iris yirei hu: How to Exist through Interwoven Knowledge
at The Women’s Center for Creative Work
Through April 27.
By Lara Salmon
The voices of women, chatting happily with one another, and the sounds of nimble fingers on laptops drift through the air. Birds sing outside, and a gentle breeze sweeps around the room. Sitting in iris yirei hu’s installation, atop the “Magic Carpet,” one feels transported from the jarring, concrete streets of Los Angeles. The artist has created a peaceful respite in which to float away from the city—a place where shared creative energy is palpable. hu’s exhibition, Survival Guide: inheritance, exists within the Women’s Center for Creative Work, a small Feminist stronghold in the quiet LA neighborhood of Frogtown.
Principles of sharing and graceful compassion ring loud in hu’s work. The consistent non-capitalization of her name, a practice this article continues, denotes her desire to disconnect from self-importance. hu is interested in collective visions and courteous learning principles. She has invited eight artists to contribute to the show, most of who in turn chose to collaborate with family members or friends on their pieces. These works form the “Magic Carpet,” whose centerpiece is a large quilt sewn by hu. She describes the collective piece as a way to fly together, or “lift ourselves.” Visitors are welcome to walk, sit, lay on this carpet—she wants people to use and enjoy the space. This work fits well into the community-based atmosphere of the WCCW. The center hosts a number of weekly women’s groups, is home to the Feminist Library on Wheels, and is open for co-working hours Monday-Friday.
hu works primarily in paint and installation. On the walls are two vibrant paintings that tell the story of her recent endeavor to learn to weave. The portrait is of Melissa Cody, a fourth generation Navajo weaver, who is her mentor and has become a close friend. There is symbolism in every aspect of the painting: from the spider who instructed the first Navajo weavers to the geometric shapes referencing traditional woven patterns to the specificity of the Germantown wool used in the painting.
The larger painting is narrative of hu’s experience learning Zapotec weaving from Porfirio Gutiérrez and his family in Oaxaca. Scene by scene, it illustrates herself learning the techniques for dying and weaving, with some of the yarn she dyed (cochineal and indigo) embroidered into the painting. This gentle form of documentation pays tribute to the process and her teachers. It presents learning as a way to preserve ability, craft and skill.
Survival Guide: inheritance celebrates knowledge passed between generations and taught outside of contemporary education models (i.e. universities and Youtube). While much of the work references the indigenous weaving she is currently learning, the impetus for the theme of inheritance is foremost a reflection on her relationship with her mother. hu’s parents are first generation immigrants from Taiwan. Thus hu’s mother, who raised her in California, is also her connection to a culture and a past whose location she is removed from. For the month before the show opened her mother came to the center to teach morning classes in Baduanjin. The walls of the installation are painted half blue and half gold in honor of the colors her mother sees when she meditates.
hu’s work is respectfully curious and deeply personal, the layers of which are revealed as she explains the symbolism of her materials. Her desire to empathize and hold space with others is present in every decision she makes in the show. It is as if she forges a journey for herself through art. A journey that encompasses love, grief, and hope in a place that disregards temporal bounds.
Survival Guide: inheritance is the culmination of iris yirei hu’s residency at The Women’s Center for Creative Work. It is on view at the WCCW through April 27. You can view schedules for the workshops hu is holding in conjunction with her show on their website: http://womenscenterforcreativework.com/iris-yirei-hu/
This is the artist’s third Survival Guide installation. Visit hu’s website to learn about her previous guides and other works: http://irisyireihu.com/
The following artists contributed to “Magic Carpet” as part of Survival Guide: inheritance: Cynthia Alberto and her daughter Kaya Fridman; David Bell, his mother Carole Bell, and his grandmother Mary Lukasik; Sonia Louise Davis and her mother Jill Heller; Sarita Dougherty, her partner champoy, and their daughter Lidagat Luna Dougherty Lim; Jeanne Hoel; laub and marbles; Jane Leese and her Ann Leese; and Paula Wilson.
Women’s Center for Creative Work
2425 Glover Place, Los Angeles, CA, 90031
Operating hours: Monday–Friday10am-6pm