02 Jan 2021 • One Artist, One Material
How Gabriel Dawe creates immersive environments with one tool: sewing thread
The artist’s installations transform humble polyester thread into an illusion of light.
Born in Mexico City, Gabriel Dawe grew up surrounded by what he calls ‘the intensity and colour of Mexican culture’. After seven years in Montreal, Canada, he studied art and technology at the University of Texas in Dallas. Dawe’s large-scale installations are created using little more than thread and form environments that he says ‘deal with notions of social constructions and their relation to evolutionary theory and the self-organizing force of nature’. His work has been exhibited in Texas, Missouri, New York, Canada and the UK.
What material do you use for these installations?
GABRIEL DAWE: I use regular sewing thread, 100 per cent polyester. The cool thing is that because it’s so thin, it basically disappears when used at an architectural scale, leaving only the colour behind. When seen from afar, it evokes the illusion of pure light.
How did you get interested in using it?
Before doing the thread installations, I was working with textiles, using pieces of deconstructed clothing to make small-scale works. The opportunity to explore something bigger came when I was asked to collaborate with architect Gary Cunningham on an installation for Transitive Pairings, a group show that explored the overlap between fashion and architecture. I decided to make an architectural structure out of the core material of clothing.
It’s a very Zen process
What are the advantages – and disadvantages – of the material?
Thread is normally used to sew pieces of fabric together with minute stitches; it’s also used in long strands, which crisscross to make the fabric itself. But by stringing it between two points and spanning a long distance within a space, I push the limits of what it normally does. Used in this way, thread offers a new avenue of exploration that is not only visual but also conceptual. The drawback is the delicacy of the material.
How many installations of this type have you done?
So far I’ve done 13, and there are a few more on the way.
Aren’t you reaching the limits of this material?
So far, every installation has shown me something new, and the work has been evolving. As long as the work keeps surprising me, I will keep doing it.
What are these works about?
On the surface, they are visually intriguing and beautiful. Further, both clothing and architecture provide the physical body with protection from the elements. By taking the core material of clothing, which is thread, and using it on an architectural scale, I reverse the proportions in which it is normally used. The result is a sort of alchemical process in which the sheltering qualities transform from the physical level to a higher level, where the installation has a soothing effect on the viewer.
How long does it take to make an installation?
Planning can take anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks. The actual execution can take from a few days to several weeks. Up to now, the longest it’s taken has been three weeks.
How do you make them?
I developed a tool with a painting extension pole that is something like a giant needle. With it, I am able to reach long distances, threading between anchor points, one strand of thread at a time, in a systematic way. It’s a very Zen process.
How do you choose the colours?
Because the thread tends to disappear, leaving a fog of colour that looks like rays of light, these installations are an attempt to materialize light itself, which is why I use the shades of the colour spectrum.
How do people react to your work?
People react with a sense of wonder and often tell me how soothing and calming it is. I’m happy that my work brings a bit of much-needed joy into the world.
This interview was originally featured in our publication One Artist, One Material. Get your copy here.