Artist: Caryn Aasness
Exhibition: Waste of Time
Gallery: Merlino Gallery
About the Artist
Art isn’t confined to traditional mediums, and Caryn in definitely not one to follow tradition. The art galleries at CSULB have been home to many unique displays, but most find there roots in paint, photography, metal, or other classic mediums. Caryn’s work is the first exhibit I have seen to be exclusively done with weaving. Weaving is an ancient practice, with the oldest known weaving found in Peru being from 10,100 to 9,080 BCE. Weaving became much more popular with advancements in the loom, a device used to weave cloth quickly from thread. Caryn uses a more modern loom, but she says it is still quite time consuming. She really has to want the final result and be willing to put in the hours and days to make it. Caryn is currently an undergraduate in the BFA Fiber major, so she deals with textiles constantly. She is very tactile, and incorporated her need to touch objects physically into her art. Like most artists I have interviewed, Caryn works late into the night and early in the morning, when she says there are no people to distract her. She is well on her way to graduating soon, though she doesn’t want to stop after a Bachelor’s degree. After working for a few years at a more regular job, she hopes to go back to graduate school. Being young though, she is still unsure what path she will eventually follow for a career. Much of her life has been wrought with uncertainty, and the ever-present desire to be herself. Caryn described to me all the statements, rules, and norms she learned as a child, and how so many conflict with what she feels she wants to be. This is the central idea that drove her to create her gallery. The need to create herself, and not be the product of others. I hope to delve deeper into her feelings and the meaning behind her pieces further in this post.
On the surface, one would think that Caryn’s pieces are exact copies of each other, and one might leave frustrated because these works are nothing special on the surface. Allow me to first describe the physical characteristics of all of the pieces. They are made of thin, soft thread. Each has a vertical pattern of colorful stripes in shades that gently transition or compliment the stripes near to it. There are also horizontal lines, but these are difficult to see. They look faded against the bolder, vertical stripes. Overall, though, one can observe a faint grid pattern in each piece, with squares 1″ by 1″. One square per row was overlaid with thicker thread, making it bulge outwards slightly. Even though there is great precision in these fabrics, they appear organic. The pattern is ridged, but the surface of the cloth is lightly wrinkled, and the edges curve and curl. This makes it easy to see the handmade quality of these works. At the bottom of each piece, the stripes are finished by tying the loose strands into a decorative hanging piece, like the fringe on a fine rug. This gives then a more complete feeling. Since most of the pieces are longer than they are wide, this also makes the pieces look a bit like a roman standard, the flags that were hung sideways. This is the physical description of the pieces, but they held a deeper meaning. Each piece had exactly 26 columns, each corresponding to a letter of the alphabet. Each row has one square that is highlighted by thicker thread, so each row’s square represents a letter. This becomes important when one pieces all the squares together to see the hidden message in the deceptively simple fabric. Each piece seems so similar, but they all have a unique phrase encoded into the very thread itself. The works, like Caryn, aren’t as simple as they appear.
As I stated above, each of Caryn’s works has a message encoded in it. So before I begin analyzing the content of these weavings, I should probably tell what the content is. I’ll go in order, telling the number of the piece and then the statement it holds. (1) In the days of my youth I was told what it means to be a man. (2) “Takes one to know one. I’m rubber you’re glue. I know you are, but what am I”. (3) “Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everyone I have ever known”. (4) “To call it cute is to misunderstand”. (5) “Exclamation point question mark”. (6) “First comes love then comes marriage then comes the baby in the baby carriage”. (7) “Speak up keep it down”. (8) “I’m still looking for sureness in the way I say my name”. These are the statements in each weaving. They seem so unconnected when you read them without knowing the full story. But for every letter, hundreds of lines of thread had to be used and hours had to be spent. This places a special kind of importance on each statement. They had to be chosen with unique care, because the investment of time and energy would be so great. But from snippets one might hear on an elementary school playground to song lyrics, they don’t have an apparent joining thread (no pun intended). It would take a serious conversation with the artist to find the connection. Caryn is not one to follow traditional ways of thinking in her art or in her life. As a child she said she was constantly taught what she should and shouldn’t do. You are supposed to be quieter, this is how you should act, you should get married and have kids when you are older. These were just statements that everyone told her, ideals that others felt she should share. This is the common element in the messages in the weavings. They are statements that she heard over and over as a child, interjected with her own feelings often from songs and books. Like the quote “nothing in me is original, I am the combined effort of everyone I have ever know”. This was Caryn’s feeling as she matured. That she wasn’t her own person, just the combined wants and ideals of those around her. As she aged, she wanted to unlearn as much of what she had learned to be correct in society as she thought she should. Particularly with marriage. Caryn has constantly heard others telling her she needs to find a husband, get married, settle down and start a family with children. This is what she learned from others as the way to have a happy and successful life, but upon her own contemplation, this isn’t something she completely agrees with. Caryn says she wants to know who she is before finding a serious relationship, and even then may not want children. She has always learned from society that this isn’t what she should do, but Caryn is fiercely independent. She wants to build her own ideals, figure out what she really wants and believes. She thinks that what is generally taught and accepted can be limiting. We need rules and guidelines, but everyone should have the freedom of their opinions. One piece of artwork I have left out because it actually isn’t a part of the collection, though it connects to theme. It is the title. The title itself is a weaving like the others, but it takes quite some time to decode. The final message is at first humorous. It is the statement “waste of time” repeated over and over. It would make anyone who spent the last 10 minutes or so decoding it laugh because they essentially did just waste their time decoding the same repeating message. But it has a deeper meaning. This is one of the statements that Caryn is working her hardest to fight because she hears it all the time now; that art is just a waste of time. This is the opinion of many around her, an opinion Caryn hopes to fight. Art is time consuming, but it is not a waste of time. For Caryn, as for many others, art is a way to share feelings with the world. To change the opinions of at least a few for the better.
Synthesis/ My Experience
I can’t say i have strong feeling one way or the other for this piece. With other galleries I have visited, I could generally connect what I saw with something personal. If not immediately, then at least after talking with the artist. But this just wasn’t the case. I can’t think of a way this relates to me powerfully, though I suppose that is alright. Almost all art has a message, but the number of people who need to hear that specific message is generally quite small. It would follow then that there would be at least one gallery that I wouldn’t find personally meaningful. Though that doesn’t mean I don’t find it important. For me I have always been sure of my own identity, and mostly able to recognize the social norms and opinions that I agree and disagree with. But not everyone is me. For someone struggling to go against something they are told to do that might not necessarily be right for them, this would be a helpful exhibit for them, to know they are not alone. Caryn’s exhibit didn’t resonate with my own needs, but I know there will be at least some who will see this exhibit and feel their own struggles in the weavings with a hidden message.