It seems that Polish street artist NeSpoon is on a mission to embroider the world. Situated somewhere between street art, pottery, paintings, sculpture and jewelry, her unique brand of lace art could be found everywhere from Poland, Italy, Netherlands, Ireland and France to Russia, Hong Kong, Australia, and New Zealand. Using intricate doily patterns, she beautifies abandoned and unadorned spaces in unlikely urban jungles, transforming them into stunning works of art. Basing her work on an almost forgotten tradition of doily making, NeSpoon has managed to take this humble domestic craft to new heights. From lace murals and etched images to 3D lace installations perfectly attached to everyday things and intricate filigree in walls, trees or cracks in the sidewalks, she provides often harsh cityscapes with a new softness. She always works with respect for the spot and the local context, finding her inspiration from local textile arts. By choosing an art form associated with women, she celebrates its femininity and harmony it creates.
We sat down with NeSpoon for an exclusive interview to find out more about her unique artistic practice. We had a chat about the nature of her doily art, the notion of beautifying the city, her collaboration with local folk artists, her artistic process, political and social aspects of her work, the power and responsibility of street art today, her future plans and projects, and much more.
Widewalls: Your trademark doily art that imitates intricate traditional lacework could be found all over the world, covering both walls and street furniture. What inspired these designs and your penchant for an old and somewhat forgotten craft such as doily crocheting?
NeSpoon: I make positive art and I like to evoke positive emotions in people. I use lace patterns because every lace contains a universal aesthetic code that is deeply embedded in most cultures around the world. When I add colors to this patterns, people sometimes say that I am inspired by Tibetan Mandalas, Moroccan Ceramic or native pre-Columbian art. Lace patterns contain a basic code of the harmony, which is common for most of the people. It is very ancient code, I think, it is older than the humanity. We can find it all around us in the nature: in the shape of small sea creatures, flowers, snow flakes. The harmony and symmetry of lace patterns are biological, alive, not mathematical, machine generated.
Widewalls: Your unique brand of lace art translates into ceramics, stencils, paintings, and crocheted webbing installed in public spaces. How do these diverse mediums and techniques fit together inside your practice?
NS: I also make sculptures, video installations, and screen printings. Now I am focused on lighting objects which are combined with murals. I'm an extremely impatient person who gets easily bored. I couldn't only paint murals, or only do ceramics. The techniques are just tools used to express my thoughts and ideas. Which ones I choose in a particular project is dependent on the subject, place, time and my mood. - I am not sure whether I will always use the lace patterns.
Widewalls: You often refer to your doily art as “public jewelry”. Could you elaborate on that?
NS: That term refers actually to my ceramic objects glued to the walls of the city. Sometimes I combine them with stencil graffiti, but the process of making the ceramics is laborious. When finished they look very decorative. My once friend said that they work as jewelry for the city - they add beauty to the place they are placed.
Widewalls: You tend to use local laces from the country where you currently work, often collaborating with traditional folk artists. Could you describe your process, from choosing a pattern to placing it in a public space?
NS: It is an instinctive process. First, I always ask my hosts to find local and original laces for me. If it’s possible, I always try to meet the local lace makers. Then I look through the different patterns and designs, and when my heart starts beating faster, I know I found the right lace. I immediately know that this pattern will fit into the project and the place.
Widewalls: Besides having a certain cultural code and being characteristic to every nation, crochet and embroidery have always been associated with domesticity and women’s creativity. Yet, the feminist movement has managed to reintroduce this “woman’s craft” into the realm of “high art”. How does your work relate to femininity, but also feminism?
NS: I don't think that my art it is related to feminism, but it is feminine indeed. It is doubtful that any male graffiti writer would ever use such patterns. In all the countries which I have visited so far, making laces was originally an activity that was meant to integrate women from the local community. Wherever I was, the lacemaking women were usually quite old, but lately I see young girls interested in continuing this tradition. It's great! These women usually meet once a week - sing, talk, gossip, give each other advice, support and make laces together. I have always sensed a strong emotional bond between these women, they are very close to each other, you can feel the warmth of the tight community. I belive that you can find a trace of this warm, feminin relations in my art and that my lace installations, which I do in different countries, are a good metaphor of such close, personal bonds, not only between women, but between people in general.
