A family tragedy brought Araxe to Charlottesville as a widow and single mom with 2 young children. I met with her a few days before her show, How to Open a Pomegranate, opened and was busy with all of the details that come with preparing this type of exhibit. In addition to the textile work she was creating for the show, she invited other artists to create work based on the short story she had written years ago.
Editor's note: The following story is in the artist's own words, excerpted from one-on-one interviews.
What kind of artist are you?
Accidental. I don’t have any formal training as an artist, so I’m self-taught. Experimental. I work mostly with fiber, almost entirely with fiber. I guess “fiber artist” would be attached.
Where does the story come from?
I found myself teaching this Ancient Civ class, and we had a professor that came. He was at the University of Arizona, and he came and gave a talk on forensic archaeology. He’d done this archaeological excavation in Italy, and had unearthed the skeletons of a family that had not survived an earthquake. The way they found the skeletons, there was a man with his arms wrapped around a woman like he was protecting her, and he was showing this slide to all these students I taught middle school, and he said, “Does anyone see anything else?” One of the kids said, “There’s a baby in there.” So that’s sort of where that kernel of the story came from, really, was from that image.
It started, then, as a paragraph, and it sat in a file for years and years and years, and then, you know, I’m not sure what made me resurrect it. I guess, every once in a while, I pull out old scraps of things I’ve written, old journals, which are funny to look at from when I was twenty.
I think that piece of that story really tapped into a lot of things that were happening for me emotionally, so it was a way for me to kind of assign a lot of emotional feelings and a lot of events that I hadn’t quite processed. There’s been a lot of grief in our family, a lot of uprooting and events in our recent past that have felt very cataclysmic, so this image of an earthquake and leaving places and rooting and what does it mean to be part of a family but not be part of a family like that, all sort of coalesced into the story kind of expanding into a larger thing
How do you start a new piece?
I’ve been kind of branching out from the conventional knitting and weaving that I’ve been doing, and I thought, “You know, let me see what happens if I just start playing with all these cool fibers and things that I have that really don’t fit into any kind of pattern.”
People say, “Oh, what are you working on?” I say, “I don’t know! I just wanted to see how these colors look together.” It’s not always a project that’s actually going to turn into something, or a lot of the pieces that I’m working on for the show are actually abandoned projects that I just got tired of, or they started out as a sweater and by the time I got halfway through the pattern, I realized I counted wrong and didn’t know what to do with it.
Part of it has been a change for me internally. Our family went through quite a bit in the last couple of years that kind of ruptured the structure of everything that had kind of held us together, and I didn’t realize how much that radiated out into everything I did.
When do you create?
My time is also limited. If I had the full day, you’d think, “My gosh, that’s not very many pieces, if you’re working on it every day!” Every day, meaning – I have two boys – when they’re in school, I’m working at the gallery a lot. When I’m not there, I’m home with them. They’re boys. They’re full-on boys, and it’s just me. I’m a single mom, and so until they go to bed, I might be able to snatch in thirty minutes here or there while they’re playing Minecraft or doing homework or something, but the really focused concentrated time is after they go to bed. Anywhere from 8PM or 9PM until 2AM is sort of a really focused time for me. I have to be careful, because that’s also my time to pay bills and do all the other grown-up stuff I’m supposed to keep up with. Every day really comes down to just a few hours, but I'd say it’s consistent. Every day, I’ve been working on this stuff.
Do you know where it's going?
There’s a line in the story that says, “Do you see how many different whites white can be?” And this idea is because white is such an interesting color for me. I know even when I’m picking out something to wear, a blue-white looks good, but if I go onto a yellow-white, I look like death. It’s always been interesting to me how such a subtle variation of shade of especially white makes a huge difference, but also, in terms of the story, that there is no such thing as “white”, that it’s as all-encompassing as the rainbow itself in this one color, white, that’s really not a color. I knew I wanted to do that, and I thought, “Well,” and I talked to one of my girlfriends who has kind of branched out into experimental quilting, but we started out knitting together. I said, “Do you think it would be nuts? I haven’t warped my loom.” That was my other thing – I forgot how to warp a loom. I’d learned when I was in Tucsan before I moved here, but I’d completely forgotten how to do it. I had to watch another YouTube video, and I realized at two in the morning halfway through it, it said, “Now get your other person to hold the other end for you,” and I thought, “Ugh. My other person is under the age of seven and sleeping right now.” But anyway, I said, “What if I just warp the loom with every white yarn I have? Anything that’s considered ‘white’ – off-white, accrue, whatever – just warp it with random yarns and then just sort of see where it goes?” She said, “That sounds crazy.” But, she said, “Why not? Give it a try, but you’re going to have different – what are you going to do with your salvages? It’s going to be messy.” And I said, “Yeah, I think that’s okay.” That’s kind of as much as a concept as I had, and I thought, “I’ll just sort of start throwing the yarn in.”
Afraid of the wrong direction?
That’s a fear I had, too, where I thought, “Am I just creating these things in response to the story because I can, or did they actually hold any value or beauty on their own?” I was just sort of playing with it and doing different things with the weft yarns. My son came over and kind of nudged me, and it crossed one of the yarns going across – we call those the weft yarns. I guess it caught on one of the vertical yarns, which is the warp, and it doubled back on itself, and I didn’t notice until I got about five rows up, and I just said, “Oh, no! I’ve got to undo this whole thing, because look at it. You made it go the wrong way.” He came over and said, “You know, Mom, that’s not so bad, though, because, look – it’s making a little tree.” I said, “You know, you’re right. It is. It’s a little tree.” The tree is just such a central image in the story, or trees and fruit and roots. I thought, “Oh, okay. Out of the mouth of babes. Maybe he’s got something here.” If you look at it now, it is the central image you see on that weaving, but it really came out of a total accident.
One of the pieces
This one was right out of a line of a story I wrote it says ‘you have a hole in your eye’ – it’s an Armenian expression [speaks native language]. It means you’re greedy, you wanted too much so you have a hole in your eye. But I always liked that image and I was looking at some of my brothers Space Telescope images and this is one that he really loves – of an exploded star. There’s also in the text, there’s some text about exploded stars and I was mulling that over and I thought it looks like an eye and its called the eye of in 64-5 something, if you look it up it has some weird number attached to it but he calls it an eye
Plans for after the show
No. I don’t. I’m really not focused on it in any kind of goal-oriented way, except that I’m curious. I’m really curious now, which is good, because I haven’t really been all that excited or curious about very much lately. It’s kind of exhilarating for me to have something that I’m excited when I wake up in the morning to play with. I’ve been learning about all these new – it’s like a cross between paper and fiber now, these non- woven fabrics that are heat-responsive, that you can mold them and play with them and put an iron on them and they curl up. I’m kind of excited to branch into that a little bit and see what I can do with it, but I don’t have any grand plan.