“I like this yellow,” says Marian Bijlenga, examining Double Grid, a configuration of dark blue furry disks, their centers scribbled with golden stitches. “This piece is made of dots but the first thing you see is the grid in between the dots.”
“She has this magical way of making you see what’s not there,” adds Sara Oka, the museum’s curator of textiles, and curator of this exhibition.
A few days before the opening of Constellation—drawing in space, we are in the textile gallery taking a break before the installation team returns to adjust the lighting. The day before, Bijlenga meticulously hung all 15 works in the exhibition herself, affixing each composition a few inches from the wall with tiny pins. With the right lighting, each collection of objects appears almost as if floating against the wall. “Shadow is always part of the work,” she explains.
The eight large “samplers” on the ‘Ewa wall of the gallery are arranged chronologically from left to right. “The first work that is here started in 1990,” says Bijlenga, pointing to Sampler II- 1990-1995. “The sampler pieces are archives, made of all my leftovers from a certain period. When you make a piece you always have leftovers of ideas, some of them are also where I started new ideas. These pieces are my own collection, they are not for sale—it’s my archive.”
Needlework or sewing samplers were used to show examples of different types of stitching patterns or lettering for needleworkers to follow, common in Europe as early as the 16th century. Later they became used more decoratively, or to demonstrate stitching skills.
Of her samplers Bijlenga says, “These are all structures that I use to make a bigger piece. That piece [Sampler VIII- 1997-1998] is inspired by knots, and that piece [Sampler X- 1999-2002] has faces in it. In that period I made some real figurative works with faces.” She walks down the row of delicately arranged collections of shapes, sewn together with barely visible webs of monofilament. “After, I started to make these small things—ideas for new pieces.”
Bijlenga began making these sculptural tapestries or “spatial drawings” in the 1980s out of fabric and glue, before switching to horsehair in the 1990s. In 2007, during a residency in Iceland, she discovered an abundance of discarded fish scales in a fish leather factory and has been working with them ever since.
“I guess I could make a sampler now of all the fish scales,” she says, “but I’ve used them all!”
The smaller works in the exhibition feature elements that can also be found in many of Bijlenga’s samplers—look for the fish scales in Sampler XVI- 2012.
“I think samplers are so nice to show,” says Bijlenga. “Even I find pieces in the samplers that I have forgotten—I have worked for 35 years and sometimes I’m amazed by things I did 20 years ago. A piece of old work or newer work. It’s a miniature yearbook.”
Constellation—drawing in space by Marian Bijlenga is on view until August 4.