Britta Ankenbauer brings a European perspective on art quilting to us from Leipzig, Germany. Leipzig is an old East German city, a really interesting town with a lot of artists. Her studio is located in an old spinmill changed into a cultural space: the Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei, a contemporary art center, with a lot of artists, galleries, studios and cultural projects. (www.spinnerei.de) She was interviewed by Clairan Ferrono.
Ferrono: Have you always been an artist?Ankenbauer: I started very early doing artwork, but not professionally, probably I wasn’t even aware that I made art. For me it was textile work and experimentation with unusual techniques to explore the fiber and art world. When I was young I was interested in many subjects, not only art. I studied social sciences and education. I worked in my daily job in adult formation. My artistic career began slowly by working on some few textile works/quilts for exhibitions, winning some prizes and being asked to teach classes. Years later I started regularly teaching, wrote a (self published) book and installed a professional studio, exhibiting and selling my artwork.
Ferrono: What was your training?
Ankenbauer:I have an MA in social sciences and education. I did post graduate studies in psychology and group dynamics for working as a coach. Some years ago I studied textiles and printmaking techniques at art school. I learned surface design techniques, dyeing and experimental screen printing methods for fabric, stitching and free motion quilting techniques in workshops. Life drawing is another subject that I started to learn, because I understand my quilting mostly as a drawing process, producing lines and stitched shapes as part of the whole composition.
Ferrono: What techniques do you use?
Ankenbauer: In terms of techniques I am a surface designer and quilter, using a lot of methods to get an interesting design and composition. I don’t use just one favorite technique: I think the technique has to express the theme of the work, i.e. architecture needs to be sewn with correct cut and straight lines and nature process can show open seams, ripped fabric, etc. Same in materials, for every project I start searching for adequate materials and for the technique that has the highest impact for the subject. I have a dialogical technique for my composition: I found a mixture of “letting go” and of planning and sketching ideas. The outcome often changes my direction, but not my concept.
In the last several years, my work has changed towards more stitching and to mixing painting methods with textile techniques. I use paper and digital techniques as well.
Ferrono: What inspires you?
Ankenbauer: My environment, social themes and that what we have in front of us, every day impressions. I love philosophy and psychology. I love complex ideas and subjects. Flea markets inspire me a lot but also abstract ideas and questions. It is often more to find out what attracts my recognition and to find more questions than answers.
Ferrono: What about the business aspect of art–do you have gallery representation?
Ankenbauer: In the German art context we don’t have a lot of galleries that represent textile and fibre arts. But we have shown more interest in materials and textile work in the last years, i.e. we had some more shows in museums and not only at festivals. Selling my artwork is often a result of exhibitions and shows or people are coming directly to my studio.
Ferrono: So do you do a lot of teaching?
Ankenbauer: Yes, as my other professional roots are in teaching and coaching adults, it was a small step to teach quilting and textile classes.
I established a special master class concept, a program for interested people who want to work continuously over a year or more. I teach surface design techniques and, more and more, how to develop the individual artistic (textile) voice and find strong compositions. One of my favorites is the sketchbook class. In the textile art world there are many people who think that they cannot draw. Mark making techniques and textile related sketches are different here than in painting or drawing classes.In the last few years I have also started a mentoring program. It is one on one coaching, often as a clearing process for creativity related questions and sometimes as first steps into semi- or professional textile art.
This year I have been asked to teach a textile master class as part of an art summer school (Kunstsommer Irsee). This is a great honor, and I just finished the concept for it. We will work in different textile techniques on the same subject (fragments and fractures) and people can get there with their own specialized ideas.
Although I love teaching very much, I need to take care of my own artistic processes and to get into my own rhythm of working. After long teaching periods it is hard for me to get back into my own subjects. In the next years I want to bring more balance to this.
Ferrono: What are you working on now?
Ankenbauer: I will have a new personal show in 2016. For that I am working in a series. I love thinking about more than one work and imagining several aspects of themes. That protects me from putting too much into one single quilt. As I am in the tiny first steps and the brainstorming process about themes and subjects (many ideas are flying around in my mind), I cannot tell you one special theme. It will be something in between storytelling and a more “philosophical” approach, such as the phenomena of mass culture, changes in our perception and time consumption. This stage is almost a dialogue: I am working, experimenting and the progress of the work tells me how to continue.
I am dreaming of playing with format: doing huge installations and very tiny artworks. The more I work, the more I want to make textiles for special spaces and places. That implies creative ideas for different sizes. Painters often have their straight format, textile artists are free to make curved edges if wanted or to hang it from the ceiling or to leave it on the floor. It is a sculptural aspect as well. The relationship of place and work is something that interests me very much. Some of my works tell different stories while hanging at different places. Isn’t that great? It is an independence of a piece of art but also a dialogue with its environment. Artwork is able to communicate with places, or better, we are able to recognize different views on the work. I would love to work first with a special location, to have a place and then to make a composition directly for that space. Then change the venue and document the differences…what will happen???
Another important question for me is the role of painting in relationship to the quilts and how to keep the textile character. I started some years ago to paint with acrylics on my quilts, just to find out at what point the textile character goes and when it gets to be more and more a painting. (Figur 1 is one of that quilts, see photo). I know that in quilt shows these quilts are not the favourites, a lot of people don’t like mixed media work because they think the textile character gets lost. On the other hand, it is a very contemporary question and approach: we are living in a world full of diversity, combining information and images are very familiar since we have the possibilities of the digital world. I think some of my further work will continue by asking some of these contemporary questions.