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Rya: Fluffy Resolution – an introduction
Emelie Röndahl

In this presentation I will elaborate my thoughts on rya, based on my first large-scale tapestry in this technique: Return of the Weaver (Weaver begins), made between 2013- 2014. Hairy pictures work on several levels - we are looking for the foundation in the blur at the same time as we are fascinated by the unorganized tangle. If presented with the smooth back at the same time as the front rya, with help from a mirror as I did for Return of the Weaver (Weaver begins) our eyes can walk between chaos and order.

Where does the picture start?
The question might already have been answered by Anni Albers:

"Thus tangential subjects come into view. The thoughts, however, can, I believe, be traced back to the event of a thread." 

I cannot recall what it was that made me go for the woven rya in the very first time, but I clearly remember the first thing I ever wove, back in April 2006:
I was 21 years old and I wasn´t accepted at any art school that I had applied for and I felt humiliated, as only someone at that age can be. To heel I decided to apply for a folkhögskola/Folk high school - those are institutions for adult education that generally do not grant academic degrees, and is usually the way you take to prepare for application for an art academy in any subject as they provide a wide range of artistic and craft-oriented courses - and I got a spot at my second choice – after ceramics – a one semester long course in weaving and natural dying, in Uppsala, Sweden.
Textile as craft and certainly as art was a non-existing field for me. Textile simply meant sewing and crocheting with my grandmother, or my mother´s handstitched wall-decorations – stuff that had filled my life ever since I was born, meaning nonsense.

But following happened: with warp and weft I created a cloth.
I wouldn´t call it love at first glance but more a feeling of understanding the whole universe.

I had struggled through elementary school and gymnasium with a lack of motivation and teachers comments like "You are not doing your best, Emelie, we know that you can do better", but honestly I couldn´t. I never got an overall understanding in any subject, never got a distant view, I always looked upon things and problems with a narrow mind and got stuck in details.
In my first woven cloth, a simple textile in cochinill dyed wool, I understood that - in weaving, image and material are the same thing; without a warp and a weft, no image. The thread is the image and thread plus thread become meaning, and in that sense – "the warp holds the world together"; and I was fascinated to learn from this experience.

While on an Artist Residency in Stockholm 2013-2014 making my first large scale rya tapestry, I recorded my experience of revisiting the suburb I grew up in, in wool on a linen warp. I titled the work Return of the Weaver (Weaver begins).
After finishing my piece I left some of the warp threads hanging, and added some new, some rya bundles I cut shorter, or left as they were.
The information is woven in, image and text are developed through different heights of the rya knots, and I exposed both the front and the back by mounting a mirror on the wall behind the work. The finished piece is 6.5 meters wide and 30 cm high, installed on a steel wire.
Return of the Weaver (Weaver begins) is presented as an installation and the title of the work refers to the video game LOOM from early 1990´s.
The tapestry can be regarded as a fragmentary chronicle, a skyline of a, partly imaginary, Tensta – a suburb in Stockholm, where I was born 1982 and lived until 1987. I borrow the hero Bobbin from the video game LOOM, to look back at that time with more experienced hands. Revisiting the area and the apartment I lived in with my single mother. The tapestry is made in short sections on a small foldable loom I use while traveling, the sections are then stitched together into one long piece. The different pictures, originally taking with my mobile phone along with pictures taken from google and some from my mother´s photo album: a garage in Tensta Centre, a cockatiel, a facade, an interior with a window and a line from a Lady Gaga hit - "Im on the right track baby, I was born this way".

I find embedded within the rya-woven cloth a historical context as well as a force of commitment; working repetitively on long-term projects is not only seen at without further comments as it can be perceived as a bit odd to work in a slow pace in an age when time efficiency is encouraged in all respects.

So how is it made:

As weavers, we have set of instructions that we follow throughout projects.
Listed those instructions can be summed up as:
grid, format, structural rules, force and even violence, laws on gravity and so on.
Those are elements we need to consider every time.

"Code" is an abstract translation of ‘something’, it also means a language: and to be able to speak a language you need to have access. This access doesn’t necessary mean a technical understanding but can rather be personal and emotional.

