(Create)ive Change

Iviva Olenick

What are some of the issues that are present in your work?

[My work examines] anti-immigration sentiment, and the way change in NYC (gentrification, demographic and socioeconomic change) render us in a state of constant flux, with even native New Yorkers feeling like foreigners in our

own home; the underlying social structures contributing to racism, gender discrimination and related socioeconomic inequities (histories of White supremacy, slavery, gender- and race-specific labor); and how textile agriculture contributed to embedded race, gender and socioeconomic inequities through cash crop production/ slave labor.

What is your objective when creating your work?

Being in the world can be painful and frustrating. Relationships fail or disappoint; political systems and bodies of thought and government, run by people, fail to move our best interests forward. When making art, I move more gracefully through cycles of hope, disappointment and even despair while striving for change and the betterment of myself and others.

What prompted you to inject your political voice into your art?

I am inherently political. We all, through daily acts, choices, thoughts create behaviors that ripple through communities. These choices affect emotional, economic, physical and psychic systems, trickling into politics. Politicians and legislations respond to our choices, identifying, addressing, denying and/or ignoring the struggles at the root of human survival and whether to insure or deter physical, religious, political, intellectual and economic freedom and autonomy.

What brought you to use textile work as your main artistic medium?

It was mostly an intuitive choice, and has practical benefits — textile materials and finished pieces are easy to transport, and require low cost or handed down materials, except for textile crop production and processing, which can require specialized, rarefied equipment and land. I did not grow up in a family where sewing or other yarn- and fabric-related crafts were practiced, although my grandmother, with whom I never lived, was an exceptional knitter.

 

Is there some background to your craft that is important to understand? A significant history of embroidery?

Agricultural labor as it relates to textiles, including the making of natural dyes from plants, although natural dye is a bit of a misnomer as there are many chemicals involved.

What is political about plants?

The history and geography of plants, their classifications as native or introduced, reflect whole social and belief systems, echoing movements of peoples from one land to another. Plants we grow up eating, gardening, seeing embed sense memories and cultural practices. Agriculture relates to labor, which is inherently political and tied to race, class and gender. 


What lessons are you teaching young people as a teaching artist?

I teach up to 20 classes/week, with students ranging from kindergarten through graduate students and seniors. I teach my own medium (fiber arts and sometimes even gardening, natural dyeing, etc); I am also teaching painting and color theory to middle school students, who are making social action murals; and drawing, painting and color theory to high school students.

What does the beaded cloak symbolize?

The weight of family history and memory, embedded traumas specific to Ashkenazi Jews and our history, and the physical, psychic and emotional costs of living in NYC for several generations. The weights families carry include belief systems, habits, language (in our case Yiddish and sometimes French), which can be overt and also secreted away. They remain physically present whether spoken or concealed.

There is a lot of repetition in beading and embroidery. Is there therapy in your work? What is your relationship to the creation of a piece?

Making the work is physical and bodily. The repetition can at times be fussy and tedious, depending on the specific process and scale of the work. For instance, harvesting indigo in direct sun and heat for hours and spending an entire day making dye by fermenting the leaves is physically draining. The repetition of embroidery can at times be comforting, but the content of the work, often about the troubled state of human / political behavior can remove any comfort the physical processes provide.

How does text play into your work?

I write bits of poetry that I transcribe into embroideries, and sometimes excerpt or edit conversations to include in works. I also distill historical texts and family oral histories into embroidered language on fabric drawings and sculptures.