transform cheap materials into a well-crafted object. In a way I guess it feels like it legitimizes my ‘70s polyester aesthetic.
MG- Are there any stitches or beading patterns that you’re most drawn to or use more often than others?
MK- I find myself using brick stitch and peyote stitch a lot because their structures are conducive to making smooth diagonal lines. I’ve been thinking about experimenting with square stitch also recently because its gridded structure is more comparable to weaving.
MG-Do you see yourself combing the two, and possibly embroidering the beads on the surface of your weavings?
MK- I am definitely going to experiment with combining them sometime soon. I really enjoy structural techniques as opposed to surface embellishment, so I’d like to try combining fiber and beads in a way in which they’re both integral to the structure of the piece.
MG- Are they are any artists that you currently follow who also use or manipulate beads into the surface of their work?
MK- Joyce Scott has definitely had an influence on my improvisational experiments. Also, after I started my pony bead mandala, I remembered a couple pieces she made that incorporated pony beads too. Sonya Clark has also used beadwork in some of her pieces along with the symbol of hands. I really admire both of these artists because they are successful in multiple media, draw upon craft traditions, and facilitate important conversations through their work.
MG- Is there a conceptual or technical aspect that beading lets you acquire that other textile processes do not?
MK- Sonya taught me that the root word of bead means “to pray.” Beads have a history rooted in spiritual practice that I find conducive to my work. So does weaving, but textiles these days are so industrialized and ubiquitous that we take them for granted to a great degree. But when you see a handmade object like a quilt or tapestry or beaded garment, it just has this weight and power to it because someone devoted a lot of time and energy to it. There is care involved. I had a moment after I first started beading where I thought, “Wow, I’m doing this thing that people have been doing for thousands of years.” The oldest beads found are 75,000 years old! It’s led me to think a lot about the awe of living in ancient times and what it might have been like when the earliest cultures were first forming. Weaving is very ancient too and I’ve studied ancient Peruvian textiles quite a bit but I didn’t have this epiphany until I started beading because I’m used to using such a contemporary floor loom.