Rhythms and Rotations: Janice Lessman-Moss at Praxis
When an object has the power to compel a closer look, it is almost always has something to do with the way in which it was made. Paintings draw us in not only with their content, but with their brush strokes. Prints cause us to consider the cuts in a wood block, the burr on the edge of a dry point line, or the chemical mysteries that cause a copper plate to hold ink in the shape of clouds. In looking at a weaving, it’s hard not to think of the evolution of looms. And in that way, Rhythms and Rotations, an exhibit of Janice Lessman-Moss’s silk weavings, on view through the end of March at Praxis Fiber Workshop, boggle both the mind and the eye.
The weavings are complex, geometric abstractions, like Op-art. There are small patterns within the whole, but they accumulate with variation that looks organic. They have rhythm. They are layered. Their contrasting lines dodge and dive, cut left and right, and double back. They shift from foreground to background, the colors trading off, positive for negative, in the way they define space.
As paintings, these would be interesting, but as weavings, they are in another league. Consider that weaving is still essentially the same ancient technology practiced for thousands of years: parallel strands of thread (the warp) are raised and lowered in opposing sets, and in between, with each rise and fall, another thread (the weft) is passed perpendicular to them. If you do this consistently, without variation, with two colors of thread, you get an even blend of the two colors. To make variation requires defining sets of warp threads, and controlling which are raised and lowered after each pass of the weft. In the case of Lessman-Moss’s weavings, there are thirty silk threads per inch in the warp and 18 picks per inch of linen in the weft. Many of these weavings are not small. Only Passing Through: Sapphire, for example, is 65” (h) X 58” (w).
Somewhere in the evolution of the loom came the “draw” loom, which would require two operators, one of which would raise and lower different sets of warp thread to create patterns. Then came the the “dobby” loom, which is remniscient of a player piano, in that it has a belt of movable pegs functioning like a piano roll in that each configuration of pegs triggers the raising and lowering of different sets of warp threads. A dobby loom can produce repeated patterns with an impressive degree of complexity, but with nowhere near that of what Lessman-Moss has on the walls at Praxis.
Her weavings in this exhibit are made on digital Jacquard looms in the Fiber department at Kent State University, where she teaches. The weaving, in all but one case, is done by hand, but the management of the warp threads is done via a digital interface that can raise and lower each warp thread individually, and can do so according to input from a digital file. Lessman-Moss designs the compositions in Photoshop. One pixel on the computer screen represents the intersection of a warp and a weft thread on the loom. These are made possible by that level of precision, and by the digital loom’s ability to manage the execution of it.
Finding meaning in true abstraction—not in symbolism—is a pursuit in which every person has a different and personal idea. In this case, Lessman-Moss writes that her weavings are inspired by the Random Walk, a mathematical analog to the kind of decision making and growth that goes on in nature, which reveals or approximates patterns in everything from the foraging habits of animals to the growth of plants, to the artist’s own habit of daily walking. “Through a dense field of patterns I intend to capture the essence of competing dynamics in our own world; of circular and linear time, of the finite and infinite; a complex dialogue rooted in an underlying order.” You might say these patterns, as well as the fabric that carries them, are about the process of making them, and the not-necessarily-random decisions along the way. That’s how I look at them. You’ve got until March 31 to check them out for yourself.
Janice Lessman-Moss: Rhythms and Rotations
February 2-March 31
Praxis Fiber Workshop
15301 Waterloo Road
Cleveland, Ohio 44110