May 13, 2012


Using strands of human hair Kate Kretz embroiders, creating works that evoke themes of vulnerability, beauty, and catharsis.

I first learned of the artist when she was included in Pricked: Extreme Embroidery, a group show at MAD (Museum of Art and Design) in 2008. Of the three pieces by Krestz in that exhibition, it was the sheer, intricate madness of Oubliette I (2006) that stayed with me, that I could not get out of my mind.

In Oubliette I, lips are shriveled and puckered with a mouth rendered agape in what...a yawn, a sexual seduction, a song, a primal reveal a tornado rising above a shadowy landscape.  A reverence, a quiet bubble of awe, is experienced upon viewing her work. The personal fragility of fallen hair, the detritus of a life, feels simultaneously painful and uplifting, while the intricate and intimate nature of the stitch, amplifies the anxiety conveyed by the obsessiveness of working in such a miniature scale.
"Embroidering with hair possesses its own unique intensity: each barely perceptible stitch is like a rosary bead, marking a tiny but ardent prayer whispered over and over...It often feels as though the cathectic things I make are an act of profound resistance."

If Oubliette I explores the tension of internal/external by facing them both, Ebb from 2006 counters that by presenting two closed eyes embroidered onto a pillow case. Whether through sleep, denial, or death, closed eyes refuse the viewer, the voyeur, any clues to that which lies, fear, or grief. A person's person is hidden when the eyes are closed, yet it is also a reminder that we are all vulnerable with our eyes closed.
"One of the functions of art is to strip us bare, reminding us of the fragility common to every human being across continents and centuries."

Another work using a pillowcase, My Young Lover (2006), turns the dial one more time. With a single ear resting on a pillow, we are no longer looking at/into but listening...or rather...being listened to. The cascading curls adorning the embroidered ear are made from an ex-boyfriend's locks.
"For me, it’s a very romantic piece...It’s a symbol of intimacy; a romantic notion of intimacy. The curls are very beautiful and tactile and sensuous. I thought they would be a very appropriate medium for showing oneself."

Decades of Dreaming of You..., 2012, hair embroidery on mother's hair from gestation period, threads from unraveled pillowcase, 3 x 5 x 5".

New work by Kretz is currently being featured in a solo show, This Sharp World…, at Hardcore Art Contemporary Space in Miami until July 7th.  Not everything is made from hair, Kretz works with other materials, such as traditional textile embroidery, paintings, and silverpoint drawing as well. But what appears as the signature object in the exhibition, Decades of Dreaming of You (2012), is a nest of the artist's hair she collected while pregnant. This vessel, a mass and tangle of organic material, contains a single egg of wound, white thread. Kretz sees this piece as marking the end of a life cycle defined at its start and finish by pregnancies: one terminated, one completed.
"I find it amusing that art historians will talk about male artists and how they were influenced by travel to some foreign land, or political/social situations, but one of the most life-changing and powerful experiences of all is rarely discussed. It is a reflection of society’s devaluation of women’s experience in general."

Memento Innocenti, 2011, tarnished silverpoint on found cup, 2.25 x 5 x 2.75"

The theme of motherhood in art is generally undervalued, as it's often been interpreted as quaint, domestic, and "sentimental." Kretz's work suggests we could reframe the notion of motherhood in art. Can nurturing, fragility and tenderness be fraught with narcisscism, decay and confusion? What kind of a tenuous balance exists between care for another and care for oneself? How can we discuss motherhood or birth and not be drawn into a history of romanticized and predetermined associations and projections?

So with this mediation on maternity....I bid you a Happy Mother's Day!


JafaBrit's Art said...

Really enjoyed your post.

Tamsen Ellen said...

Thank you!! I really enjoyed writing it!

Kate said...

Thank you for your thoughtful post! It was great to find your blog, now looking forward to going through the archives. The show has now been extended through July 7th. Best, Kate

Tamsen Ellen said...

I'm thrilled you saw it!!! I've changed the closing date of your exhibition and certainly wish I could see it in person!