Even though I am tired of the pixel talk it needs to be mentioned. The rya tapestry is flickering in a slow tempo, so slow we cannot see it. I weave my pieces under approximately 6 months.
If you stare at it long enough, you could imagening it grow, and at what speed.

The materials I use helps me to go on with my imagined conversation; conversations with a history of women´s work and all kinds of stuff related to what happens inside a household – sleeping on a soft bed or picking up yesterdays´ hair from the shower drain.

"Looking at the very structure of the weave, tapestry is time. Time is sedimented in tapestry, row by row, pushed down to form a whole, a life, a tract of time. When looking at a tapestry, the viewer is looking at minutes, hours, and days."
(Kirsty Darlaston dissertation)

Something on duration:
On my middle loom one row is about 45 minutes. On my small loom one row is about 25 minutes. This is how I put my alarm. I ask my husband: Is it OK if I go out to the studio and weave two rows and leave the child with you? He says: yes, knowing from experience we are talking about one and a half hour. I usually don´t manage more than 4 or 6 rows. After that I am sick of it, and my body hurts.

The skin on my right hands index finger is thicker than the rest, it is marked from all the itchy wool bundles I have pulled after tying the knot on the warps.

Sometimes I define myself as an inkjet printer – the purpose of the metaphor is to come closer to a space of automation, abstraction and data generics; catch a feeling of someone, or something, creating information that is not knowledge. Showing pride in production - just as the happy robot in a Hollywood movie - to step away from the romantic picture of the satisfied craftsperson who feels pure joy while working by its loom.
I often feel both isolated and frustrated, even angry or sad while weaving. I find its natural slow pace annoying.


I am transforming pictures taken from google etc. converting them into a labor intensive heavy rugs, tying knots from right side to left side, line by line, creating a bad quality low resolution picture in fluffy pixels.

The weft is continuous regarding the background tabby, the piles are discontinuous. I cut the pieces before tying them, there are other ways: when working on a monochrome area in the texture it is possible to use a long thread and wrap it around a stick and cut it when a whole row is done, but I choose to tie yarn individually even at the solid colored parts. I find that result better but it also has to do with the fact that I work with high piles and then it is easier to do it this way. The technique has worked its way into my body. It would be hard for me to change my working style, even if someone would tell me there was a quicker, or better way of doing things.

I interpret the printed cartoon attached beneath the warp, I follow the information from the placements of the pixels, the light and darkness.
This is the space in the production I feel comfortable to fully occupy. At this stage there is no doubts.

I think of the long pile as tears, as crying pixels.

Rana Plaza – the Collapse is an enlarged newspaper photo woven in rya, the back is as important as the front. It is on the back you can see the time-consuming work. And the correspondence with the material it comes from - a screen, a second on
The concept of image quality is measured primarily on resolution and richness in details. In my work, the pixel has another task. A pixel here is a thread bundle, a knot, consisting of two double-folded threads, ending up as four threads tied around two warp threads. The back is smooth and pixelated. The front is hairy. The rya-knots visual as overgrown pixels fascinate me, they fall out of themselves, a picture that grows and sprout.

In my woven pieces I reflect upon emotional reaction on political occurrences and disadvantages, such as upbringings in suburb areas associated with violence and social misery, the collapse of the textile factory Rana Plaza, or the choice to have an abortion. My works confront issues of shared sadness and frustration over our society and also visualize nostalgia and childhood memories both in visual and in color and texture.

I am currently preparing a show in Stockholm, opening in November at KA Almgrens Silk Factory, with new works,
and another potential answer, of the question Where does the picture start?, besides that of Anni Albers I quoted just in the beginning, could be that what Detective Bunk told us in TV-show The Wire a few years back, he said:
"You know what you need at a crime scene? Soft eyes."

Soft eyes; as in to step back and try to see the whole.

Pictures in textile and fiber materials have something that others don´t –and my experiences, so far, tells me that the hairy picture triggers feelings that comes with both the fluffiness and coziness alongside with feelings of disgust of dust and dirt and that this crossing point reminds us of memories from childhood - like putting our fingers in holes without knowing what is down there.