Spotlight: Gabriela Nirino, Textile Artist
Gabriela Nirino is a self-described “textile nerd” who teaches at 3 universities and works in studios in Buenos Aires and Seattle. She is an accomplished weaver who pushes the boundaries of the medium.
Tell us a little bit about you and what you do.
I am from Buenos Aires, Argentina. I used to draw over any surface I could get as a child. Over the years I studied two degrees, the first in Linguistics. After a few years I come back to the University when the Textile Degree was created. And never stopped working and teaching about textiles after that. On parallel, I went through a lot of workshops and other studies, like animation movies, drawing, etching, tapestry and so on. I travelled a few times overseas to learn more about Jacquard in Firenze (Italy) and Montréal (Canada), about shifu in Japan (I hope I can come back there!), natural dyes in Brazil.
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Also for about 8 years I learned about and made jewelry, trying to find a way to mix both activities.
Currently I am a Professor in 3 Universities where I teach Textile Design, Industrial Design oriented to textiles and one course of design for Textile Engineers. Since 2010 I have directed a small research team: dyes and color, yarn creation and now wearables.
I participate in textile and jewelry exhibitions.
Why textiles? How did you get started?
I don’t know. But I am a complete textile nerd. I can became ecstatic looking at a small precious piece. I used to pack and unpack thousand of times the boxes with fabrics, lace and ribbons that belonged to my grandmother who was a very talented craft person: she drew, painted, did incredible dresses and hats. She died very young and I always regret not having met her because I felt a connection with her. My first big Jacquard was done using a postcard with her photo where she wrote a love letter to my grandfather.
How does teaching at university influence your art?
Teaching is always a dialogue. You teach and learn at the same time because you can have more experience in certain fields but the students have more experience in others and a different view about life and work. It is a challenge all the time: you have to keep your mind open. It is an influence for everything: you have to work with many different points of view and learn to respect them. And it is fun to be with people who love the same things as you!
Do you have a favorite class to teach? Which one is it, and why?
My favorite class is any class where students have a strong commitment. Particularly, I enjoyed teaching the last semester. The students had to do a long and personal graduation project. It is a very intense course because I have to work with very different types of projects. It is great: I learn a lot, too. These are the students who are almost my colleagues; most of them are really talented people and work so hard. So, even with all the nerves and anxiety it is a happy period. At least for me. I hope for them too.
What is your advice for students starting out in your field?
As the time goes by, you learn that there is no real good advice because circumstances change all the time. Anyway, if I have to say something, I will say: keep doing, every good thing takes time. Enjoy the journey, try to learn all you can, and work with others. It doesn’t mean that you are not going to do personal work alone, but doing projects with other people is a fruitful experience and you create nets to share and find where you belong.
For myself, I always remember the first sentence I learned in my first Greek class at the University: Χαλεπὰ τὰ καλά (Beautiful is difficult).
When is your most productive time for creating your own work?
When I have a lot of free time, so not so often. I need to be relaxed and able to “waste” time doing things really slowly. A process to do something could be really long. I have things in my mind in a confused way. I try different ways to do something, it doesn’t work, but one day, in some unexpected way, you can put all together.
Usually I think I am not very productive, but then I realized that is not true, that it takes a lot of time and a lot of trying to arrive at something you want to show.
Who or what inspires you? Are there recurring themes in your work?
The material itself fascinates me. Many times is: what can I do with this? I just want to touch it and find out what it expects of me. So I collect and try to do yarn with everything I find; I discovered a beautiful seaweed last summer that can became a good weft.
Also, I love to work with photographs, of people and bodies especially.
Finally, literature is very important for me. Books are family members: in a world where you are surrounded by so many images, words can trigger more personal images.
Do you have studios in both Buenos Aires and Seattle? How are they set up and what do they look like?
I have a small studio in Buenos Aires and when I am in Seattle I use the guest room. But small textiles, you can do it everywhere, it is a nomadic work. Textiles are portable.
Many of the most incredible textiles were made on waist looms, with almost no technology. I really like to do things on the floor, for example. Even if I have some place to work, when I am doing something you can find textile material all over the place. My husband doesn’t care about that, he is very curious, too, about processes and materials and likes to learn about new things.
What are the most important tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
I have 5 small looms, of different types. I would love to have an electronic one, but it is too expensive; that is a dream. Also a lot of yarns and all kind of junk. Things I collect and are there waiting for me or simply giving me some ideas. I have a lot of pieces of founded wood, for example.
If you could spend a day with any creative person (past or present), who would that person be? What would you talk about?
Well, probably it would be interesting to participate in a Bauhaus textile workshop. And I would have loved to spend one day with John Berger, an artist who really touches me, because of his humanity. Finally, I had the most creative journeys with small kids: they have no restrictions to imagine anything.
When was the first time that you remember realizing that you are a creative person?
I don’t think about myself in those terms. I just need to do certain things. It is a way to talk, a way to use the body.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people – or do you think creativity is a skill that people must develop?
People are creative in so many ways, even when they think they are not. Surviving reality requires an enormous amount of creativity. Certain circumstances force you to develop your skills. If you are talking about art and craft, you can teach techniques and try to create a loving environment to encourage people to experiment.
When you begin to create, do you have a finished product in mind? Or does the work evolve?
The product in my mind always became something else. To give flesh and blood to an idea makes that. Materiality changes everything you can think. That happens to my students too. “I think I can do…” If you don’t do it, you don’t know.
What are you working on now?
I was weaving a lot of small samples, trying to create volume with a type of that are pieces usually flat. I have a lot of samples, in different material, most of them very thin. But I don’t know why I am working so small – my eyes are killing me!
On the other side, I am participating with a group of 15 other people in a one year project, coordinated by Jorge Manilla, a Mexican artist who lives in Belgique. We are creating a collection of contemporary jewelry or some kind of something. I don’t know what it will be yet. I am using corn leaves and it is really interesting because I feel I am in the middle of the sea and I don’t know where we are going to arrive.
What’s next for you?
Well, I am planning my retirement from the University, and I am very excited about having more time to do big pieces and hopefully to have the possibility to travel and do some projects overseas again.
Interview posted October 2018
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