Heather MacKenzie / Artist

Artist Statement

Through the lens of the textile, in modes that include installation, performance, and writing, I interrogate material and abstract systems and structures in which we participate. My work evokes tensions around ideas of abundance, logic, and worth through the physical production and accumulated repetitive labor of weaving. While textile and stitch readily evoke themes of femininity and domesticity, my pieces are acts of endurance that subvert these expectations.

Over the last eighteen months, my interdisciplinary work has included three-dimensional installations of jacquard-woven cloth that translate geologic and topographic spaces; sculptural and installation works made using the jacquard loom that interpret measurement systems and standards; and performances that measure lengths of oil-derived, synthetic fiber unraveled from sweaters and correlated to depths of deep-sea oil wells.

Cross-sectional images of the earth, produced through seismography and used industrially in oil prospecting, have become a primary focus of my work. At once sublime and humbling, abstract and haunting, the strata in these images reveal unplaceable ghost-landscapes. I translate these inaccessible landscapes through the mediation of the jacquard loom using complex, multi-layered woven structures. Symbols like map scales and legends structurally bind the layers together, interpreting and obscuring the original image while blurring the boundaries between textile and sculptural object.

The map’s symbols are tied to a larger history of standardized measurement. The original prototype meter, housed in the archives of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in France, is based upon a fraction of the measure of one quadrant of the earth. This standard departs from previous human-based measures like the foot, cubit, or palm. Yet even this platinum-iridium prototype, like every material thing, is mortal. Despite best efforts, it yields over the decades to the corruptions of gravity and time. My current work looks to the poetry of this prototype as it attempts its impossible task.

The textile is an ideal mechanism through which to translate histories, philosophies, and politics of measurement. Susceptible to sunlight, insects, and mold, cloth is a clear metaphor for human mortality. But through series of mathematical interlacements, the rhythm of warp and weft forms a coherent whole.