Combining old textiles with computer technology, Hale Ekinci creates thought-provoking fiber art. Beginning with an old family photograph, Hale manipulates the image and transfers it to a repurposed household textile. Then hand stitch takes over to complete the story.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
I was always there but was too curious about everything. I double majored in art and computer science in undergrad! It wasn’t till after undergraduate that I fully committed to art being my major focus. The past three years have been the most intense and productive I have been in my practice, which coincides with switching my focus to fibers.
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When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
A bit of both. I start with one single photo that I transfer without even thinking what it will become. I base that decision on my gut feeling I get from the family in it. Then I photograph it and plan it in photoshop, especially for colors. Then I paint. By the time I reach the embroidery layer my improviser side kicks in and I go with the flow.
What inspires you? Are there recurring themes in your work? Do you do series work?
A lot of my inspiration comes from folk culture, especially Middle Eastern, specifically Turkish, from my upbringing, and fashion. I often work in series that can also function independently. It allows me to explore an idea from different angles.
How often do you start a new project? Do you work actively on more than one project at a time?
I used to jump from one type of work to another pretty quickly (like from video to works on paper to installation) with the caveat that all of them are grounded in narrative, collage, and color. Nowadays, I work mainly on my fiber body of work – solvent transfer embroidery paintings on fiber framed with crochet edgings.
What drives your decision to create an installation vs a piece to be hung on a wall? How do you approach them differently? What are the constants?
It is mainly a combination of what the piece needs to best present itself and my desire. I have been trying to push myself to come off the wall or break the rectangle which allows me to see and show things differently.
How do you decide to build a piece on fabric, paper, wood or some other substrate? Why bed sheets as a foundation for embroidery, for example?
To be honest, bed sheets started out of pure coincidence. An embroidery workshop I attended had these old bedsheets to learn on as a sustainable option. I loved the old floral patterns, so I kept looking for more. The formal attraction is that the patterns they serve as the perfect backgrounds. Not as assertive as fashion patterns, they are also ornamental and frequently repetitive enough to work with my compositions.
The conceptual reason is the connection to the body and lived experiences. I have a series that I work on paper, that used to be my main medium, but the fabric works much better with embroidery. And it is conceptually more appropriate for some of the themes I explore like women’s work, gendered labor, home, tradition (Turkey has a rich folk tradition in textiles), and domesticity.
Some of your installations are in public spaces with open access. Let’s Resist, for example. Have you ever encountered damage to a piece that’s more accessible than pieces displayed inside a museum or gallery?
Those were more like interventions that took place for a brief period of time so no, fortunately, I have not encountered damage. That being said, I would like to think that I would be okay (or only put things outside that I would be comfortable with) if they got damaged. It would be part of the experience of that specific work that requires to be outside.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
I often think about this, and I think my embroidery series on bedsheets hit this mark. It stands out as my own signature. The crochet edgings and the combination of photo transfer – embroidery – painting make them recognizable, along with the background patterns.
How does your studio organization contribute to your work process?
I have two spaces. One is a small room at home with a comfy armchair where I do a lot of thinking and embroidery. And I have one larger, dirty space in an industrial warehouse. That’s where I experiment on new ideas and leave them up until I figure out what they need to be. I can work on messier, larger pieces as well as document work. I think these spaces definitely affect what I work on any given day. Also, I often embroider or crochet on the couch hanging out with people; I often can’t just do nothing. I have to keep my hands busy. This is one of the reasons I love fiber practices. You could work on them basically anywhere (of course depending on the size).
Are there indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
Paint, yarn, printer, push pins. It’s a great question to think about that tells me about how I think and work. They help me not only create the work but also to think with the tools.
What is your favorite lesser-known tool for your trade? Have you taken something designed for another use and repurposed it for your studio?
The spoon! I use the side of a metal spoon to transfer my photos. I brush a solvent on the back of the printout. Then I rub it with the spoon to transfer the image onto my surface.
How do you make the leap from an idea in your head to the art you produce?
First, by writing, I take a lot of notes and quick/messy sketches. Then by testing. I always test a small version of the idea or method I’m playing with. I also use photography and Photoshop to try colors and compositions, especially in the middle of the production phase. This leap takes a long time. I often take notes and think on things for a very long time before I act on them. Unless it’s a series that is mostly figured out and is on autopilot.
How do you stay organized when working with multiple design ideas and processes?
I always work on multiple projects at once, it helps to keep me productive without being too repetitive. I make checklists in my sketchbook often. Even list what I’m going to do before I get to the studio so I don’t forget. Then I have a structure. Plus, it’s so satisfying to cross off an item from a list with a thick line!
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people – or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I think creativity is the close cousin of curiosity – anyone that is even mildly curious can become creative. I believe it is a skill that can be cultivated – better if cultivated when younger. That being said, some people have an easier time learning it than others. I think those people are mostly the curious ones that observe, question, and reason.
How does teaching influence your work?
I teach mostly graphic and 2D design courses. They give me a certain kind of compositional obsession, especially in visual hierarchy. I can’t shake that off when I design and plan my works. I often consider design principles as I’m formalizing my artwork. Knowing I teach graphic design doesn’t surprise people. You can see the influence in my visual hierarchy, space, pattern, and overall visual communication.
How has your creativity has evolved over the years? What triggered the evolution to new mediums/kinds of work/ways of working?
Again, switching mediums came out of personal needs in my life. My work used to be video based and photo collage transfers on paper. That takes a long production and planning process. When I started to teach full-time, I was only able to get video work done in the summers. Even then, I didn’t want to spend hours at the computer heavily editing/collaging. I do that every day with my students.
I started crocheting for personal pleasure and slowly realized that I could do it as my artwork instead of a hobby I love and can do anywhere anytime. After a short embroidery workshop, I developed my current method. It combines all my previous passions but allows me to be away from the screen and mobile. I have a long commute and often crochet on the train:)
Tell us about your blog and/or website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
A look at my work in a clean way. I actually really like how my gallery provides a group view of all the work tiled together. It’s like a family photo gallery wall. I also try to update my news page with upcoming exhibitions and my instagram with my process.
Interview posted August, 2019.
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