Interview with ETN member Lisa Palm
MA graduation project: "Was das Machen mit uns macht", photo: Marian Sorge
Lisa Palm is a Berlin-based textile artist and designer. She completed her master's degree in Conceptual Textile Design at Burg Giebichenstein, Kunsthochschule Halle. In her master's thesis, she dealt with the topic "What doing something does to us" („Was das Machen mit uns macht“). Since the end of 2019, she has been working in a weaving workshop for people with disabilities and making her own practical experiences with the impact of making on people. In her artistic work, which focuses on weaving, she addresses issues such as feminism, climate change and inclusion.
As a member of the European Textile Network, Lisa answered a few questions to be presented to the community. The interview was done by Anna Mooren, who is a member of the ETN advisory council.
Anna Mooren: Dear Lisa, What are your first intense memories of a textile object? What consciously has left a mark on you?
Lisa Palm: The first conscious textile experience I remember would be when I taught myself how to crochet at the age of six:
It was a weekend and I was up way earlier than the rest of my family. On a shelf in the living room I discovered a book that had illustrated instructions on how to crochet. I got one of my mom's crochet hooks and some yarn and started to follow the instructions step by step until I had crocheted a long chain. When my mother got up and saw me sitting there crocheting, she was quite astonished! She sat down with me and showed me how to crochet more rows. From that day on I couldn’t stop to crochet. I believe two very positive outcomes are tied to this experience: On one hand I became aware of the fact that I’m capable of teaching myself things and then impress others with what I've learned. On the other hand, I found something my mother and I could share, a passion we both had in common.
Another textile experience that left a mark on me happened on a visit to the Grassi Museum in Leipzig.
It was already more than one year ago that I had finished my apprenticeship as tailor and I still was very confident that it would never become my profession. I also had no other perspective for my future. So this one day at the Grassi Museum, they had ancient Egyptian artifacts on display, which included a piece of a very colorful woven fabric. Immediately it fascinated me. I became intensely aware, that and especially how woven textiles are created. From that moment on, I was obsessed with the idea of learning how to weave. Suddenly everything else made sense, too: during my apprenticeship as tailor it had always been the textiles that fascinated me, I always chose the most unique ones for further processing. I felt relieved that I did not have to start my career all over again. I began looking for possibilities on how to become a weaver.
A.M.: What makes the textile special for you? What techniques do you use?
L.P.: Actually, I can’t quite put my finger on why I’m so much into textiles. The material just speaks to me, it feels very natural for me to deal with. As long as I remember, I’ve always worked with textile materials – first, as I mentioned before, I crocheted a lot as a child. Later, in my teen years, I was hand sewing and changing my clothes to my liking. I guess growing up with it and having the materials available at home at all times also had a big influence on me. My grandmother was a tailor and my mom sewed, crocheted or knitted a lot of our childhood clothes by herself, too. From today's perspective, I’d say what interests me most about textile material, is its softness and flexibility. Besides, all steps along the textile chain are changeable: the raw wool, for example, can be felted. But you can also spin it, to make threads. With yarns you can crochet, knit or weave. These textile surfaces can be altered by sewing. In addition each of these steps can be modified by dyeing or other finishing processes. After the Abitur I completed an apprenticeship as tailor. I know how clothes are made, and from time to time I shape my woven fabrics into different forms by sewing. But my main focus, my passion, is weaving. Tailoring seems too complex to me, in some regards even to ‘free’, and I get lost in perfectionism. Weaving, in contrast, restrains me, it is straightforward and logical. Every single thread has its own place, everything can be calculated precisely. Even before the process of weaving, I already know the measurements of the fabric-to-be; I know which parameter are unchangeable. Within these borders lays the freedom, the experiment, the endless possibilities – determined by my design and the choice of the weft thread.
A.M.: Was there a moment in your education which influenced you especially?
L.P.: I believe it was the moment when I worked on a jacquard loom for the very first time. A jacquard loom, where every single thread can operate individually, opens up a lot of new design possibilities. I was also fascinated by the complexity of the technology. To produce a fabric on that loom to one’s liking requires a lot of concentration and know-how. This tingled my logical and mathematical affinity. It feels like solving a riddle.
Beyond that, my studies in Łódź (Poland) had a huge influence on my education. At the ASP (the Academy of Fine Arts), no difference was made between ‘textile art’ and ‘textile design’. Students specialized their studies by choosing the techniques they wanted to learn or with which they wanted to express themselves (screen printing, Gobelin, surface design, experimental weaving etc.). It was the first time I was able to work very freely and with a more artistic approach – something that’s still very valuable for me today. To combine design with a (political) message felt much more meaningful.
A.M.: How do you start your work on a new project?
L.P.: Mostly, there’s some issue I desperately want to put out there and express artistically. Usually it’s a mixture of two components: First, I’m curious about the implementation of a certain technique or a certain manipulation of fabric. Then, I want to send a message to the world. As far as the messages are concerned, I’m particularly interested in the topics feminism, climate change and inclusion. At the beginning of a new project there’s always the curiosity for a certain experiment or the desire to spread a message. Then I think about which techniques, materials, parameters I need to transform the vision in my head into a woven piece of fabric.
A.M.: Your master thesis “Was das Machen mit uns macht” (What doing something does to us) deals with the impacts of manual work and their potential therapeutic use. Since your graduation, you have worked at a weaving workshop for people with disabilities, so very closely with other people. What are your experiences?
L.P.: My experiences with working with people with disabilities in the field of weaving relate to my insights from my master thesis. Particularly, the work on a loom has many positive effects: On one hand, fine motor skills are trained and maintained, with a focus on the hand-eye coordination and sensitivity. On big carpet looms, the whole body is involved, which trains the gross motor skills and the kinesthetics (the perception, both conscious and unconscious, of one's own body motions). On the other hand, weaving provides a manageable setting, something I also experience as an advantage myself. All parameters are pre-set: how wide the fabric will be, which pattern will be woven – every thread has its position and I’m the master of that process.
The manageable setting provides safety and calm. At the same time, I’m able to influence the design of the fabric by picking different weft yarns (say, different colors), which makes me feel involved, or even self-efficient (I’m able to change a situation with my own set of skills).
Finally, the result, the ready-made fabric, has an enormously positive impact on the creators – they feel proud of having been able to fulfill the assignment with their own hands. It’s always one of the most beautiful moments when clients come by to pick up their finished product and give back their joy to the ones who made it.
A.M.: You recently acquired a new loom. What’s next?
L.P.: At the end of last year I finally got my own electronically controlled jacquard loom and since then I've been on cloud nine! I still work in the weaving workshop for people with disabilities, to have an income and pay back the loan (and because I like it). In addition, I’m doing some further training for my job, continue to assemble the loom, warp it, and get to know the weaving software. Soon I’ll actually start weaving! It is not my goal to produce everyday textiles, instead, I want to concentrate on artistic work. My focus will be experimentation, testing boundaries and finding my own artistic point of view. I’m open for all sorts of cooperation, and mostly I'm just curious what the future holds. Something tells me, it’s going to be exciting!
A.M.: Thank you very much, Lisa!
BA graduation project: "I want to bleed free!", photo: Martin Voigt
Woman at the Bauhaus: "oh, ich möchte mich verschenken" ("oh, I want to give myself away"), photo: Sebastian Lange
"Corona Carpet", photo: Jakob Wierzba
BA graduation project: "I want to bleed free!", photo: Jakob Wierzba