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Gabriel Dawe

Challenging machismo through hypnotically vibrant thread installations

by Jonah Samson
on 06 April 2012

Growing up as a boy in Mexico, Gabriel Dawe was forbidden to explore the artistic elements of textiles and embroidery, an area thought to be reserved for women. Nevertheless, the color and intensity of Mexican culture began to appear in his artwork after moving to Montreal in 2000. Now based out of Texas, the mixed media artist has made a career out of the mind-bending thread installations that compose the "Plexus" series.

Citing artist Anish Kapoor as a major influence, Dawe creates complex, colorful and often vertigo-inducing spatial structures, which are meant to evoke the invisible forces that shape our existence—such as social norms and expectations—and to draw our attention to the invisible order amidst the chaos of life. On a much more superficial level, the installations are visually beautiful, and seem to make the intangible visible.

As he prepares for the solo show "The Density of Light" at Lot 10 in Brussels, we spoke to the artist about process, masculinity and the peculiarities of light.

What is it like to approach a new installation space?

My work consists of devising the arrangement of the structure I'm going to make with the thread. These installations are site-specific, which means that every new installation has to be created for that particular space. They also have to be done in the space itself, which means that I cannot create them in advance and then transport it.

The process begins with some sort of dialog with the space where the installation is going to be. Every room has particularities that offer possibilities and restrictions to what I can do. Once I decide where to put the wood structures that hold the hooks that serve as anchor points, I start to devise how and in what sequence I am going to link those anchor points, as well as what color progression I will use. It's usually a lot of planning, so that when I get to the space I can execute my plan as seamlessly as possible.

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Can you tell us a bit about the process and the thread that you use?

The thread is regular sewing thread, 100% polyester, and it comes in a wide variety of colors, so I don't do any of the dyeing myself. Usually each color is a unique long piece of thread, held in place by mere tension. Sometimes I use more than one spool of a certain color, but I just tie together the ends and continue with the installation. The color mixing really occurs in the space, a byproduct of the process. Plexus no. 9 has 5,000 meters of each color, a total of 60 kilometers, which comes to about 37 miles.

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How do these new pieces for the "Density of Light" exhibit differ from your previous work?

Because this work is not a studio practice and it relies on having to work in different spaces, every new installation offers the opportunity to try something new, or a different variation of something I've already tried. In this way, they are constantly evolving and changing. The particularities of Lot 10, (where 13 and 14 will be) allow me to revisit certain structures I've worked on in the past, but with a new variation that will give them a distinct look.

For Plexus no. 13, I'm doing three intersecting structures, similar to No. 6, but with three big differences: the proportions are much different; the placement of the wooden structures, which are at a different angles; and the color sequence. Plexus no. 14 will be a take on one of my very first ideas, which until now I hadn't had a chance to try.

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What about the name, "The Density of Light"?

Very early on in the series, the idea of light became an intrinsic part of these installations. Because I use regular sewing thread on an architectural scale, the structures created are ethereal and diaphanous. I think of them as existing in a space between the material and the immaterial; or like some sort of alchemical experiment where I attempt to materialize light.

How do you see your work as challenging gender roles?

My challenge against machismo was much more obvious when I started to work with embroidery which was expressly forbidden to me as a boy. It is also very present in some of my work within the "Pain" series, where I deconstruct pieces of clothing and I cover them with pins. As my work has evolved, I've continued with that thought in mind, but in a more broader sense, exploring social constructs of gender and how we constantly deal with them on a day to day basis.

Gabriel Dawe's next installation "The Density of Light" will be shown at Lot 10 Galerie in Brussels from April 12 to June 9.

Images courtesy of the artist, Kevin Todora (Plexus no. 4, no. 3), Mike Metcalfe (Plexus no. 5), and Carlos Aleman (Plexus no.12).

Lot 10 Galerie
15 rue Lanfray
1050 Brussels, BE

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