A Common Thread
In weaving, warp yarns are held taut, lengthwise on the frame, while weft string is threaded transversely through. The work is slow, accumulative and, in Rowan Renee’s case, communal. Renee’s exhibition “A Common Thread” at Recess transforms the gallery into a collaborative weaving studio, in turn probing how material is worked through the body.
“Workshop” may be a more accurate term than “exhibition.” In line with Recess’s mission to reimagine not just a venue but a public for the arts, each visitor is invited to bring a scrap of fabric, imagery, paper or text, as well as the memory of an experience they would like to work through. The artist or another participant works these into the piece. Visitors can sign up for a 45-minute studio tour or 2-hour working session, and those unable to make it to the gallery in person can send their fragments via email. Participants not only translate an experience into an artwork but also weave their tactile and textual experiences together.
The centerpiece of the exhibition is a 25-foot-long loom set astride a long table, with the artist and visitor at opposite ends. Around the room, completed pieces, gossamer sheets and boxes are strung from the ceiling, their shimmering softness recalling the warmth of a cocoon and their opaque patches recalling pieces of redacted text. Indeed, Renee’s previous projects express interest in gender identity’s regulation by law; their research-driven projects plumb government records as well as family documents—archives riddled with holes, lacunae and redactions. Though it is an individual act of faith to give up those personal experiences to a piece of communal and public artwork, it is also a tenet of transformative justice, the philosophy of enacting real world change via nonpunitive or constructive means: the submission of oneself to a different kind of system. —Lisa Yin Zhang
Rowan Renee, courtesy Recess