Work in Progress: Zaida Adriana Goveo Balmaseda

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How did you first become interested in working with textiles?

Textiles were always in my life. My mom and my grandma made so much of what was around us from scratch; from food, to clothing, to home decorations. We had crafting as a recreational activity, always, these were our first toys.

When I was a teenager, I became more interested in working with textiles – in clothing and costumes. My mom was a seamstress, and we were often engaged in helping her with her projects (my grandma, sister, and I working together) me, that whole process of making a garment was really magical.. She made costumes for our ballet recitals, and I believed she transformed people into butterflies. For a school activity, she made me a skirt and I was the Caribbean Ocean. So, while crafting and textiles were always something I had access to, maybe it didn’t become a concrete professional interest until later on.

How did you bring it into the art realm, transferring it from craft and play to showing in museums?

Well, before the art museum I went to school for fashion design and knitwear. My vision was that the same way that my mom and I got to make such magical things with clothing and costumes, that that was what my job would be, just more professional.

However, when studying here in NY, realizing the scale of the industry, the context in which my work would exist, I got frustrated. The rhythm, the lack of values, the priority of commerciality… I just kept clashing with the context, the platform, in which what I wanted to make had to exist.

I always worked by hand, and with materials whose origin I knew or was making myself. I was drawn to the slow and artisanal, combining traditional techniques with experimental ones… and just not interested in making commercial everyday clothing. After graduation I participated in a few international design competitions to show my work, which was really sculptural, artistic, and with an ethical/sustainable commitment… And eventually started a project about wearables called BALMASEDA. But even with this alternative proposal, I struggled to get all the layers of my work through to people. In 2013 I did the TAC AIR Residency, and a LOT changed. In a beautiful way. That’s the first time I had a platform (time, community, space)  to explore the themes and processes that I wanted to be engaged with, but without having to constrict my work into the shape of a body, the functionality of a product, or a pricepoint.

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What was your trajectory like as an artist?

In 2014 to conclude the TAC AIR Cycle 5 Residency, I presented an installation called aspacetositwith. It was a meditation space composed of a soft sculpture (floor piece) for which, I hand-sewed over 2,700 black beans in between two layers of fabric, in a ring or circle. As time and process are so important to me, I also had a station with a video of the process and material samples to touch, and a photographic diary on the wall.

After that, I left NYC and went to spend some time in Puerto Rico. This is the place where I grew up, but not having really been back in over 8 yrs, I didn’t have any professional contacts, friends, or an understanding of how to be an adult/artist there.

Luckily, someone recommended I connect with an organization called Beta Local. This place/people are amazing, they support artists and promote art in a very open minded way. They had a small grant called El Serrucho, which was for small projects and initiatives. I applied, proposing to set up a simple working space, and start to research and learn artisanal techniques within the island. To my surprise, I ended up having a really soulfilling and nourishing time. Getting to know my country and its people from such a different perspective. I didn’t know that there was such a vibrant and diverse art community in Puerto Rico. I was able to find through Beta Local people whose work and ideas I felt really aligned with. They are kind of my art-family, and I’ve kept going back!

So, in that year I was in Puerto Rico, a lot happened. I did a lot of research with artisans, and a lot of experimentation, connected with the earth, and a different rhythym of life. At the end of that year, I applied to a sort-of important grant called Beca Lexus. I proposed creating an installation made of hand-spun recycled fabric yarn (which I make), and inspired by a technique called Sol lace, which I had been learning with/from one of the artisans. I won the grant, which meant so much. And…after almost two years of slow work, date changes, a move to Barcelona, hurricanes, much meditation and transformation… SOL was presented at at the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico this past february, and will be there through mid-May.

I’ve been teaching workshops and studio-ing between Barcelona and PR the last couple of years… And, in November ‘17 I returned to Puerto Rico to take part in La Práctica, Beta Local’s artist residency program… and now I’m here back at TAC. Grateful for returning to places that nourish me and my art.

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Is there a particular process of technique you mostly do in your work?

I’m always going towards the slow, transformative, tedious, analogue… Recently I’m quite focused in studying and pushing boundaries of this Sol Lace technique. Thinking about the instructions to make this lace as movement prompts, and feeling like it allows me to expand on other things I’m interested in- like meditation, states of being/awareness, our perception-of and relationship-to time, ancestry/legacy, rituals… I’ve also been very engaged with something called ‘Contemplative Movement’ practice, which is new for me and giving me so much.

