Regien Cox: Meetings in the Universe of the Strange
I am interested in the way memories are transformed and put into order, or disorder.
Award-winning Norwegian artist Regien Cox’s conceptual practice builds on a lifetime of handiwork, learned in a childhood home where her family spent hours working in weaving, tapestry, knitting, crocheting, and batik. Regien’s challenge was to find a way to create work that reflected not only this rich family history but also served to express her own language and ideas.
Today, her work is admired for the beautiful lines and hieroglyphic images, combined with a sense of humour.
A tactile artist, Regien incorporates sumptuous objects of memory, such as the lush blanket for the travelling blue tractor series. Enigmatic and engaging, the appeal of this artist’s work is in part owed to a deft choreography that pairs craft with the conceptual framework of artists like Joseph Beuys.
And, in the tradition of Beuys, Regien suggests when asked to recommend textile books to her readers that they should instead write their own book, read their sketchbooks, become their own author.
Regien’s work can be found in the collections of National Museum of Decorative Arts and Design, Trondheim, Norway and the Kode Art Museum of Bergen, Norway. She is a member of the Norwegian Visual Artists Association and the Norwegian Craftsman Association.
Artists like Regien offer a new way of looking at the legacy of domestic handcraft and the way it continues to inform contemporary artistic practice and innovation.
In this interview, Regien talks about the range of work she produces from hand-spun art to installations that combine themes from conceptual art, industry and tradition. She also shares her creative process; the building and metamorphosis of projects and a glimpse into her planning process.
Family traditions of textile art
Fascinated by the rhythm and repetition of the spinning wheel, I often sat on my grandfather’s knee and spun wool. This created not only a single thread but also an inner stillness in me.
TextileArtist.org: Please tell us about your early life, family and how your upbringing has influenced your work?
Regien Cox: The art of textiles have always been part of my family’s story. My grandfather worked as a master weaver at a textile mill producing the finest silks. Spun with gold, these high-quality textiles were greatly sought after and attracted customers from far away, including royal sheiks.
My parents and grandparents worked together on various projects; whether it was making textiles for the children or something more ambitious for the house.
The family hand coloured the wool from dyes made from the plants in the garden, and my mother and grandmother knitted much of our clothing from under-clothes to jumpers, and crocheted and knotted floor rugs.
My father wove the many curtains for our home. They also used their creative energies for gardening, making jams and beekeeping. I grew up with an intuitive sense of togetherness and collaboration.
What was your first project?
At six or seven, I was a tree climber, and I was fed up with jumpers, which were too tight under the arms. I wanted to invent and knit a comfortable jumper with stretch under the arms in the same way you would knit a cuff. This was my first experience of what it is to create, and from there, I continue to explore and work on new ideas and projects.
Discovering a unique pictorial language
When I began, what I longed for was a way to carve out my own form of expression in textile arts.
What initially attracted you to textiles?
I have worked with many different materials and creative techniques but I return time and time again to textile, perhaps because of their unique stark contrasts and challenges, and also perhaps because fabric adds another dimension and quality or simply because it’s me. I concentrated on gathering ideas and developing original concepts while working within my own technical strengths.
How did you come to work in mixed media?
During my studies, I wanted to challenge my sense of familiarity with textile materials and practice. I looked for objects that could provoke, change, and push the limits of the field.
For my thesis, I bought a tractor and developed a conceptual work entitled Tractor Textiles. This body of work developed into Places for a Blue Tractor. In this same vein, I continued to look for more objects and textile techniques. It was a very natural progression into the world of mixed media.
Building connections through sketching
This created place, in a multitude of ways helps hold open a space in which to create my ethos.
Tell us about your planning process, and preparatory steps.
A new project comes into existence when there are enough connections in my sketchbooks. I start with organising and designing a concept, each according to its own rules.
I use my sketchbook in many different ways; it holds everything from initial sketches to directed technical drawings. I often fill the pages with words and explanations; as a kind of dictionary containing all the links and connections. Other times, the sketchbook is a collection of poetic mood drawings, swatches, and texts describing situations, observations, and or drawings.
Can you describe this way of working and how it informs the evolution of an artwork? Many of your projects are a kind of narrative of your process but in a very distilled way.
During my studies, and the following first few years I developed a way of working entitled The MUSt: Meetings in the Universe of the Strange. This created place, in a multitude of ways, helps hold open a space in which to create my ethos. The MUSt includes planets, moons, stars, galaxies, matter and energy. It stretches out, expanding in time and space, and its contents. Everything moves in a planetary system with different possible connections.
I have to tread carefully and constantly observe the vibrations of the intersections. Things are often hidden in this system in some mysterious way.
In addition, what is the three-dimensional sketchbook?
My 3-dimensional sketchbook is called WARHOOP (Dutch). In this space, I stack things that answer to the concepts desired expression, that is intuitive or speaks to me.
Using tiny stitches to build large-scale work
The stitch has become close to my heart. It carries a personal presence, almost like a signature, with its intimate scale….
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
My methods have changed over time. Today, I apply my “root system”, the MUSt in order to feed the creative process. I still rely on intuition, however, I am less bound by preconceptions of the resulting aesthetics.
The MUSt method uses a library of metaphors derived from a set of objects, a kind of set of symbols, the inherent values or forces and the knowledge (and illusion) about a universe of order, position, rank and interaction (my own universe, apparently). Lastly, by adding the element of time, this universe is set in motion.
In the future, I would like the work to be more complex and on a considerably larger scale, and yet have simpler expression.
Tell us about your process from conception to conclusion and your techniques, particularly the role of stitch.
The stitch has become close to my heart. It carries a personal presence, almost like a signature, with its intimate scale and other qualities. As well, tiny stitches can build large spaces, so the initial small is transformed into something ultimately large.
One could say that my work is a continual process, constantly seeking new objects and techniques. The origin of all this lies in the Tractor, the discovery of concept use, and preparation of the MUSt.
Regien’s Atelier, An old ship
I am surrounded by metal transformed by nature into beautiful sculptures, I often wonder, is it only me who sees the sculptures?
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
The drill takes first place, followed by the needle and a crochet hook.
Tell us about your working environment, it is somewhere industrial?
I have found myself a space that speaks my language. It is an old building in the offshore yard, I find steel parts, big constructed things, and stacks of metal things.
Sometimes the yard is a hive of rhythmic repetitive activity; cranes coming picking up boats or men delivering odd parts, lifting, stacking back and forth. Other times there is a strange quiet about the place; pallets wait, metal turns rusty.
The scale of my environment influences my work; the close proximity of the sea and the large old ship fabrication shed changes my perspective. Inside, I surround myself with hundreds of different objects from pearls to machine parts collected for colour, form, feeling, and history. I also have my tools, machines, and materials for producing my art and the finished artworks.
Themes: The transformation of memory
In my practice, memories interact with the environment and capture a tension between the viewer and the object. It is like the endless motion of the spinning wheel.
What currently inspires you? Please tell us more about the way the concept of memory is central to your work?
The exploration of memory is integral to my work; each piece holds a density of memories. Some fond recollections are from childhood, while others are from a collective or cultural memory.
Namely, I explore the transformative process of memory. An experience undergoes a complete remixing or change, from something present to a memory, despite how we may cling to it. For my next solo exhibition November 2017, the projects about this dynamic include Garage Door and the Bayeux tapestry of the Battle of Hastings.
For more information visit: www.regiencox.com
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