Widewalls: Your work often comments on political and social issues you find important. Which issues inspire you the most?
NS: I am a little bit like a beauty contestant, I wish the world was at peace, was fair and that we all loved and respected each other - I try to express it in my projects. Entanglement, the project made for an Islamic arts festival in UAE, referred to the common roots of the concept of beauty, goodness, and harmony in both our cultures. Imagine a World Without Water dealt with the problem of growing lack of water, privatization of the resources and unequal distribution. Precariat, which I showed at this year's Urban Art Biennale in Moscow, was a voice against building hostility, based on nationalism between young people in similar economic and social situations across the globe for the benefit of multinational corporations, financial institutions, and the ruling class. Epitaph for forest, a project I made for Greenpeace that is still in progress, draws attention to the problem of destruction of the last wilderness in Europe - Bialowieza Forest. As you see, the spectrum of topics is wide, but I always try to use positive language and to focus on the possibilities and chances we have. I am in favor of the solutions instead of being against the problem.
Widewalls: Could you tell us something about the project Thoughts?
NS: This is the story about searching for inner peace. Initially, porcelain petals were created without any specific or intended purpose, almost unconsciously formed by my fingers from the remnants of porcelain clay from other works. As weeks passed by modeling of the petals became ever more subtle, it required more and more attention and cautions to form them. During this monotonous, almost meditative work, the petals became more arranged and "calmed", at the same time organized my thoughts. It seemed as if they have materialized themselves by forming white, delicate discs.
This project started four years ago and I intend to continue it as long as it until 2042. I estimate that until today, in the course of hundreds of hours of work, I have created over 32 thousand porcelain petals. Gallery visitors, where the work is presented, may in some sense physically touch my thoughts, rotate them in their fingers and play with them, bringing out the specific sound. I belive, that this way people can clear their minds.
Widewalls: Since it usually occupies a public space and reaches a wide audience, what is the power and responsibility of street art today?
NS: I belive that the power of street art is in fact huge. Nowadays the phrase ‘street art’ is a synonym of muralism used often as a tool of advertisement, gentrification or propaganda. Most of large-scale paintings are created at art festivals which are funded by institutions which have their own, not always artistic goals. I always consider the social and political context of the place where I work. The independent street art which we know from 15 or 20 years ago has more power today thanks to the viral power of the internet. Monocolor stencil graffiti in the backyard can have a global impact and a bigger influence than an expensive advertising campaign.
Widewalls: Could you tell us more about the street art scene in Poland?
NS: It is rich in talents, it’s history dates back to the forties of the 20th century. It reached its final shape after 2000 and was influenced by a number of factors, among others the WWII and communist-era freedom-fighting graffiti, the 1950s, 60s and 70s muralism, neo-avantgarde movement of 70s, punk rock, the DIY philosophy of 80s and after the fall of communism in '89 - by writing. What street artists are doing today we did in the 1970s, and 80s, only there were no cameras around to film it and no one called it ‘street art’. Today, many Polish street artists are well known around the world - M-city, Etam Cru, Sepe & Chazme, Tone, Nawer - these are just a few names.
Widewalls: Who are your influences, and whose work do you appreciate the most today?
NS: My favorite artist whom I admire is Ai Weiwei. I like his way of expression, but more important is that he really cares.
Widewalls: Could you share some plans and future projects in store for NeSpoon?
NS: My aim is to do large-scale multimedia installations in public space. By 2042, I will have finished my most important project so far - Thoughts. It started four years ago and it continues to grow. You can see the description of the project here. By 2042 I will have made 1500 kg of hand-made porcelain petals.
Featured images: NeSpoon in Wroclaw, Poland; Thought Sharjah, United Arab Emirates; Pont-l'Abbe, France; Thoughts Project; Bobowa, Poland. All images courtesy of the artist.