I danced ballet for ten years when I was younger, and then I abandoned it completely. I never had such a close relationship with my body or considered my movements again. Contemplative Movement has allowed me to become more conscious of my body/movements, how we open up to space and other people. And, to deepen my curiosity about the quality of our interactions, how we can be alone-together, how we practice self-care, and cultivate balance in between the interconnectedness of everything. I think about this in my artistic-practice and life-practice and in how they are not separate.

What has the current work at the TAC residency been like?

What I’m involved with right now is making lace, small and large pieces, in a very open interpretation of what that is. I’m using different materials and seeing how the work evolves. For the time here, I’m working with this concept of rounding, which is doing rounds of activities, and all of these things are may be practices that I have already in my life, that are already part of my work but perhaps not so formally until now. These rounds include meditation, movement, stretching, breathing, making, and writing. Part of me wants it to be really structured, but it’s not, because I’m responding to whatever happens when I get here, and how I feel each day.

I usually arrive and I have my ‘arrival or entering’ rituals: clean, take care of the plants, do some smudging, stretch… Then I’ll do some writing, and move on to work with the materials. Sometimes it is an exploration through a small piece of lace, and sometimes a large one (on the wall or window, or somewhere else..). And, I am writing about what arises when I work in that format, or that body position, etc. At some point I’ll probably meditate again or do some breathing exercises, or stretch, and begin again the whole process.

I’m experimenting and investigating within this process, and I guess what gets put on the walls/space is a sort of process-log or a time-marker.

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What distinguishes the Sol lace technique from other lace making techniques?

It’s a needle lace technique. One of the things that distinguishes it is that it is worked in pieces, so you make applications, and then you can either join them together, or apply them as an appliqué on top of a garment or fabric (and remove the background fabric so the lace seems to be ‘floating’ or not). Something else is that it is mostly worked ‘radially’, so you make a net and then you weave or knot from the center outwards in ‘rounds’.

Can you talk more about your background in meditation?

I’ve always been interested in slow processes, not just in art, but in everything – cooking slow, the continuity of things, discipline, routines/ daily rituals and practices, I believe I started formally meditating in 2014, I took a Vedic Meditation course here in New York. In Vedic meditation you sit every day for two sessions of twenty minutes each, you work with a mantra that you repeat silently in your mind, and it serves as a vehicle to a deeper level of consciousness.  However, one should not have any expectations of the session, learning to just take time to sit and be is a huge part of the practice.

Last spring on I went on a 10-day Vipassana retreat, which was an incredible experience. 10 days meditating for 10 hours, in silence, with no reading, writing, exercising, music… Taking up meditation felt like a natural progression. I was already practicing some of those these ideas my work, but now I had a vocabulary and new experiences through which I could more deeply explore what being present and mindful could be, working with our perception of time, sensations, patience, the relationships with other people, being vulnerable.

So you incorporate meditation into your daily studio practice, how do you incorporate it into your work, how you present your work to people?

In different ways, but lately it is perhaps though working/meditating in public, being seen, and seeing each other. While in Puerto Rico, I was really interested and curious about sharing the intimate. When I’m sitting down and meditating that’s an intimate experience, when I’m turning fabric scraps into making yarn by hand for months at a time, or stitching two thousand beans- it is an intimate experience, you’re close with these things and with yourself. I am interested in sharing that with other people.

At La Práctica, I’ve been opening up my practice. I invite other people to come and work together. What I mean by work is a very open thing, it is maybe even more a practice of living, or making/caring for a space/time? Sometimes it’s invited people, sometimes it is whoever shows up, and sometimes I’m ‘alone’. I’m working with this idea of the rounds which I’m also doing here at TAC.

I invite people to see how I approach my work, to share that process, but also to see what experiences other people have in those spaces/times. We work in silence, so it’s also very interesting to see for example, together and not need to talk. Maybe not even communicating, just being. Usually towards the end, we do a little bit of sharing experiences, most people express that they haven’t been in silence in so long. Sometimes I have just ideas, guidelines of what I want to explore together, but I don’t want it to be so structured, pre-designed; we arrive and respond to what happens when we come together.

