The Houston’s Center for Contemporary Craft revealed their participating exhibition for FotoFest 2012 with giant photographs hanging in hazy glory. However, these photographs aren’t prints: they’re woven fabric. Trading pixels for thread, Lia Cook weaves photography and neuroscience to create objects of emotion and reflection.
The exhibition samples from three of series from 2003-2010, but the predominant subject matter is closely cropped faces. The calm, knowing faces haunt and allow contemplation on memory, tactility, and time.
The qualities of weaving over regular photography grant a different viewing experience that is rewarding from many distances. From afar, the images appear as photographs. Close up, they dissolve into seemingly random stitches of light, dark, and occasional color. Cook utilizes pattern as value and creates a halftone by interpolating threads of different value or hue, which allows the work to blend optically like a pointillist painting. It’s easy to find oneself lost in the abstraction of pattern within the warps and wefts. Some works are displayed free-floating, and the curious observer will note the image in negative on the opposite side of the plane — an artifact of the weaving process.
Viewing the image as cloth seems to affect the emotional response as compared to photography. Cook collaborated with the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in a residency to determine how we view cloth images differently. Using an array of EEG machines, eyetracking apparatuses, and fMRI, the team confirmed that viewers respond differently to the fabric compared to photographs. The results beyond this confirmation are not immediately clear in the exhibition, but the study continues into the gallery space.
Relax! There are no cumbersome apparatuses required here.
The three most recently made works on display are informed by this experience and achieve a charming, and honest level of self-awareness. The work “Tracts Remind” has a thoughtful take on memory and youth through portraiture. Traces of yellow and red fibers branch through the image like roots — a representation of Cook’s white matter — tangling and grasping a childhood image of the artist. We are presented not only with a fabric image for ourselves to reconcile, but overlaid is the cognitive process of viewing.
The nuances of this exhibition unfold as the viewer is beckoned to contemplate the images on a personal level, and then examine the work on functional and conceptual levels — revealing a new quandary to explore.
–Geoff Smith is a 20-something arts enthusiast, occasional curator, and printmaker.