30.11 - 24.12.2010
By Beth Smith, Executive Director, Visions Art Museum: Contemporary Quilts and Textiles, San Diego, California, USA
If you had no memory what of you is left? You are the sum total of all the cells, and all your ancestral DNA back to the beginning of time. This is the message of award-winning conceptual fiber artist known as Valya. She is Valya Roenko Simpson, raised and trained in Ukraine but influenced by a decade of living in the United States.
For thirty years, this contemporary artist designed silk fabrics and textiles for a large Ukrainian textile manufacturer. After moving to southern California she began creating large hand-painted silk constructions. Her luscious designs were imbued with movement and drama and she gained a reputation as a sophisticated fiber artist. Following the success of a solo exhibition of floor to ceiling hand-painted silk constructions, Valya was ready to move on to a more challenging medium. She began experimenting with a combination of silk and felt which led to her current body of work in felt sculpture.
Felt offered a freedom of possibilities beyond silk. It offered depth, dimension and manipulation. “I chose felt because it is the oldest fabric that clothes were made from, it has a similar history to the ancient cells within us,” says Valya. The reference to the cells within us reveals the story behind her work. She began painting portraits on silk then layering them over industrial felt, all with the same dimensions, each face expressing a different history. The repetition of form and surface creates an eerie yet mesmerizing wall of faces that stare back at you as a reflection of the souls within.
This series became the nucleus of her recent work about the history of an individual’s DNA. In, “Everything but Memory” at the Tsekh Gallery, Ukraine, Valya has constructed a portrait in felt 20 feet high and 18 feet wide. This conceptual sculpture covered her studio floor during construction with stacked piles of raw wool laying next to the piece to be felted in over time. Each wool strand in this monumental installation signifies a strand of DNA. A similar nine foot felted work won an award in the international juried exhibition, “Quilt Visions 2010: No Boundaries” at Oceanside Museum of Art, Oceanside, California USA, October 24-March 13, 2011.
“You can trace the human race back to one origin, back to one place where we all began,” says Valya. We are all the same - we all have the same emotions. We should be unified throughout the world, not pitting one against another.”
The exhibition is comprised of three installations. The most compelling is the gigantic portrait with its powerful presence and thousands of wool strands suggesting the thousands of strands in DNA or the thousands of cells in the human body.
A painted drawing on a white wall is rendered in glossy white paint against a flat white surface. It creates a mysterious interpretation of the same portrait done in felt. The image shifts as the viewer moves past as if a magician is using mirrors to shift reflective qualities. This “now you see it, now you don’t” visual response causes the viewer to question the reality of what is seen.
The third installation in the exhibition is another image on a wall. A small bronze sculpture is modeled with lace-like lines and mounted in front of projected light casting a large magnified shadow on an opposite wall. The effect is one of a super-sized old wrinkled face, craggy with the lines of age. Again, Valya is using lines to relate age, history and the history within all mankind.
“A face,” says Valya, “is full of wrinkles and lines that depict the ancient origins of us all. These wrinkles are like your footprint, they hold an encyclopedia of your experiences.”
The three totally different textures in the exhibition present the same ideas yet elicit different responses. Each technique brings a unique aesthetic to the theme, everything but memory. As a conceptual fiber artist, Valya has a range of textile techniques at her disposal. In this exhibition her concept and mastery of technique merge dramatically encouraging contemplation of the role of memory.