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How do you create that sacred space or bring meditation into the practice?

I think it’s possible,and simple to, create a space, with little to no, and just how you approach it and enter it. At Beta Local for example, in an empty balcony. I would arrive and clean the space – I mean physically cleaning, like mop and sweep. But then also maybe do some saging, it doesn’t have to be for other people but that’s my process, and maybe do some space delineation, put some cushions so there’s a suggestion of what’s inside and what’s outside of this space. It’s more of the experience that people are invited to, so when people arrive, saying ‘please take off your shoes’, ‘from now one we are going to be quiet’ – you don’t need that much, all that already like makes a really huge difference. Plus, its interesting to see how people’s spacial awareness varies.

Is there any imagery or subject matter that is present in your work or that you keep coming back to?

I work a lot with circles, or cyclical things, round things, I think that’s something that’s been a constant for a really long time, and also explored in different ways, that’s always there. I work with white, or simple raw colors and materials.  I don’t make figurative imagery, but I work a lot with, improvisation and organic shapes things. Resourcefulness, time, rituals, sacred space (what is a sacred space for me, what is a sacred space for someone else, and can we share what happens when you open your sacred space to others)… those are some of the things that come to mind right now.

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How would you like people to experience your work?

Maybe there’s some intention of like the work inviting people to slow down, and take a moment. Take a moment to consider everything in the work, when I’m making these really slow things and labour intensive works, I’m very interested in telling a story of how these things got transformed or made. But, I also don’t want to dictate how people experience the work. It’s really interesting to see people’s different perceptions or awareness of space and of the work.

With these two big installations I’ve made, people haven’t been able to touch them in the gallery, just because logistically it gets complicated, but I think it would give a lot if they could touch them. A piece that I have in the museum in Puerto Rico right now, there’s a wall of videos, and in between each video there’s a material station that audience members are invited to play with.

Are there any artists or creators that you would cite as having been an inspiration?

Well, I was just reading this book by Barbara Dilley, she works with meditation and movement.. I learned about her through two amazing artists and teachers: Steve Clorfeine and Helena Pellisé. Her philosophy and practice has been very nourishing for my process in the last few years.

Abigail Doan, a mentor, friend, and always inspiring artist and superwoman. And there’s Jorge Gonzalez from Puerto Rico, who is also a good friend. He has a project called Escuela de Oficios, (Trade School), he meets with different artisans and learns about their techniques.  and plays with where/how craft can continue to be alive, and how we can pass knowledge in a alternative ways like through learning together. That’s pretty aligned with what I’m doing. With him I went on a lot of trips to visit artisans.

I also love Hundertwasser, and Goldsworthy, which are different from what I do materially, but I feel that the relationship with space, nature, time is shared.

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Is there anything else you want people to know about your work?

I’m really grateful and curious about working with artisans. I feel like a lot of artisans don’t consider themselves or aren’t artists necessarily. I really enjoy going to meet them and experiencing their approach to these techniques, their craft, or their materials, and how they learn, and there’s so much oral history embedded into these encounters, going to see these artisans, and the relationships that get built. You go to learn a technique but you end up learning so much other stuff- the exchange is really powerful and informative.

Also, I’m teaching a day long workshop at the Manhattan Textile Arts Center Studio on the 22nd, and it’s going to be an introductory workshop.

I’m going to teach all the basics of sol lace, mostly as we work with it in Puerto Rico, because it’s this is a lace technique that has its roots in Spain, and it’s really popular in Tenerife. It exists in all of the Americas, but each country has its own variations. I learned in Puerto Rico, and that is the process that teach, but I have also sort of developed my own tricks. I’m excited to teach it here, because it’s a technique that is so accessible: you don’t need fancy tools, and it’s portable. Plus, the prompts, the instructions of the technique are very centering and meditative.  

You can visit Zaida’s installation for Work In Progress from April 2 – 30, at TAC Manhattan studio, and learn more about her work and process during Artist Open Hours, on Saturdays 2-5PM.

On Saturday, April 28th, join Zaida for a Participatory Performance in Collective Sol Weaving – LEARN MORE + RSVP.

Zaida has a newsletter called, “Magic Circle.” Sign up here to receive news of what she’s up to: www.but.ly/circulomagico

And, on Instagram with @zaidibirin sharing processes.

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