Early Textile Work

2009 LOCUS MAGAZINE interview with Emily Hunter

EH: Your work is clearly a political critique, particularly America’s place in foreign relations and global politics. Can you discuss this aspect of your work?

LE: I design large-scale politically themed patterns that are inspired by the floral motifs and geometric structure typical of Islamic architecture and decorative art. My installations are modeled after religious spaces of reflection and concentration. by using subversive imagery, such as gas pumps, hummers, and weaponry, in my designs, I critique America’s role in international relations in a Post-9-11 world.

Systems produce a stability that is calming and disarming. When there is a prescribed course and outcome, spontaneous variation is undesirable and creates disruption and irregularity. The ideas of repetition and variation interest me as a metaphor for the conformity of people within a group; or, on a larger scale, globalization and enforced consumer assimilation.

In a repeat-pattern design, when the rules of registration are followed, the pattern is upheld. Breaking the system can result in the module being printed upside down, in the wrong color, or displaced entirely. The importance of each module being printed on register to fit within the greater pattern parallels a system for standardizing culture and personal beliefs that is being instituted in the name of national security and global stability.

I consider The War on Terror (especially the Bush administration’s language created around it) a formative influence on my personal and artistic development because of its prominence in the media my entire adult life.

EH: While being subversive, it also really evokes a real awe of the powers of religion. Your installations are almost like sacred spaces. Were you raised with religion? If not, when and how did you discover it?

LE: My mother raised me with religion, but we don’t see it the same way. Church does something really great for her that I haven’t yet found there. I certainly have my own morals and rules for living that guide my actions, but I don’t believe that there’s a single path that leads to a pleasant afterlife. I believe Good advice can be found in all religions, but killing people “in god’s name” is not a way to earn your way into heaven. All of the prophets taught peace.

I find myself a willing fly on the wall many times, a vigilant observer. I am interested in religion as a social phenomenon and its affects on individuals as well as its potential to politicize communities. In many parts of the world, individuals are born into a religion as concretely and indisputably as they are born into their bodies or families or cultural heritage. As Americans, we can choose our religion in the same free manner as we choose our breakfast cereal (so why not mix my cocoa puffs with my Cheerios should I find virtue in both?).

EH: Can you talk about the method of screen printing with devore velvet? Do you do this by hand? Seeing it in real life, it almost looks like the cloth has been manufactured. It looks old and fragile, but I have no idea how it’s made…

LE: Screenprinting and airbrushing with the chemical Devore requires immense planning and double-checked geometry because it is almost invisible. I have to “have faith” in my preparation and really trust in the math that structures the designs. The chemical works by burning out the dense, opaque pile of the velvet. what remains is a transparent silk backing which bears the image.

EH: I’m interested in your idea of conformity and the process of printmaking, how creating a pattern (via screen printing for instance) is an illustration of creating a system where all of the parts are the same and in their own place. Can you discuss this more?

LE: Think of the structure of a basic multi-story parking garage as a pattern. The repetition and uniformity in components literally support it and allow it to function.

When all cinderblocks have the same shape and size they can be placed next to others with ease, whereas random pyramid bricks throughout the wall structure would make it terribly unstable. There is also a very basic, calm visual harmony in that stability, behind which imagery can be hidden.

Likewise with Marines marching in formation. If a few decide to do jumping jacks, the formation disintegrates into chaos. The same for any trained worker who strays from responsibilities.

I originally imagined a large group of people supporting the PATRIOT Act out of a sensationalized media frenzy of fear.

Imagine the uniform thoughts and actions of a frightened population to be cinderblock-shaped and stacked to form a wall. They fit together much more neatly than random shapes.

EH: I’ve heard that George Bush was god’s gift to comics but I also think he was god’s gift to artists of all types—in the sense that he was ridiculous to the point of being a caricature, and his actions were so easy to attack. With the election of President Obama, have you found that your relationship to politics has changed, shifted at all, or stayed the same?

LE: Its true. Life will be difficult without the self-proclaimed “decider.” But it will go on (as will bush’s legacy, his binary “religion-inspired” view--“you’re either with us or with the terrorists,” as well as other xenophobic and isolationist language that made many enemies for our country).

Politicians and their corporate sponsors will always give us something to quip and subvert.

The piece in the Sondheim Semi-finalists show, “this end is a Beginning, This Beginning is an End,” is actually about cleansing, renewal and hope. I made this piece between Barack Obama’s election and his inauguration, which represent transformative hope. It is a working fountain with a lit backboard. The printed fabric and the fountain both contain imagery of budding and blooming, wilting and dying flowers. As if to say, “Let’s wash our hands of...” You name it.

EH: What comes first—the medium or the message?

LE: Definitely the message. I love patternmaking, but I work in media other than printmaking. I am currently working on some cast multiples that can create a pattern, but they are all free modules, so they can break it too.