Work in Progress: Diedre Brown

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September is here, and so is our Work in Progress (WIP) resident! We are delighted to have Diedre Brown for this month while she works on her project, ‘Wild Crochet.’ This project began with the inquiry: ”If it were possible to create a habitable textile, what would it look like? Could this textile evolve to become nature?” 

Diedre holds a Master of Architecture from Parsons The New School of Design, but if you ask her she considers herself a “maker of leitmotifs.” “Everything revolves around a story; whether it is a place, an impression, or a condition.” Diedre applies her knowledge to developing integrated and interwoven urban intervention design systems. Her work revolves around various theories and philosophies that expand from textiles and design. I had the pleasure to visit Diedre at TAC’s Manhattan studio, and chat with her about Wild Crochet, synesthesia, BioArcHabitat, and textiles.

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On Her Creative Process: 

“For me, it has always been a project of curiosity. I’ve always been curious about the way things work and how they are put together. I learned to crochet basic stitches in Girl Scouts and from my mom when I was a kid. Then it [crocheting] disappeared, and I came back to it in my late 20s when I did a lot of knitting. I was always fascinated by how putting a stitch together then turned into something else. It paralleled with other things that I was studying, which were a lot math and science courses…philosophies and ways that people thought about how things came into being. It evolved from there, and then making a lot of different sketches and using them in parallel. I think the way that I’ve been working for the last couple of years mostly evolved from this drawing of omentum, which we all have in our bodies. It itself is like a textile, but just made out of cells instead of fiber. It is used to aid repair during surgery. If a surgeon is unsure of the integrity of their stitches or want to add extra insurance, they wrap it in omentum because it is angiogenic and speeds up recovery. That then spun into “if there are these textiles that exist in nature, how can we recreate them? Or how can we turn more of nature into textiles? What are the secrets of these textiles?

 ”I got fascinated by the idea of crochet because it focuses on the stitch within that textile.”

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How would you consider your textile background? Do you think textiles found you or did you find them?

“ think I’ve always been fascinated by textiles; they are very versatile and there is a lot of history and architecture embedded within them. The first architecture is said to have been created by the hanging of a textile, and dividing two spaces. For me, it has been an evolving process throughout my life from being fascinated by textiles because they have color, and then more about the way they feel, how the haptics of them make you perceive life in a different way or project what you want it to. Recently, it has been more of realizing the complexity of these materials—there’s so much we can do with them, and we take them for granted. So now I am on the opposite side: if textiles exist everywhere, what do they then become? So I think it is a balancing relationship.”

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On Colors: 

“For me, it is usually the type of thread that I want to work with; that’s what I decide first. I prefer working with more natural fibers, because they are actually the easiest to work with, but I’m also exploring making my own fibers. For example, these are made of kombucha and bioplastics. I use bamboo, wool, raw silk, linen, merino wool, and acrylics too. I usually look at the size of the yarn, and then I sort of manipulate around the size of the hook stitch that I want to do. I like to experiment with the size of the hook and thread or yarn that is supposed to go with it. That way I can get a different work in the stitch, ‘cause I want to see what the stitch does to the overall construction. All of this is because, what I am looking to do is to create spirals. Every crocheter know how to make frills at the end [of a piece], but they are actually found in nature and in organisms. They are the easiest way to increate your surface area without increasing your volume. That’s important because it allows for more surface interaction in a space. One of the reasons I switched to this [crochet] is because, in theory, if I were to translate this [holding a wild crocheted piece] into a building material, the size may be accurate, but it really needs to be made out of a specific type of thread, which is thinner and higher in tensegrity. That is where the type of thread is important.”

“Then color for me has always been kind of difficult, because I think of color in a different way. I have a little bit of synesthesia, where the numbers 0 to 9 represent colors for me. So if you see me working in a particular color, it means that it relates to a train of thought. For example, right now I am working with blue, which is a primary one for me, so I consider it a primary pattern that I would use. When I am working with yellow, is a pattern six. It is a coding system, and it relates to different types of ideas that are primaries to working in the pseudosphere. The first one I did had turning throughout, and then the second one was without the turning to see what actually happens with the pattern.”

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“It took me a while—honestly until recently—to realize that people didn’t see numbers as colors. So 0-9 for me is white, blue, purple, red, green, orange, yellow, brown, grey/black. It all made sense later in life and explained why I had trouble when learning addition and subtraction.”

What does BioArcHabitat mean to you?

“BioArcHabitat is a combination of three words: Biology, Architecture, and Habitat. It was my thesis project, and it symbolizes a lot of different things. The idea of the thesis was that if we are at the precipice of a coastal metamorphosis in the city, where much of our coastlines are going to be covered in water by severe flooding and storm surges in the next thirty years or less, what can we do now to mitigate that? The easiest way to do it is to start thinking about the future in terms of ecological concerns. Areas of biology are more concerned with ideas of how the individual affects the larger whole, and how that translates throughout [the organism, species, etc.]. I then thought of the idea of taking advantage of something thing in nature, like a reef…an artificial reef that is made out of bioplastics and could be generative. How could this reef affect the coastline? How does this coastline affect the human environment that lives around it? The area that I used for my thesis is part of Sunset Park in Brooklyn. While walking around the neighborhood, I was struck by how there are all these places for gathering and meeting but they are all related to a tradition—like a barber shop, or a church, or some sort of cultural restraint. So it got me thinking…how can you actually make those people come to the coastline and have a celebration or get involved, and use that as a community outreach space? Even though the area is going to be covered in water by 2050, it would be great if you could bring community there because it creates awareness. If by getting them aware of what is going on in their immediate environment, they are more likely to take steps to reduce it, and to think about the cause and effect of things, and why recycling is important. Like say, I recycle my plastic because I don’t want to contribute more to the plastic island in the Pacific.”

