Title: Panoramada (Waterfall), 2018
Artist: Caitlin Thompson
Medium: Wool, silk, ramie, cotton embroidery thread, polyester thread, animation.
Size: 66 inches by 52 inches.
Location: The Ledge Gallery at Arts Commons.
Note: Thompson is working on the Panoramada series at The Ledge Gallery through the end of the month, with both the quilts and animations on view. Her residency concludes with a closing reception Friday, May 31, from 7 to 9 p.m.
Nimble fingers, nimble mind: Caitlin Thompson blends deft needlework with a genius for sequencing, a quirky imagination and an inquisitive intellect. For the past year, she has constructed Alberta vistas of fabric, employing techniques of piecework, appliqué and embroidery. Those of the Panoramada series are unlike any other quilts, although the association with tradition is one of many ingredients that make them fascinating. Once the textile stage is set, giant but elusive embroidered nymphs who live in the realms of mountains, foothills and prairies enter. Thompson then sets the scene in motion with digital animation. The landscape vibrates in response to wind, weather and sunshine, while mythical semi-transparent female figures go about their daily lives. The animations are short, shimmering and enchanting.
Thompson grew up in the rural area around Meeting Creek, Alta. She studied art at Red Deer College, Alberta College of Art + Design (now Alberta University of the Arts) and the National Film Board of Canada, culminating in 2015 with an MFA in fibre and material practices from Concordia University. There, she participated in Hexagram, the innovative workshop pushing the boundaries of art and new technologies. Programming an advanced digital embroidery machine led Thompson to combine her affinity for drawing, embroidery and digital animation in the artform known as “embroidermation.”
In this piece, an enormous redhead washes her hair on the shore, seated cross-legged below a sun-glazed glacier. (Perhaps she’s the goddess of Bow Glacier Falls?) Tints, tones and shades of blue and turquoise ripple through the patterns of curves and diamonds as waves undulate toward the shore. A quilter’s eye can see the fabric pieces have lives of their own: they don’t quite lie flat. Here and there, an edge ends in fringe, hinting at the source material.
It was almost 50 years ago that experimental filmmaker and multimedia artist Joyce Weiland presented Water Quilt in the first solo exhibition by a woman artist at the National Gallery of Canada. The work included embroidered Arctic flowers and embedded pages of a treatise on Canadian water rights.
Panoramada, too, carries a subtext: the global economy is affected by fashion and the culture of consumerism. Luxury pashminas from Kashmir inspired a Western fashion trend in the mid-nineties that inspired the production of knock-offs, many ending up in thrift stores, where Thompson finds them. The rescued shawls provide her with both materials and a specific colour palette; she reclaims them with hours of meticulous work, a touch of whimsy and an aesthetic of light.