March 23 — ISLAND OF BIRDS
‘One would think that there is not much in common between weaving and computers. But, in fact, they both use very simple basic ingredients – 0s and 1s for computers and yarns for weaving – to create very intricate creations. Minneapolis textile artist Heather MacKenzie fused these two elements into her art.
“Weaving is a very systematic pursuit,” MacKenzie said. “Partly, that’s how my mind works.”
For the month of March, MacKenzie is showing many of her pieces in an exhibit at the Bird Island Cultural Center titled “Textile in Code.” The pieces, which vary in size, color and material, cover several years and different themes of MacKenzie’s art.
“They come from a few bodies of work that I think have resonance. And maybe that resonance is just within me and the interests that I gravitate toward,” MacKenzie said.
MacKenzie said she has always loved math and computers.
“I was definitely a nerd growing up,” MacKenzie said. “I loved math and was in the computer club at school.”
Her private high school in Michigan also offered her the opportunity to use her creative side through a terrific art program, including a loom. MacKenzie, who made crafts with her parents, was able to start weaving at 15 and a new passion was born.
“Weaving brought in a lot of math that I already loved,” MacKenzie said.
She attended Brown University where she received her Bachelor of Fine Arts. But it wasn’t until she received a scholarship to travel and learn weaving in the West African country of Ghana that MacKenzie said she had truly found her calling.
While the United States has a rich history of craftsmanship, weaving is woven into the culture of other countries. In Ghana, as well as India, Iceland and France where MacKenzie was also able to study and create art, she learned how weaving and textiles can be more than pretty, but have much deeper and deeper meanings. complex.
“It’s really part of the world, integrated into the political landscape,” MacKenzie said.
The relationship between weaving and computers became even more apparent to MacKenzie as she earned her Masters of Fine Arts in Fiber and Materials Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. There, she was first able to try out a computer-assisted loom.
MacKenzie still does all the weaving by hand, but most of the prep work for her designs is done in Photoshop software. She enjoys creating on these looms so much that she is buying her own this summer, possibly one of the first in the state.
“It really changed my mind about what fabric could be, what textiles could mean, and made a very direct connection for me in my mind between weaving and computers,” MacKenzie said.
MacKenzie doesn’t just have one way to create her art. Sometimes she has a specific weave in mind; other times it’s a theme or a thought around which she wants to build a show.
“It’s often a very slow progression,” MacKenzie said. “It’s a lot of thinking, a lot of writing, a lot of research, a lot of deepening.”
MacKenzie’s plays deal with varied, complex and even controversial issues and themes such as gender, sexuality, class and geography. She wants her pieces to show how humanity has weaved itself into many different shapes to try to fit into a box – but also the exact opposite. Humans can create many codes and systems that allow a person to thrive, either individually or in a larger group.
“I’m much more interested in complicated things,” MacKenzie said.
One theme MacKenzie has delved into at length is homosexuality, a subject to which she has a personal connection. A few of his plays in the Bird Island show have this woven into their meaning. In her explanation of how she depicts homosexuality in her art, MacKenzie said she enjoys creating weaves that illustrate not fitting into a “normal” box.
“To be queer, to behave strangely, to look through a queer lens is in simple terms not to fit perfectly into a box, and can mean using the box for very different purposes than it might have been. expected,” MacKenzie said. “Rewrite the code, the meaning.”
MacKenzie’s love for complicated themes is also reflected in the way she weaves. Even his most two-dimensional pieces are complex in their own way. Creating the actual piece can take MacKenzie in many different directions. She’s learned to try and be patient, especially with her more complicated pieces, because sometimes she doesn’t know how a piece is going to turn out until it comes out of the loom.
“I really like the technical challenges of weaving. I really like working with weaving in some sort of sculpture or origami,” MacKenzie said. “I could weave like this happily for a very long time.”
Once the work is completed. MacKenzie must decide how to hang or display it in a space. A hand-woven tape measure, 100 yards long, was displayed in a variety of ways, from laying in a heap to forming an American flag or an abstract square. In Bird Island, it looks like a traditional quilt pattern.
“It’s one of my favorite pieces because it has life and can be reinvented every time,” MacKenzie said. “I like the continuous movement in there.”
MacKenzie has created and shown her art across the country and the world. But she never had a show in greater Minnesota. That’s what makes his Bird Island exhibit so special.
“I’m super curious to see how this will be perceived,” MacKenzie said.
MacKenzie moved to Minneapolis about five years ago for personal reasons. And while the relationship ended, MacKenzie found a new home in North Star State, a state that seems to truly appreciate and support artists and their work.
“Minnesota is a great place for art, both in the cities and out of it,” MacKenzie said. “There’s a lot of funding and there’s a lot of support for it.”
And while she loves the city, she thinks there’s a bit of a bias towards the greater metropolitan area when it comes to art. MacKenzie strongly believes that people should have access to all kinds of art, including unconventional art, no matter where they live, which is why she answered the call of the Bird Island Cultural Centre.
“If people are interested, they should have access to it,” MacKenzie said.
In 2019. Rosemary Glesener of the Bird Island Cultural Center posted a notice in the Weavers Guild newsletter, looking for artists to exhibit. MacKenzie reached out and the two began planning the show. Then the pandemic hit, pushing back the opening from fall 2020 to spring 2022.
“This is an exhibit that has been in the works for a long time,” MacKenzie said.
Now that the show is up and open to the public, MacKenzie is glad she said yes. An artists’ reception is scheduled from 7 to 9 p.m. on March 25 at the center. The exhibit itself is on display until March 30 and is open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. MacKenzie looks forward to meeting the people at the reception and hearing how they experience the art.
“I’m excited to know what people think, to have an answer,” MacKenzie said.