Alex Worden interview: Bridging analog and digital crochet
Alex Worden is the co-founder of the Boulder-based design firm, Studio TJOA.
Although Alex was formally educated in architecture, his graduate research in textiles became his introduction to the world of textile arts.
In this interview, Alex Worden sheds some light on his thesis, his grandmother’s rag rugs, and speaks of the satisfaction his large scale crochet work gives him.
Warm textiles enclosing the space
TextileArtist.org: What initially captured your imagination about textile art?
Daina Taimina was the first person to realize that you could use crochet to fabricate pliant models of hyperbolic surfaces, she is a mathematics professor out of Cornell University and has been bridging mathematics and textiles for almost two decades now.
Matt Gilbert created a computational program that enabled him to develop a hyperbolic sweater pattern which is probably one of the most striking sweaters I have ever seen.
Kate Pokorny developed an idea where she wanted to crochet a full sized yurt. Her jump in scale really opened my imagination to what the possibilities were with textiles.
What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work?
I am not certain that it was a direct influence, but it was probably subliminal. I grew up watching my grandmother crochet on the couch when I was a young boy. I used to play with the Lego blocks on the green shag carpet they had from the ’70s while she hooked and looped the day away. So I most definitely have to say my grandmother influenced me indirectly.
Also, my mother and father would hang rugs on the walls of our house and I was always very comfortable with these warm textiles enclosing the space, it felt some what primal and very cozy. Since then I have always enjoyed donning a rug on the wall, my friends would always wonder why I would put them on the walls, but it just felt right.
What was your route to becoming an artist?
My formal education is architecture, and during my time in graduate school I began questioning the new styles that we have been seeing in architecture, primarily the digital utilization and the undulating forms and patterns. As I began to read more progressive theories and historical precedents of surface and pattern development, I realized that these avant-garde forms are steeped in the rules and techniques of textiles and lace. That was really my jumping off point for exploring textiles, but I specifically chose crochet as the primary technique for my explorations specifically due to the new insights I read from Daina Taimina’s work.
Working towards a final product
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
During my graduate research I explored as many materials as I could get my hands on, materials such as manila rope, sisal, fishing line, rattan, and crocheted threads dipped in porcelain slip. I have continued to explore these materials since, and I have also come across others as well, but I tend to use crochet as my primary technique. I have started to branch out to other techniques as well, like braiding 4+ strands and knitting.
As for where my work fits, I am unsure. I know that it would be categorized as fiber art but beyond that I will let others determine where it lands.
Tell us a bit about your process and what environment you like to work in.
My process is typically emergent. I called my thesis ‘Emergent Explorations: Analog and Digital Scripting’ which I think calls to both the process and the environment that I work in. I think that one of the most important things to consider regarding textile techniques like crochet and knitting, for example, is that when working towards a final product using a pattern, the product is broken up into steps and uses a specific language to instruct the fabricator, which is at its core is coding.
My proposal in my thesis was that one could not only use the forms created by crochet to develop and shape space, but also could aid in the understanding of learning a new coding language utilized by the digital environments. When you crochet you are coding the yarn/material with various loop types. The process is primarily linear in its directionality but because when you loop back into the existing structure it becomes recursive. This type of thinking really aided in my understanding of learning a digital language and being able to translate the technique of crochet into a abstracted digital code.
Do you use a sketchbook?
When it comes to textiles, I rarely use a sketchbook. I try to utilize the physical model as much as possible. A sketchbook or 3D model can be used to help define top down desires, while the physical model enables a bottom up process. I do feel it to be very important to utilize both when working on any project.
What currently inspires you and which other artists do you admire and why?
Mundane and ubiquitous materials inspire me the most at the moment. I like to find simple materials and bring out the excitement of them through the use of different techniques. As for the other artists that I admire, there are really too many to name them all. I appreciate artists who are doing what they love for no other reason besides they love it.
Tell us about a piece of work you have fond memories of and why?
I think it that would be my grandmother’s rag rugs. They are just a bunch of old tattered clothes ripped into long pieces, braided together to make these beautiful patterns. I think because she grew up during the depression, she realized you have to make do with what you have and find the beauty in the mundane.
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
I am still trying to realize some of the explorations and experiments that I came across in my graduate research. When I finished, I had only touched on one singular item, if I hadn’t I would be a perpetual grad student.
As for evolving, I have no idea where it is going to go, I think that is what is most enjoyable about the emerging explorations – you don’t know what you will stumble upon!
Material research and properties
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
Find that one thing that you really see a potential for exploring. New eyes and new insights can always be had on anything, so if you see an opportunity in something, do it.
Can you recommend 3 or 4 books for textile artists?
- Gottfried Semper – Four Elements of Architecture
- Daina Taimina – Adventures in Crochet
- Lars Spuybroek – Architecture of Variation
- Frei Otto – Institute for Lightweight Structures (IL) series
What other resources do you use?
As for other resources, it revolves more about material research and properties. Since I am utilizing atypical materials for textile purposes, it is good to get an idea of what the properties of the material are while you are experimenting with them.
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
My hands, I suppose.
Large scale crochet work
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so where can readers find information about these?
I have given talks regarding the bridging between the analog and the digital while using crochet as the medium. I was very lucky to have been invited to Russia in 2012 to speak to the University of Art and Architecture in Novosibirsk as well as other various forums here in the States. Most of the information and excerpts from these talks can be found on our studio website.
As for choosing where to show my work, that has been interesting. I never really considered myself an artist until I started sharing my large scale crochet work. It has really started to take off. I am always interested in showcasing my work whenever I get an opportunity.
Where can readers see your work this year?
Selected pieces will be showcased this June at the Estes Park ‘Face of Fiber in the Rockies’ art show.
I am also working on a art installation that will utilize 36 crocheted Lilypads for the Denver Art Museum’s summer installation. It will be on display from June 15 – September 21, 2015.
For more details on Alex Worden, please visit: www.studiotjoa.com
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