Guest curating Thread, an exhibition at Clamp Light Gallery in San Antonio this past March, I conducted a local, national, and international search for artists working in the medium. I discovered the work of Sol Kesseler online and gravitated to her contemporary embroidery practice, which in part, incorporates electronics. We had only communicated via Instagram messages and emails before she shipped the works included in the exhibition. I decided that I would personally deliver them back to her when the exhibition closed. On April 12, 2018, I traveled to the San Telmo neighborhood of Buenos Aires in Argentina to visit Kesseler’s studio and workshop, located within the Galería del Viejo Hotel. Within the historic walls of this complex was a wonderful mix of artist ateliers and creative businesses.
Kesseler just returned from a trip to Bogotá and welcomed me with a fresh pot of Colombian Coffee. It was a pleasure to finally get to talk to her in person about her work.
Alana Coates: What is the importance of touch in your work?
Sol Kesseler: For me, it is important to incorporate touch, because when I embroider, I use my hands. The final piece is visual, but I like the viewer to have the sensation that I have in the studio. Having a thread in my hands is a very nice feeling. It can transport you to memories of very intimate moments, such as recalling soft fabrics used for baby bedding. And viewers are not accustomed to touching the art.
AC: These concepts were essential for your piece in Thread. Presencia, the reactive diptych that was about being present and specifically being present with someone else, because the work required two people to hold hands while interacting with the canvases to enable an electronic circuit. People enjoyed the interaction with that work very much. And in the exhibition, I juxtaposed Presencia with a work by another artist Sarah Castillo titled Embroidered Tears, a work of embroidery on a found dress. This piece contained a mantra for letting go. I liked the idea of exploring closeness and impermanence in relationships, side-by-side.
AC: When did you first start incorporating electronics with embroidery? How did you decide to begin to make this unusual connection?
SK: First, I was a painter. I embroidered as a hobby, but it started to take all of my time– embroidering in the traditional way–but I loved it. Then there was a call for artists in Argentina Fundación Telefónica. The call was for textile artists who wanted to learn how to make smart garments, fabrics that support digital components.
I signed up to study. My teacher was the Chilean artist and contemporary dance performer, Constanza Piña, a master in new media and electronic textiles. She introduced me to mixing sewing with technology. Piña’s approach to Techno-feminism is what motivated me to work in this vein. After the workshop with Piña concluded—the class was only for a month’s time—I wanted to learn more, so I was taking every workshop on every website I could find. My husband is very technological and he was telling me that I needed to get updated.
I went to the FASA exhibition. All of the universities gathered to showcase the electronic art programs. I was wowed and applied for the Master’s program. They told me there was no one doing textiles and electronics so my participation would be valuable.
Computers and Embroidery are very similar. Embroidery by itself is a technology, a very old (or antique), but a technology. I think about how the original computers were the size of a room, as were the first looms. Textiles and computing are very alike in many ways. For example, the interactions, repetitions, movements, and orders that are binary. Do I tuck or do I not, zero, one… there are many similar aspects in textiles.
AC: That is interesting. I would have never thought that.
SK: And even with weaving too, I thought the link was very interesting and it’s nice to make “soft circuits” in paper or in a fabric. The problem is that there are not many supplies in Argentina.
AC: There is not much material?
AC: So where do you go to get your supplies?
SK: We get it from overseas mostly. I get some materials online from the United States, such as the conductive thread. We use electrical cords so it’s an issue because I can’t do everything by sewing since we lack supplies. For example, they sell conductive fabric and they don’t sell it here. They don’t sell it here and everything is very expensive. Another thing that we do is look for alternative materials and experiment with things.
AC: Do you use found fabrics?
SK: Exactly, or things that are broken and take them apart to get parts from them.
AC: It is like a form of recycling?
SK: Yes, a creative form of recycling, but out of necessity for materials. And I get the conductive thread from a website in the states. It arrives via FedEx but it is expensive.
AC: So what do you plan on doing for your next project? You mentioned that you were making an installation?
SK: I’m finishing up some embroidery currently and have upcoming exhibitions in September.
AC: And you conduct embroidery classes here every week? Do you receive tourists or are your students mostly locals?
SK: Yes, Every week. Normally locals. Tourists normally pass-by and look in.
AC: But tourists could take a class because they are normally one-day workshops, correct?
SK: Sure, during the week I have classes with groups of artists. On Fridays, they come in and we have a follow up on Saturday. I conduct many one-day classes and we do projects focusing on one subject at a time.
AC: We had an embroidery workshop for the closing of Thread, I wanted to take it but I had my hands full with the closing activities and talking about the exhibition. I would love to take one of your workshops when I return to Buenos Aires one day.
Follow the work of Sol Kesseler and stay up-to-date with her embroidery workshop offerings on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/solbugambilo/
And on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/bugambilo/?hl=en
Visit her shop Bugambilo https://bugambilo.com/
Sol Kesseler Agustìn 2017 hand embroidery 6” diameter
Sol Kesseler Florecer los dos 2017 hand embroidery 11.81 x 15.75”
Sol Kesseler Presencia 2017 interactive installation, sound embroidery
Photos of Argentina and the Studio Visit are by Sharon Lupo.
Photos of Artworks and Thread Exhibition are by Andrea Rampone.
Photos of Galería del Viejo Hotel are my own.
The exhibition catalogue for Thread is available for purchase on Amazon.