Printmaker Ely Urbanski’s recent VAE show, interface, closed in late February, but the end of the show was only the beginning.
The creative process that led to the interface exhibit began with Urbanski collecting well-worn clothes (and the emotional stories that often go with them) from friends, family, and previous exhibition visitors. Urbanski used them to make monoprints on fabrics (more on that process later). While showing this work at the VAE exhibit, she engaged with the interface exhibition audience to collect even more clothes, and to gather more stories, the results of which are now in a new group show at The Block Gallery. There, more clothes are gathered, more stories captured, and eventually, back in her home studio, more prints made. In this way, Urbanski is able to perpetuate an ongoing collaboration with the community that stretches beyond the temporal limits of any one exhibition.
Urbanski believes that our clothing can be imbued with meaning from our memories and emotions. Think about a favorite jacket, indie-rock t-shirt, or pair of pajamas you just can’t bring yourself to get rid of. Urbanski digs a little deeper. There are obvious items with emotional power like wedding dresses, but also more subtle things, like pillow cases or knit hats that can carry a lot of meaning.
Urbanski captures this meaning in a monoprint by soaking the clothing in either dye or bleach, and then pressing them into another piece of fabric (she does this by sitting on a sheet of plywood under which the clothing and print fabric are pressed). A ghostly image of the clothes (hats, pants, jackets, dresses, shirts) is transferred to the fabric in way reminiscent of the Shroud of Turin or a the image fossilized leaf left in limestone. Urbanski also captures the story behind the clothing so long as the donor is willing to tell it. These interview videos don’t accompany all of the pieces, but when they do, they add a deeper dimension of emotional understanding to the work.
One image of a hat came from a man who was once down on his luck. After some personal and financial setbacks, he was forced to endure the winter in an unheated cabin. One day he found himself in a gas station faced with a difficult decision. He could buy a bundle of firewood that would keep him warm for part of the day, or he could buy a hat which could help keep him warm all winter. Choosing the hat was a turning point for him, the first in a series of increasingly wise decisions, each building on the one before it. When he donated the hat to Urbanski’s project he told her, “I don’t need it anymore. I can afford hats and firewood now.”
Urbanski sees the relationship between material and memory this way: “Our bodies, like pieces of clothes come in different fashions, colors, patterns, but the invisible part of our beings are made of the same common raw material and manifests itself through our positive or negative actions.
“As it is invisible, we may not notice it at first glance, but if we take the time to focus on a conversation, a story, actions or behaviors, we may start seeing the character of a body. The same way, if you allow yourself to see the invisible part of my works, you may picture the memories, the stories, and the interface.”
Urbanski was born and raised in São Paulo, Brazil. Her father a photographer and her mother a dressmaker. She studied Art Education at the University of São Paulo where she worked with well-known printmaker Evandro Carlos Jardim. In the early 1990’s, she lived in Tokyo. After returning to São Paulo, she started a series of works on fabrics, using sewing and drawing as an attempt to add trip memories and experiences to her prints. She moved to and worked as an artist in Suzuka, Japan from 2005-2011, but returned to Brazil after the 2011 earthquake. There, she met her husband and moved to North Carolina in 2013.
Red Hat is proud to sponsor THE LAB at VAE in Raleigh, a creativity incubator, gallery, and artist hub. The theme for THE LAB’s year-long exhibition, which highlights a new artist or group of artists each month, is collaboration. This theme is a perfect fit for us as an open source and community-powered company.