Interview With Iviva Olenick

Iviva Olenick is a Brooklyn-based artist who refers to her work as "narrative embroidery". She works on a small scale, juxtaposing image and text. In her project Were I So Besotted, Olenick hand-embroiders anecdotes from her experiences of dating in the 21st Century. Her small-scale embroideries form a hand-stitched blog. This embroidered blog is accompanied and documented by the Were I So Besotted weblog. Here she offers an insight into her creative process, and muses on "finding love in a chaotic, distracting urban environment".


Embroideries from Were I So Besotted




Pieced Together


Love Fire


Play


Iviva's other project is The Brooklyn Love Exchange. Rather than telling her own personal tales of love, in The Brooklyn Love Exchange Iviva collects love stories from Brooklynite friends, acquaintances and strangers, in an attempt to map love in the borough.


Embroideries from The Brooklyn Love Exchange




Prospect Heights - "It Wasn't Love At First Sight"


Cobble Hill

Brooklyn is "that" girl...



Iviva kindly agreed to answer some questions on her practise for me.


Why and when did you begin embroidering?
I began embroidering in 2002-2003. At that time, there was an amazing quilt exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art, "The Quilts of Gee's Bend, Alabama." I had also recently broken up with a boyfriend, and possibly for comfort, started stitching on things I had at home. The third influence was a quilt-making class: I took a 3-hour workshop at the Brooklyn Museum, and finished a very small quilt completely by hand. After that, I was more or less hooked on hand sewing.

Could you tell me a little bit about what drew you to map Brooklyn’s lovelife?
One night about a year ago, I was walking home from an art opening in Brooklyn featuring the paintings of my then love interest. On the way, I passed a number of spots, bars and restaurants, where I had been on dates with other men. I also walked past the apartment of a former boyfriend. That's when it occurred to me that the borough itself was a map of my romantic life, and quite possibly could be for others, too.


I find it interesting that the name of your current project is The Brooklyn Love Exchange. What do you feel is being exchanged in this process?
When people are in love, they exchange all kinds of information and energy through touch, through speech, gestures, behavior. More specifically for this project, I receive stories, and in exchange, I embroider them. The stories are a gift, in my opinion, as is the freedom to reinterpret them.


You call your work “narrative embroidery”. Why do you choose to render the stories you collect in stitch rather than another medium?
Sometimes, I feel as though I draw with thread. Occasionally, I feel as though I paint with thread. Intuitively, this medium feels right to me. I now think with my needle and thread. I was at a friend's studio once, and she had built an installation of a tree from paper and cardboard. She asked visitors to draw on a leaf of the tree. She handed me a pencil, and it felt like a foreign object. I was momentarily lost without my needle and thread.


Do you think there is a similarity between writing and embroidery? Do you think writing translates particularly well to stitch, and why?
I think writing and embroidery compliment each other, but I don't think they are necessarily similar. Embroidery is a physical act; writing is more of an intellectual act. I like the tenderness and intimacy in prose stitched by hand. It's emotive and immediate.


Do you have a background in writing as well as fibre art?
My formal training is in French Literature and Psychology. I went back to school 6 years ago to study textile design. Embroidery was not included. Weaving and designing prints for fashion were the focus. I found embroidery on my own.


I’ve read that you refer to the text in your pieces as “post its”. Are these extracts from longer pieces of writing?
I call some of my pieces "post-its" because of the size of the final piece. They are not formal excerpts of longer pieces of writing. I sometimes think in catch phrases. We do live in a digital world, where speed is valued. I like the idea of packing a lot of punch in a few sentences or a single sentence or phrase. It seems appropriate for our shortened attention spans.


Do the fabrics you use to sew on have any sentimental value?
The fabrics I sew on gain more sentimental value through making the embroidery. Like you, I have a fair amount of my grandmother's linens. I have not been able to sew on them because I want to try to preserve them as she last used them. It's in fact harder for me to sew on items that already have sentimental value. Those tend to be tucked safely away in a drawer.