Larissa Schepers | Studio Encounter
Larissa Schepers, No You, 2019
Spatial fabric sculptures, between historical traditions and ‘meta’ language
Italian curator Lara Gaeta, who visited the Noord-Brabant region at the invitation of the SEA Foundation, met with Tilburg-based artist Larissa Schepers last December. She wrote a text about Larissa Schepers’ artistic practice.
Larissa Schepers’ works speak of collectivity, trans-cultural traditions, social inclusion, and care. The artistic practice and research of the artist are rooted in textile traditions and craftsmanship. Her works appear as spatial sculptures having a dialogue within the context in which they are set and can be stroked and touched by the public. They are the result of temporality that voices patience and attention to detail. By favouring the slow process, her approach contradicts the speed of production and haste of consumption that are typical of Western civilisation.
This refined language – using different techniques, from weaving to knitting and embroidery, allows Schepers to include herself in the historical tradition of Tilburg, which was part of the central nerve of the Dutch textile industry since the second half of the 19th century. And besides that, it also gives bearing and dignity to ancient craft techniques, which are in danger of disappearing unless passed down to the younger generations. Returning to the loom, to hand knitting and embroidery means creating unique and unrepeatable works which preserve a certain degree of authorship and honours the human gesture. It omits the clean and monotonous seriality of machine-made objects.
When Schepers and I met in the studio, amongst other anecdotes, she mentioned an illuminated episode that marked her memory and stimulated her practice. It was about her mother, who created a fancy dress for Carnival that she embellished with many finely sewn beads, one next to the other. Schepers experienced this dedication as an overwhelming gesture of love and care that made a lasting impression on her. One that she felt a need to recreate over time.
From the first contact with Schepers’ work, one recognises, in addition to the skill and versatility of the techniques she employs, a clear ethical and social interest. Indeed, for Schepers, textile art is a powerful tool for sharing, bringing into play and rediscovering knowledge and traditions that reach far beyond European borders. Refugee and immigrant communities, particularly women, stimulate confrontation and exchange during workshops which Schepers initiates and organises.
The latest project of this kind in which she took part and deserves in-depth consideration is Bindweefsel (2021). Schepers created the work at the TextielMuseum in Tilburg in collaboration with ContourdeTwern and Stadsmuseum Tilburg. The project brought together 15 immigrant women from Afghanistan, Syria, Indonesia, Japan, Ghana, and Morocco on weekly sessions for co-creation in the TextielLab. The result was a collective artwork: a tree of life that connected all the participants’ stories. The work, which traveled through three neighbourhoods of Tilburg to make it known to as many people as possible, is now part of the permanent collection of the TextielMuseum. Sewing, weaving, embroidering, rope making, braiding, and gimping allowed participating women with complex life experiences to be emancipated and find redemption and healing through the participatory process.
This form of inclusion and integration, achieved through collaboration, gives rise to indissoluble bonds that leave their mark. Surprisingly, despite speaking different languages, the women who participated in the project managed to communicate and understand each other through the weaving. In addition, they also recognised similarities and resemblances in working and producing textiles in their countries of origin.
Not only yarn is the primary element from which the works generate. Coloured beads that dangle, shimmer, move, or make a soft noise, represent a second skin of the work. A message unfolds through these small units: a colourful and flashy inscription that is only sometimes immediately readable, and a viewer must decode them. Historical cross-stitch patterns used in hand embroidery inspired the fonts applied in these works. One or two words that can be perceived read like an exclamation or imperative.
Schepers explains that these words are part of the language her younger brother used to shout when he was playing video games. A gamer’s ‘slang’ is well known and shared by all those who spend hours playing Nintendo, Playstation or online. In this case, the artist carries out a social and critical reflection on a form of ‘surface’ language spoken aloud fast. They are irrational terms, apparently harmless, mainly used by the younger generation, the so-called ‘digital natives’, but which conceal an aggressive and violent meaning that sediments over time. The words that Schepers conveys are invectives like “Bullshit”, for example, or actions that the player performs to defend themselves or to defeat the enemy, such as “Head Shot” or “Tripple Kill”.
The repeated phrases resonate like alarming slogans and make us think of the influence that the virtual reality of video games and other ‘meta’ realities have on the younger generations and each of us as adults, affecting our behaviour and interpersonal relationships.
It’s all about time. The time factor when sewing (embroidering, knitting, etc.) and weaving – Larissa Schepers makes us realise – turns into duration and has a particular extension. The production of a work, even a small one, can go on for days and weeks.
The artist’s practice is immersive and made up of several phases. For the bead works, for example, she first draws the letters digitally or with pencils on 5 mm squared paper. Then, string beads together on cotton yarn row by row, according to the design. The artist inserts a tiny piece of paper to keep count of every five beads. Following on, she prepares a warp on a loom, and the entire design is woven using the bead strings as weft material. The works are then finished by hand, highlighting areas in the design. All these procedures require precision and concentration. Her works achieve a precise formal synthesis, to whose social and symbolic meaning they combine a recognisable and well-defined aesthetic: pink and blue are colours that repeat more often.
Schepers has a solid background in historical textile design and is well aware of the tradition and the context in which she lives and works, Tilburg. At the same time, she gives life to installations and spatial sculptures that speak of contemporary time, highlighting the risks and the possibilities of our social media and ‘meta’ era. In this sense, we can say that through her contemporary art practice, Schepers moves the hand of the clock back and forth continuously but with coherence.
Bio Larissa Schepers
Larissa Schepers (1995) lives and works in Tilburg, Netherlands. She gained a Bachelor’s degree in Textile Design from the Royal Academy of Arts, The Hague (2019). After an initial approach to fashion design, she realised that textile art was the medium in which she wanted to express herself in different forms and techniques: from weaving to knitting and embroidery.
Bio Lara Gaeta
Lara Gaeta is an independent curator. She graduated in History of Arts and Conservation of Artistic Heritage at Ca’ Foscari University in Venice with a thesis on the political and ecological aspects of Joseph Beuys’ artistic practice (2018). Gaeta worked first as a curator and then as director of the contemporary art gallery aA29 Project Room (Milan – Caserta). She is co-author of the book IN COMMON, Isabella Pers and Nada Prlja (Manfredi Edizioni, 2022). Gaeta has organised and curated participatory art performances and contemporary art festivals such as Il Corpo Elettrico (MANN – Naples, 2021) and Piccola Primavera Dorata (Reggia di Caserta, 2021). She is a member of the Italian cultural association Attiva Cultural Projects, promoting different contemporary artistic expressions and focusing on emerging artists’ research.