Models created by Diedre to visualize the water surges that will occur in New York by the year 2050.

Models created by Diedre to visualize the water surges that will occur in New York by the year 2050.

“The basis of BioArcHabitat is that if you enhance and continue to create generative means of enhancing an area by attracting more elements, creating awareness. So let’s say, by bringing attention to an endangered bird species, they then bring attention to elements that can also benefit that area and then leads up to humans.”

Do you consider your current work to be a continuation of your thesis?

 ”Yes and no. I feel like I went into my thesis thinking one thing and then it turned into something else. I think what happened from that, I found that I wanted to be able to explore the ideas that I had come up with, particularly in textiles. I felt that by understanding more about textiles, I could understand more about the reality of the project.”

“I don’t really know how to describe myself. If someone asks what I am, I would reply that I am a maker of leitmotifs, since everything revolves around a story, whether it is a place or an impression, or condition. I then play around with that a lot, and expand upon it. I would like to be able to continue exploring textiles because I believe it is a medium that is omnipresent but also very much a mystery to an extent, but it is extremely usable. I feel we have forgotten that in some ways. So, by having the process of it [making textiles] being haptic, it provides more information and data that I could get from running a Rhino model or something.”

 On Her Time at TAC:

“I love it [the WIP Residency] because it has given me the opportunity to explore some of the ideas that came out of my thesis, and how this can evolve. The formation of it, working on ideas of generative design and the hyperbolic plane, and the easiest way to explain it is through crochet. And it is great to just start with that. However, it is easy to crochet a piece and say “Yeah, this is going to be a building,” but if you are not actually going to worry about how you are going to use the material that it is made out of, then you are just mimicking the form and you are not making the building itself a generative species, per se. The WIP residency has given me the space to get a deeper understanding of what goes into these stitches, how they relate to each other, and then to also start creating more materials of my own. I’ve worked with people at Genspace to work in materials that are more environmentally friendly, like kombucha. Nikki Romanello [an instructor at Genspace] is a sculptor who also works with kombucha. I took one of her classes in learning to make kombucha paper. It was amazing!”

Samples of paper and thread made out of kombucha.

Samples of paper and thread made out of kombucha.

“Since then, I’ve been experimenting with kombucha paper and converting that into yarn. I’m trying to crochet with it, but when I get to the second row, I run into problems as it starts to accumulate a lot of moisture.”

“I’ve also started casting my samples to get a more detailed idea of the texture and the intricacy of the stitches.”

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“Additionally, in the next couple of weeks I’ll be working with, AlgiKnit, a research group based here in New York. They make yarn and textiles from algae. They are concerned with how the textile industry, and the fashion industry in particular, is very wasteful. While it is easy to say we should just recycle our textiles, AlgiKinit have gone so far as to create a process of manufacturing an algae filament that can be knitted into textiles. So I’m looking at what they are doing and how that can be expanded into the built environment. It’s an idea of merging forces and working at ways that scale can be translated into larger constructions.”

 On Her Ideal Work Space:

“Pretty much, something like this! In comparison to my previous working space, there is a lot of light. And just having light around is very energizing, so I like being able to have that and all my materials around. I also like being able to expand and work in different media. I use crochet, but then I also translate my crochet into printmaking. It is not only a form of alluring representation, but it is also a means of analysis. I use collagraphs to analyze the textile from the base level to the top-like an x-ray but without the radiation. I take a crochet sample and pass it through press on a plexi plate covered with ink, and then I pull the sample off and run the plate again and again.”

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“Throughout the process, it starts showing all the different variations of what you can expect from a sample. So let’s say this was translated into a larger scale, like a 6-inch brick or so. What actually then becomes the interaction of the space? I also use screenprinting as another technique, because by combining the actual textiles with drawings that I make of the impressions at different layers, you can see where overlaps can occur. I start to theorize what that overlap would be if I were to crochet those two things together. It is another process or viewpoint.”

“I am very Aristotelian in thought—I do a lot of thought experiments. I’m really bad at keeping a sketchbook, but I love creating and translating different things that I am interested in into a creative medium. In crochet, and my thesis work…there was a lot of science in the background that came from gardening and cooking and that translated into a fiber. Then looking at it as another way of approaching a creative object, and what does it mean in a broader context.”

“I do a lot of digital work too, most of the pieces I’ve made, I’ve also drawn in Rhino, which is great for seeing what a larger expansion of the piece might look like. But, since I work in the hyperbolic plane, a computer can’t analyze the haptics of what I am doing per stitch the same way a person can. They [computers] can replicate but that’s not necessarily the same, it is an approximation of what it thinks I’m doing. A hand knows where it physically should be. When I am putting things together I can tell where I’ve made a mistake and where I need to go back. The computer might not see it as a mistake, because to it the mistake is still within the pattern, even if the stitch is wrong. The neat think about working in hyperbolic crochet is that it is very quick and results are very fast.”

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You can visit Diedre’s installation for Work In Progress from September 1 – 30, and learn more about her work and process during Artist Open Hours, on Saturdays, 2-5PM, and Tuesday – Thursday 11am-5pm, at our Manhattan studio.

Please join Diedre on Sunday, September 17th. at our Manhattan location to explore the questions surrounding her work and the resiliency of textiles as a story form, while also learning more about about natural hyperbolic structures, and crocheting wild textiles!

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