Embroidery e-Residency: Helen’s Dress

Eight international artists “hosted” during the period from 22 to 27 June 2020, in cyberspace from Vamvakou … where they attended an intensive program of meetings, workshops and lectures on embroidery and Greek mythology, using new technologies. The e-residency program “Helen’s Dress” was an innovative answer in unprecedented challenges of the times and paves new paths in art. The program implemented for the first time by Vamvakou Revival, as a part of the project Vamvakou Revival, thanks to an exclusive grant of Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF). “Helen’s Dress” artist in residence, as well as the e-Residency version, has been designed and is curated by visual artists Christoph Ziegler (Germany) and Loukía Richards (Greece).

Can Greek mythology answer contemporary problems? Can Greek embroidery translate modern topics into symbols and motifs? Can Greek embroidery communicate ideas in a visual, easily understood, “esperanto”.

Participated artists: Carla Castiajo, visual artist, Portugal | Anika Gupta, writer, and Trisha Gupta, textile artist, India/USA | Anastasia Hassiotis, choreographer and writer, Greece | Christina Mitrentse, visual artist, UK/Greece | Amelie Spitz, Jewellery artist, Germany | Hannah Stippl, visual artist, Austria | Aggeliki Symeonidou, Embroiderer and crafts activist, Greece.

Monday, 22 June 2020, Trisha Gupta told us...

Reference to the video and the slideshow from the first day of the residency I created some pieces. There were somethings that struck me immediately. There were images of women mourning.
In my culture we wear white rather than black and I was interested in picking a neutral color. So I changed into a tunic or Indian Kurta that has some similarities to the loose tunic we saw in the slideshow.  It would be a comparable garment.
I was moved by the spiral designs, and images of women working and living outside.
The bright reds with the black in the vessel designs were also very striking. So for my piece I went to my dye garden and I dug up alkanet. I know that alkanet is a traditional Greek red dyeplant that was used historically on older textiles.
I took the roots and harvested them for color. And with the stalks and flowers, I wove into a spiral.  The spiral design as well as the headpieces and ornamentation in the slideshow all had motifs of plants. And I wanted to use floral elements as a medium. I was moved by the postures of some of the figures and by the idea of standing in the center of the spiral with my hands creating a C shape up to the sky.
The second piece is drying still. I will be printing it. But I created a fictitious aerial view of the ruins of Sparta. I put a few historical elements in, but I was more interested in the geometric forms. I used corrugated cardboard, tape, foil, and a lot of cork. The materials will have similar textures and shapes to what they resemble in the sky. The irony of using such cheap materials to depict such permanent structures is not lost on me. Tomorrow when it is dry- I will print it onto paper and potentially fabric.

Maria Karametou said about the live streaming workshops

I just watched the Vamvakou videos and am very excited about your wonderful and informative presentation. So first of all, I want to send you (Loukia and Metaxia) my Congratulations!  This felt so close to my heart and interests! I am not sure if I told you before, but my Asia Minor refugee grandmother raised silkworms and made silk thread with which she embroidered for her dowry, etc. I have inherited a large number of her works many from the early 1900’s that she brought with her to Greece when she was deported. She also wove rugs and made intricate lace throughout her life. Even in Athens, I remember her continuing to raise silkworms in the drawers of her dresser. She  fed them mulberry leaves from the trees the refugees had planted in our street, which was named after their town in the Sea of Marmara. I am attaching a couple of images of her early embroideries. The third one (with the kofto) bears her name (and mine) in the middle band, and the fifth one, initials. Her handiwork is the inspiration of my latest work with the bobby pinned “embroideries”. So this is another reason I so related to your comments about women and the traditional expectations on them. The bobby pins too relate  to the concept of beauty, the societal expectations on women, etc.
Another reason your presentation was so interesting and dear to me was the fact that (I am not sure if you know it), I am also a writer. So recently, I completed a fiction book titled The Amalgam  (as yet unpublished) where there is a chapter about the customs of my grandmother’s hometown, the engagement ceremony, etc.  It is a book about the life stories of two strong women, the historical and personal events that impact their life’s journey, and it goes back and forth in time. Watching your video and the photographs of the wedding procession etc felt so close to my book (and my heart). Incidentally, the name of the grandmother character in the book is Metaxia !
If you want any stories, thoughts, etc as you announce at the end of your video, let me know. In the meantime Congratulations again!

Maria Karametou (Associate Professor of Art, Director, Division of Drawing , Affiliate Faculty, Women and Gender Studies, School of Art, George Mason University)