CHICAGO ARTIST PROFILES


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Kathy Weaver's Visions of Big Little Worlds

Published July 24, 2012

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The use of cloth in my artwork is associated with domesticity and with life itself. At the beginning we are swaddled in cloth; at the end, shrouds surround us. The folk art tradition of quilting is also associated with femininity and with women's work. The act of stitching represents an agrarian time and has been likened to the Penelopian rhythm of the sowing and seeding of seasons. These uses of material and form in my art are antithetical to the representation of robots, the industrial automation and requisite technology required to produce them. The dichotomy between mechanical automation and human art may also be the subject matter of 21st century robotics, speaking to the future relationship that humans may have to these developing sentient beings. — Kathy Weaver

Fire Slinger
48" x 46", 2010 Kathy Weaver
Satin, airbrushed, hand embroidered, hand stitched
Fire Slinger is inspired by the characters in Bertolt Brecht's play "Mother Courage and is airbrushed on bridal satin, hand quilted and hand embroidered." The contrast of vibrant fabric and labor intensive stitchery highlights the aspect of elaborate artifacts from another time. In fact, the time and place of Fire Slinger is that of an undetermined future. Alone, with sparks flying and air thickening, the robot mines the waters.

The power to imagine worlds that others can't imagine is one of the greatest skills any artist can have, and textile artist and painter Kathy Weaver has one of the biggest imaginations of all. In her world we see entire universes laid out in untrammeled and dazzling detail. Futuristic zeppelin air forces fight fantastic wars; robots stomp through dazzlingly colored microcellular landscapes; machine societies feature guns as architectural elements, decorating funeral monuments, threatening and intimidating anything in the vicinity. We find worlds of organic, cell-like structures that could just as easily be computer circuitry with plant-like origins.

Weaver's environments pulsate with a strangely iridescent electrical energy that hints at what might happen if organic life and computer circuits were to fuse into an extraordinarily strange new life form. It is all wildly kaleidoscopic; sometimes her work indulges in satiric fun, sometimes it hints at dark forces. Wherever it falls, there is always underlying concern for human problems, including commentary that is both pro- and anti-technology. Her artistic parables against violence are alternately playful and serious. The artist herself describes her work as "explor[ing] a world of pretend, of imagination and of improbable stories."

Recently Weaver has embarked on a series of works examining prosthetic devices used by returning veterans from the Iraq and Afghan wars. She sees them as symbolic of the interface between technology and both the human and political elements in our world. In her own words,

[i]n order to examine more closely the use of robots for traumatic injury victims, I have been drawing one day a week at The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, concentrating in the Robotics Lab, which is directed by Dr. Sandro Musso Invaldi and Dr. Jim Patton.

My charcoal drawings, Robotic Foot, Robotic Shoulder, Robotic Leg and Robot Territory reflect my interest in the in the robotization of U.S. conflicts, including increasing use of unmanned drones, the enhancement of a GI's body by exterior skeletal mechanism, or the replacement of body parts for the wounded soldier.

ARTIST'S STATEMENT

Using the low-tech tools of a loaded airbrush and a threaded needle, I delve into questions of technological progress and its role in our country's industrial military complex and rabidly consumerist society. The common thread in much of my work is how I use soft, nurturing materials, often with intensive hand embroidery and stitching to explore the social implications of science and technology.

For all its realms of high imagination with fun and brilliant visual exuberance, underneath there is a compassionate, thoughtful voice asking significant questions about who we are, what we are and where we are going. Her work asks, "What worlds are we making? What is the proper ethical balance between political decision making, technology, nature, and how do these things effect human and organic life?"

Seeing her work on the internet does not do it justice, as it is mostly multimedia tapestries of monumental size. Her works are often 50 to 60 inches or larger, and are usually in three-dimensional low relief. They frequently involve sewn-on objects, painted areas, assemblage elements, elaborate stitching, bead work, and even small bronze sculptures of robots mounted within the piece. In person they are dazzling with their combination of bright otherworldly color and elaborate textured surfaces.


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Controlling Assistive Device (Powered Wheelchair)
33 ½" x 27 ½", 2010
Charcoal
In order to examine more closely the use of robots for traumatic injury victims, I have been drawing one day a week at The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, concentrating in the Robotics Lab, which is directed by Dr. Sandro Musso-Invaldi and Dr. Jim Patton.

This powered wheelchair is tailored to meet the needs of tetraplegic patients, who practice by using virtual reality as a step to creating the interface necessary to enable patients with limited mobility to steer precisely. I found it fascinating that music is used with the patients to determine their dominant movements, so that body sensors may be more efficiently placed and programmed.

In describing her artistic inspiration, Ms. Weaver states:

From my early childhood, raised with a father who was involved in electronics, to my adulthood, when I worked with early computer programming, I have been interested in science and technology, particularly its beneficial uses. Almost 15 years ago, I started exploring robots as subject matter to question the status quo, examine the environment and challenge the industrial-military complex. After attending and participating, as an artist, in ALIFE X, an international conference about informatics, robotics and artificial intelligence, I was acutely aware of how robotics as a field consisted of the study of many disciplines, including cellular biology, physics, and mathematics.

Additionally, her 34-year career as a teacher, concurrent with her career as an artist, is evident in the thoughtful themes and underlying sense of wonder at discovering new visual worlds. In person Kathy Weaver is a bright, intelligent, well-informed, and warmhearted person with a attractive shock of curly red hair. She has an easy smile and a bright sense of humor. Her personal qualities are reflected in her work.

Visit her website at www.kweaverarts.com for more about her life, work and to find news of her most recent exhibits.

– Robert Kameczura

Artwork Copyright © Kathy Weaver