One of the new exhibitions at the Mann Art Gallery offers a chance to collaborate with artist Elizabeth Babyn.
‘Her Industry, Reclaimed’ explores a variety of textile processes that women have historically advanced, such as embroidery, mending, sewing, crocheting and more recently needle felting, through the creation of tapestries made of up-cycled textiles.
Babyn said she originally worked in drawing and painting, but her work began to shift when she moved to Saskatchewan.
“As my work changed that’s also when I decided to do my MFA at the U of S and was exploring installation,” she explained. “I was using a lot of textile approaches anyway at that time,”
Babyn’s project is an homage to her late mother, Rollande, as well as to generations of mothers and other women who have toiled and continue to work within the textile industry in domestic, industrial and creative spaces.
Babyn said that her work really began to evolve when her mother passed away as she was finishing her MFA and she began thinking about her mother’s contributions.
“I came from a family of seven kids, grew up on a farm and she sewed every stitch we wore,” Babyn remembered. “Without her we would have struggled a lot more. She did everything, whether it was canning like so many moms of that day, so I started to think about that. Then I was thinking she did a lot of repairs too. She used to take things apart and make new things. That was sort of the seed that got me interested in it.
Babyn said women through the ages have contributed lots to textile, but weren’t given their due. She said industrialization made it even more unlikely women would receive credit for their work, but that’s starting to change with more and more people recognizing the medium as an art form with creations like wallhangings.
Babyn started her own artistic efforts using reclaimed material, just like her mother would have, but in a very different way. She began with projects like tapestries, and named one after Rollande.
“All of the wall hangings are named after ancestors of mine, but really they represent women and men through the ages who have done this sort of work,” Babyn said. “But usually it is mostly women.”
Her first suspended piece is “Eve”, which has become a collaborative crochet piece. It started with a small piece in the Snelgrove Gallery at the University of Saskatchewan, and began growing after she invited the community to add to it.
“I loved that people came and said they had never crocheted before,” she said.
“There were people that were also well versed in textile and some weren’t and we sort of worked together.”
Babyn pointed to a part of ‘Eve’ where a young woman who had never crocheted before learned the basics and eventually created a large part of the centre of the piece. At the time, the person was unsure if it would work at all.
“This is all about evolving,” Babyn explained. “I said, ‘would you like to take a ball of wool and crochet at home?’ So when she came up with this I thought it was quite lovely. It’s looser and it’s just free form.
Babyn will be on-site from April 19 to 21 (10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day) to host a collaborative workshop. Visitors are welcome to join her by contributing to a large, ongoing suspended textile piece (begun in 2019). Whether you have 5 minutes or 5 hours, you’re encouraged to participate and learn something new.
“It’s going to be growing and hopefully people will even come back later to see how much it has evolved.” Babyn said.
She explained that the medium of needle felting and wet felting all became parts of the piece.
“It’s a good textile approach to get people going with textile and stuff and it is so forgiving,” she explained.
There is stitching and a bunch of mediums used in ‘Eve’ and people can add what they wish.
“We are just adding those pieces and some people will come and say, ‘I would just like to do some stitching, I would like to do some crocheting,’” she added.
Babyn said that she wants to see Eve continue to grow by taking it to more communities.
“I mean if it fills a room I am happy too,” she said.
The size all depends on the number of collaborators she gets after it begins growing in the Mann.
“That’s one of the limitations of a studio,” she said. “I love my studio, but at the same time the limitations are space especially when you do all this, it starts filling up the space. I thought, ‘now I have an opportunity to start working because I have got the space here and hopefully I will start doing that as well.’”
The exhibit also includes her other free standing pieces similar to ‘Eve’ including one called ‘Boro’ which is a Japanese word for mending. Another piece is called ‘Dumpsy’ and represents the Goddess of the land and sea.
Another large piece is named for Hera, the Goddess of Marriage, which has individually wet felted roses.
“Everything is recycled,” Babyn explained. “I thought first of all I had gotten a lot of light coloured things, so I thought why not work with it and since I am reclaiming materials, but also, when you think of weddings they can be very opulent,”
The show runs from April 14 to May 28 with the Opening Reception on Thursday, April 21 at 7 p.m.
Also, running at the Mann is the show Negar Devine-Tajgardan: The Reunion.
The Reunion addresses memories of absent spaces and missing objects through furniture miniatures. Negar Devine-Tajgardan uses dissolvable fabric for its fragile quality and ability to speak to the vulnerability of life.
This project focuses on the physical spaces of memory, beginning with the artist’s own experiences of displacement and immigration.