Featured Artist Interview: Kayla Mattes
Please tell us about your work and talk about the medium and materials you work with. What is your relationship to them?
My work mostly focuses on 90′s kid pop-culture and it’s relationship to technology and trends of the present. My recent collection, Neo-90ies, relates to these ideas taking into consideration the kitschy and artificial, yet sincere nature of 90′s internet graphics, kids trends, and media. The collection includes manually machine knit and industrially knit pieces, along with digitally printed fabric, hand-dyed yarns, and handcrafted embellishments. The materials I chose to work with often directly related to the source, such as using plastic lanyard yarn, a popular craft material during the 1990′s to construct structured embellishments for a knit top and hair scrunchies. The prints were mostly made from paintings of internet appropriated imagery, like the Nickelodeon leotard which referenced You-Tube videos of old Nickelodeon commercials and ads. I’m glad that a lot of the collection relied on the availability of old media through the internet since a large part of the concept focused on how the birth of the internet began to influence trends and culture.
When did you first become interested in working with fibers and textile mediums?
I remember making cardboard looms for rug weaving when I was about 8, but I mostly started working with fibers at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) where I majored in Textiles. Seeing the vast colorful collection of yarns in the department’s yarn room was definitely what sold me.
Do you feel that there is a message that can only be revealed through these materials?
The tactile quality of textiles adds the reliance of touch to appreciate the work, that some art forms lack.
Tell us about your studio and how you work.
Currently my studio is set up in a corner of my apartment in the Koreatown area of Los Angeles. It’s filled with many bright and shiny things, along with collections of materials that inspire me. I initially start pursuing my ideas through lots of image, text, and video based research which then leads to material sourcing and material exploration. Eventually I figure out how I’d like to use these ideas in a more defined way and I start making. I’ve currently been intensely researching and sourcing materials used for fishing, which I’ve found to be surprisingly textile oriented with really interesting shiny and holographic finishes like these rainbow brass cones that I plan on using as hardware for knitted necklaces.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently in the midst of researching and developing a line of jewelry and accessories, which should be available for sale by the spring. While working on Neo-90ies I became fascinated with the structures and fabrications of popular crafts of the 90′s when I constructed a geometric knit top with lanyard embellishment. The soon to be ‘Summer Camp’ collection will similarly rely on these materials and methods to create nostalgic, innovative and contemporary structures. I’ve been experimenting with a range of methods such as tie-dye, fly fish making, lanyarding, hair wrapping, and shrink art to create necklaces, bracelets, and hair accessories. I remember making so many lanyards as a kid just to make them, not to actually use them. The structure of lanyards is actually really complex and stable which does really cool structural things when combined with knits. I love transforming the kitsch into fun and wearable pieces.
What do you do to sustain your art practice and living as an artist?
I’ve been working for this shoe company in LA called Crystal Heels that basically bedazzles high-end designer shoes with Swarovski crystals. My position as a “crystal strasser” involves gluing thousands and thousands of crystals one by one to each shoe. The work reminds me a lot of most textile methods, because of the repetition, and focus on precision.
I’ve also been collaborating with a group of artists in the print-editions company Art is Shit. The group focuses on maintaining “a sophisticated hijacking of the aesthetic principles of art” and works with emerging contemporary artists to curate shows, and develop limited edition prints. They curated a show in November called ‘BLOW POP‘ with my recent prints and knitwear collection, as well as sculptures and prints by Brandon Andrew. There’s currently some of my limited edition prints, and knitwear available for sale on their site.
What role do you think fiber art plays in contemporary art? What about the internet and technology?
Textiles and contemporary art are always bouncing off of each other, and really there shouldn’t be a line that divides the two. For example, when I see the digitally printed dresses of Mary Katrantzou, I view them to be in a similar realm as Tauba Auerbach‘s airbrushed canvases despite their different levels of function. In terms of technology I think it’s interesting that the traditional construction of textiles directly relates to how technology has progressed. I love how pixels can be perfectly translated into knit stitches when programming a Stoll machine to industrially knit a jpeg file.
How is your work typically displayed in a gallery setting? Does the work change for the audience when viewed in the gallery as opposed to viewing it in photograph or digital form?
I tend to play around quite a bit with how to display my work. For the thesis exhibition of my knitwear collection Neo-90ies, I chose to hang the pieces on half forms paired with the heads of famous 90′s supermodels like Tyra Banks and Naomi Campell. The Photoshop collaged heads were made with internet appropriated imagery and digitally printed on silk fabric and stretched like paintings.The purpose of the heads was to create a humorous dialogue that appropriately represented the 90′s kid pop-culture concept of the knitwear pieces. Seeing one of my looks worn by a ‘slimed’ Cindy Crawford seemed much more fitting than letting the pieces stagnantly fit on a dress form.
However, when Neo-90ies was shown in ‘BLOW POP’ I chose to use the pieces in a performance based way. Models wore the looks as they jumped and played on a blow-up Twister board game. This was a great format for the collection because the pieces came to life with the movement of the models and totally 90′s immersed environment of the space. It was great to see all of the guests morph into kids as they jump-danced to Backstreet Boys on the bouncy twister game while eating Ring Pops. It was a fun time. I think viewing my work digitally is certainly different, because the details and textures of the material become less tangible, but I am really happy with how the photo shoot of Neo-90ies came out. I had my models interact with props relevant to the looks they were given, which I think helped them embrace the quirky nature of the pieces. For example, I gave a Furby to the model wearing a fuzzy Furby sweater. She spontaneously decided to do some balancing acts on her head with the Furby which was perfect for the nature of the sweater.
What has your experience been like in dealing with galleries, exhibitions, and consumers as a textile artist?
I think that the fact that textiles have a possibility of functionality often blurs the line between whether the textile is a piece of art or merely an object for use, making it less common to see in a gallery setting. Galleries are accustomed to hang paintings, not sweaters. I often find myself conflicted whether it’s necessary for me to make things that are functional or something that’s existence is influential and worthwhile because of it’s concept. In a sense a lot of pieces in my Neo-90ies collection could be viewed as more sculptural than wearable, because of their “un-wearability”. This generally makes my ideas risky commercially since I rely on consumers who will feel comfortable wearing for example, knit pants covered in aliens. I usually end up making textiles that are functionally wearable, probably because the nature of a textile makes putting it on a wall seem silly, when someone can appreciate the piece by wearing it and feeling it, rather than just seeing it. I think that’s why it is less common to see textiles in a gallery setting, because the best way to experience a textile in a gallery setting would be to allow everyone to touch and feel and wear the fabrics rather than just look at them.
What is the hardest part in being a textile artist?
In my current position I would say reliance on machinery and tools. The past few years I have been spoiled by easy access to high-tech industrial textiles machines that have allowed me to pursue some very detailed pattern based ideas. After having industrially woven a distorted plaid-fabric based on AOL instant messaging, that replicated the details of an AIM toolbar, it’s sometimes hard to simplify my ideas knowing that it’s actually possible to pursue them with the right machinery. Despite these minor woes, I’m finding it refreshing to work with what I have available. Most of my new work is very handicraft based which is sometimes more fun than being detached from the physical making when using machinery.
Where do you imagine yourself and your work to be five years from now?
Living in a city that I find equally fun, inspiring, and beautiful, while running my own line of textiles based jewelry and knitwear. Also continuing to collaborate with friends, and curating shows together, traveling, and learning.
Do you have any shows or exhibitions coming up?
I plan on curating a show sometime in the spring or summer to showcase my upcoming jewelry and accessory collection.