I met Noel my Junior year of college at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I don't remember what class we had together, but we became fast friends. For her senior project Noel decided to make a giant cascading sculpture of cutout paint chips. I along with three other girls crammed into her studio apartment in the loop in downtown Chi and cut paint chips for hours. My thumb was sore for days. I recently went back to Chicago and met up with Noel at a Street Circus performance in Humboldt Park. We caught up and later went to her studio in the west loop. I wasn't surprised to find her work space bursting with color and a huge supply of neon plastic and paracord. Of course, she was working meticulously, her fingers moving like lightning tying knots of color.
When did you realize you wanted to work in fibers?
I think my general interest in material was a driving force. I have always enjoyed working with my hands. Learning new skill sets/techniques has always brought about a sense of accomplishment and time well spent. When I got to SAIC in 2009, that was the first time I had a general title to accompany some of my processes/work.
There's always a circulating conversation about craft vs. art, (which I hate, haha) what's your take on this, and where do you think you work fits on this spectrum?
It’s relative. I make things I think should exist.
How do you feel this way of working differs from other processes?
Process is paramount. There is a constant string of repetitive gestures throughout my work. I had a screen-printing professor, Peter Power, that had said “Repetition is knowledge.” That sums up how I feel about the way I work. I don’t necessarily use new techniques or processes, I find a technique that is interesting, learn about it, learn how to do it, practice it, manipulate it, and then move on when I feel like I have done all I can do with it. I am a HUGE fan of Claire Zeisler and Lenore Tawney. Without them, and many others, I don’t know where I would be.
How do you source materials/decide what materials you want to use?
More generally, I like bright-colored things and clear plastic.I am an Ebay junkie; it's a source of inspiration and material for me. I also see it as a sort of productive hobby. I have had up to 20 pages of wish list at any given time, but for good reason! My wishlist has turned into a quick and effective means of connecting my ideas to actual, physical material. Ebay is an accommodating platform of happy accidents and odd sights. I find it to be an interesting snapshot of consumer culture.
What is your favorite material to work with?
I can’t choose a favorite, but right now I am working a lot with paracord, climbing rope, and acrylic. They all have transcendent potentials I'm curious to explore.
What concepts/ideas are you thinking about?
Color is really what it boils down to; how to manipulate color to create an experience.
A lot of your pieces are large-scale and involve a ton of repetitive motion; what kind of head space are you in in order to do this for hours on end?
Working repetitively for long periods of time becomes meditative, at times, trance-like. There are moments when I feel like I'm in a state of autopilot and am completely content. The movement is fluid and intuitive, and I don’t have to think or be fully present. Knotting is a very rhythmic action that has its own set of sounds, so I have been enjoying those.
Do you get help from other people?
Yes, I do, and I am incredibly grateful to have so many fantastic people who have lent their time and hands to help make big ideas come to fruition. I was nervous about people coming in and getting a dose of my semi-neurotic process when I was working on the last large macramé piece "Plural/Possessive" (14ft X 9ft in 1 month), but it turned into a really wonderful way to get to know people and build a community. I know some exceptionally amazing people, and I can't wait to return the favor.
What motivates you to make pieces like this?
On a basic level, I think it reflects a curiosity to understand/push limits. I joke that I'm a glutton for punishment - working big isn’t easy, but I like rising to the challenges it presents.
How did you discover macrame? Why do you like it?
I learned how to macramé from a woman my dad briefly dated when I was maybe 9 - I always wonder what happened to her. I really enjoy macramé’s history and technicality. It's a technique that lends itself well to my interest in color and texture, as well as my learn/practice/manipulate approach to making. Plus, knowing how to tie a reliable knot can come in handy in any sort of situation.
Can you talk a little bit about gender and macrame and the traditions associated with macrame?
Macramé was not associated with one gender until around the 15th century when, curiously enough, there was a gender divide. Up until that point, from the age of the Assyrians and onward, the technique was used to create utilitarian and decorative items by both genders. The Moors introduced macramé’ to Spain/Italy/Southern France during their conquests. Sailors on trade and war ships were utilizing the technique both to accommodate their immediate needs at sea, and also as a means of additional income creating pieces they could sell or trade at port, further spreading the art of macramé to new places. The technique spread slowly, but surely, throughout Europe until it reached the court of Queen Mary II, who popularized the technique as a fashionable ladies' hobby. Macramé nearly disappeared until the 19th century when it was a hobby for homemakers and was often included in books of instruction for dutiful wives and daughters for their “edification” and as a tool to embellish their homes. After this brief reappearance, macramé disappeared again until the craft revival of the 1960’s. Maybe it was the hemp that got everyone excited, but both genders were utilizing the technique again to make decorative utilitarian objects for the home. Macramé quickly became a sort of adjunct to the hippie lifestyle, which had its pros and cons - a con being the decline and disappearance of the technique from mainstream consciousness when the hippie lifestyle faded from popularity. Luckily, macramé found a place in the art world as a greater international fiber art movement was taking place. Now, in 2014 macramé has been operating under a slew of different guises. The survivalist/firearms culture picked macramé up, renamed the knots, and made it their own. Artists such as myself, Ernesto Neto, Alexandros Psychoulis, Janet Echelman, and many others are taking the technique to new exciting extremes. Macramé is still being used to create more “traditional” knotted lace, bracelets, wall hangings, and owl-shaped things.You can pick up a macramé bracelet kit at almost any craft store. Macramé is alive and well and seemingly gender blind - don’t call it a comeback.