Willemien de Villiers, Before the Beginning, altered found linen and bookbinder’s cloth: layered, stitched, printed and dyed. dimensions: 1m x 1m. Freehanging
South African, b. 1957, playing from Cape Town, South Africa
I live and work in Muizenberg, Cape Town, South Africa.
My work reflects on the processes of decay and disintegration – especially as it applies to memory, and the loss thereof (personal, social and political memory). The ever-evolving molecular patterns that emerge as a result of biological disintegration inspire me as much as those that lead to new life.
I relish the patience my work process demands: stitching, knitting, cutting, slow beach-combing and walking to find natural textures and patterns that inspire my paintings and – more recently – stitched cloth creations. I mostly use a simple running stitch, similar to the Japanese sashiko hand sewing used to mend textiles (boro), or the very decorative Indian kantha stitching.
The Japanese concept of zanshi orimono weaving, where “vestige” or “leftover” cloth is woven from threads that remain after looming fixed pattern weavings, is a metaphor for my creative process: many loose threads and unconnected strands are linked and layered to reveal a new order.
Thoughts on the Telephone process
My initial reaction when I first received and read my prompt – a poem – was panic and paralysis. Until then, I had hardly registered how organic, unstructured and intuitive my creative process usually is.
I gave myself three days to just sit with the words of the poem; glancing at them every now and then, reading it out loud, circling phrases that jumped out at me, scribbling thoughts. At some point, the phrase ‘Before the Beginning’ came to mind and gave me the hook I needed to enter the landscape of the poem with integrity.
I ultimately found the process of translating someone else’s work exhilarating (I was glad that it wasn’t a visual work, but words). The difficult part was to let go of whether the interpretation was ‘right,' and to let it flow wherever it wanted to go. To trust that what I’d heard beyond the words of the poem would surface; that even when jumping in sideways, I’d be able to find the true and still centre of my work.
(And I loved the continuous sense of connection to other artists on other continents while stitching.)