Work in Progress: Heidi Hankaniemi
For the month of May, we have loved hosting Heidi Hankaniemi as our Work in Progress resident. Heidi is a Finnish artist based in New York, and her practice incorporates the tactile and the performative, ultimately arriving at a body of work that is both spiritual and deeply grounded in the handmade and physical. Most recently, she has created a series of tapestries composed of bits and pieces of vintage handmade lace and needlework, and she is also part of an ongoing artistic project of experimental public mending called Fixhabit. If you spot a woman in a denim work suit stitching a gaping fence back together or mending a hole in an umbrella in the park, that’s Heidi, doing her part to mend what is broken.
On how she arrived at textile work: ”I have a background in conceptual art and that’s what I studied, but I’ve always been very close to textiles. I grew up with a great appreciation for my the work of grandma’s generation and everyone before that, always doing embroideries. I never really combined textiles with my conceptual art practice until I got a commission many years ago for an arts magazine in Sweden where I had to do something related to the theme of speed. I started working with embroidery, and I was backstitching subway maps. So it was this whole contrast between the intimate, slow work, and the subway maps to describe the speed of transport. That grew into this big project where I did all the subway maps in the world.”
On rescuing the handmade: ”For awhile I’ve been collecting all these old fabrics, handmade crochets, laces and embroideries, which I find at flea markets and stuff. It’s kind of painful to me how people just throw stuff away, knowing that there is weeks of someone’s work in it, and now people don’t really know what to do with these textiles. You know, you inherit a big bag from your grandmother or something, and then it’s left in the attic until you just get rid of it, and then it’s sold for ten cents at the flea market. I think it’s outrageous. But I’ve been collecting all this stuff knowing that someday I’ll do something with it. I’ve got closets full. Then some years ago I had a major surgery. There’s a quote by Jasleen Dhamija, she says that each time the needle pierces the cloth, the fibers absorb something of the maker, or the intentions of the maker. So I started playing with this, and thinking about my own kind of healing, thinking about what have these women gone through, what their stories might be, and I started to mend these old textiles together while I’m mending myself. That became the mending tapestry series. They were shown for the first time at the Chelsea music festival in a church with classical music, which was really special.”
“My wall hangings are a mix between prayer cloths and sand carvings. To me they’re very powerful, in that there are tons of women and perhaps also men, who have contributed to them with their hands. There are women from all around the world in this: their perseverance, their patience, their skills. And then I use my skills to mend them together. I’m especially interested in stuff that’s kind of damaged, and work by people who were not so skilled, who actually were not good at needleworking, but they still did it. I wonder, was it a struggle for you? I don’t know. I feel that it is a project of rescuing.”
On Fixhabit: ”I have a lot of performative, action-based stuff in my work, and I’m working with a Canadian artist named Maria Flawia Litwin. We’re called Fixhabit, and we wear overalls and hats. She lives in Toronto and I live here, and we’ve been giving each other instructions each week for a year where we go out and fix things on the street. She uses red thread and I use white. She was just here for ten days and we did a ten day joint mending. So we’re mending the city as well. It’s also about exploring the city. You know, walk for twenty minutes south, turn right, walk for ten minutes, and find something to fix. These are the kind of instructions we use. Kind of playful, but useful. Sort of. We’re not actually fixing anything, really, but the point is that we’re attempting. If you make a little effort, you can make a little change.”
Photos by the author except for those labeled otherwise.