Q&A with Aviva Alter: Fiber Art as Personal Reflection

New Work
New Work. Courtesy of Aviva Alter. Photo: Darrell Roberts.

Aviva Alter, 53 years young, is currently exhibiting in Soft Life at the Hyde Park Art Center. She recently created pieces for the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef Project, which was on display at the Chicago Cultural Center last fall. Working in the fiber arts steadfastly for the last 3 years, Atler grew up in Waukegan but has lived in Chicago proper for the last 36 years, where she spent many years working with clay. She has upcoming shows featuring her textile art in Los Angeles, London, and New York.

ArtStyle: How do you see the process of working with clay relating to your fiber arts today?

Avila Atler (AA): I think of the art work I do in two different ways. The Crochet Coral Reef Project is very organic, and that is how I used to work with clay. I was mainly interested in color, form, and movement. I created mostly decorative objects such as sculptural pieces. My clay work was based on the figure and a lot of design work of the 1950s.

The second way that I approach my art is trying to take my personal life experiences and looking at them in more universal terms, rather than my own personal “woe is me.” The way I have approached dealing with that is by using clothing, which has a lot of personal meaning, such as uniforms my uncle wore in World War II. I have also constructed works based on the clothing of people I have known very well, such as a blouse my mom wore and a white lab coat my dad used to come home in.

Untitiled Sorrow
Untitled Sorrow, detail. U.S. Army wool shirt, cotton floss.
Courtesy of Aviva Alter. Photo: Matt McCarthy.

ArtStyle: Where does the text on your pieces come from?

AA: It started after the death of several family members, and I started thinking about my place in the world: the losses I felt, the fact that there will be a definite end to my life, the realization I was definitely not the center of the universe, and the sadness and loss I felt other people were feeling and will feel in the future. I started thinking about phrases such as “My sorrow is no greater than yours” and “Comfort is not truth.” So the main issues I am dealing with is the human condition and that all actions have consequences. There is a responsibility with living, and that responsibility is to look at the way we live and are placed in the world as honestly and truthfully as we can. For me, clothing symbolizes protection and status and is a fitting place to stitch my thoughts.

Pain Measure
Pain Measure. Polyester lace top, cotton floss.
Courtesy of Aviva Alter. Photo: Matt McCarthy.

ArtStyle: You also use army blankets from other countries. How did they become a part of your selected fiber material?

AA: The way it started out was really simple. I started looking on websites after working on my uncle’s army clothes. I knew because they were surplus they had an anonymous reference and symbolized struggle and protection — two forms of the human condition I am interested in.

ArtStyle: Your upcoming shows all deal with the Crochet Coral Reef Project. How did this project begin?

AA: This project was initiated by Margaret Wertheim, a mathematician, and her sister, Christine Wertheim, an artist. Both are originally from Australia. In Australia the Great Barrier Reef is one of the most beautiful natural habitats in the world, and due to pollution it is 30% dead and continuing to die. To draw attention to the environmental consequences of what is happening, they started a community-oriented project bringing women all over the country together to crochet forms that mimic the coral reef. Also plastic is integrated with the yarn because plastic in the ocean is killing the reef and all ocean life.

Cambrian Explosion
Cambrian Explosion. Courtesy of Aviva Alter.

ArtStyle: What are you crocheting?

AA: The pieces I am making are crocheted by continuously adding stitches, creating crenelated forms and fluted surfaces, which reference all organic forms including the coral reef. The pieces I make are about my obsession with crochet, color, and form. Instead of making individual crocheted pieces that would be pieced together to form a large coral reel, I started taking what I was crocheting and making one large ongoing massive form. It will be these forms that will be exhibited as the Cambrian Explosion through The Institute For Figuring, which the Wertheim sisters established.

Aviva Atler may be contacted at avivastitch@gmail.com.

For more of Aviva Atler’s artwork, click here ArtStyle Blog Gallery.

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