Artist Dot Vile works in textiles with the delicacy of a surgeon with a scalpel, weaving a narrative out of construction materials and cloth that captures the combination, and often juxtaposition, of the male-female dynamic.
While a single thread woven to create cloth mimics the repetitive menstrual cycle preparing the body for birth, Vile finds that sturdy cement and bricks resonate as distinctly masculine.
“I exploit such materials to expose a strength, weakness and resilience in each” the artist writes on her website.
“I make [art] this way to find and question the homelike qualities in masculine and feminine balance.”
Vile grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, knowing that she always wanted to make the City of Brotherly Love her home. A graduate of the University of the Arts in 2013, Vile received her bachelor of fine arts in fiber, following in the footsteps of her instructor and mentor Mi-Kyoung Lee.
“To me, her art and daily life have no real separation,” says Vile. “Her work has so much to do with the body and repetition, which definitely inspires my current work.”
Interview: Saskia Ketz
Editor: Jackie Zimmermann
Installation Photos Courtesy of Dot Vile
Photo of Dot by Tatum Mangus
AWT: Can you expand on the idea of male and female dichotomy and how it is reflected in your inward-outward theme?
Dot Vile: I was always very aware that my mom worked inside of the house while dad worked outside of it. My mom gave birth to ten children and always told me her job was to be a homemaker. My dad worked on the railroad as a locomotive engineer, did bricklaying and carpentry. Their labor was divided but it was synchronized. To me, the roles themselves act like a male and female body. Sex is a perfect example of inwardness and outwardness uniting. The roles give and take from each other, becoming almost interchangeable and elastic. In “The Poetics of Space,” Gaston Bachelard analyzes the home, saying “outside and inside are both intimate—they are always ready to be reversed, to exchange their hostility.” Because of this, I find it hard not to see a relationship as I see a house.
AWT: How does the inherent female inwardness impact women in society?
DV: I am specifically talking about the womb. Mother or not, women are associated with it. They are impacted by it because there can be pressure on women to have children just because they are women. Yet the female body is so intricate because of that capability. In the history of women’s work, textiles and the home go hand in hand. The repetition of fiber building up is the foundation to any textile. The female body runs on a repetitive cycle as well. I am far too fascinated with the entire menstrual cycle to ever think it is insignificant. Even so, the most sweeping response to my work was “She wants a baby.” That moment only made me want to understand the truth about femininity. What is truly linked to oppression and what is truly linked to instinct?
AWT: Your within/without piece is such a strong visual concept of contrast, pulling out and holding in. What were your thoughts during the process of creating it?
DV: I chose the nylon because it is blatantly fragile and, likewise, the cinderblocks and palette because of their weight and grit. I played with which element was the main support system. The fabric shows its resilience from the pressure within while the cinderblocks lean and sit precariously. It sits at a cusp between failure and success, the “failure” being if it collapsed. That moment is what I work toward in much of my work.
AWT: How do you select the materials you work with?
DV: A large part of my practice is just watching the construction or demolition of a building. The layers involved within the sites are so similar to textiles. Brick walls and reinforcement steel are gridded like a quilt. From afar, scaffolding looks as hazy as a veil. Cloth and construction site material are my main interests. I simply make them interact with each other to create tension and test their brute strength. I choose them for their masculine and feminine undertones and their relation to the inside and outside of a home. Within the interactions there is nuance. Steel bowing under pressure is different than cloth tearing under pressure, yet both expose their weakness. Strength within weakness is something I look for in my daily life. It overflows into my work. When I was a little girl, my dad told me that if steel was the same size as silk from a spider web, the silk would be stronger. I never forgot that. I have always been a fan of the underdog.
AWT: What are you currently working on?
DV: Lately, I have just been doing quick projects that I treat like exercises. A big renovation is happening in the house next door to me. The back wall was ripped apart and wide open for the first couple of weeks so I could go inside. The bareness and fact that I was trespassing forced me to work quickly with whatever was there, which was mostly wood or mirrors. It was fun. Besides that, I have been trying to learn new skills that intimidate me. I took a blacksmithing class this past summer and then impulsively bought a portable hammer drill so I can work outside.
AWT: How do you feel your inward-outward theme might evolve over time?
DV: I think it will just evolve with life experience. Relationships, family observations and books I read have all influenced that theme in some way. I try not to frantically force my work to develop. Currently, I am reading “Heidi,” the book from the 1800’s about a little Swiss girl who was taken away from her home and trying to get back. Even reading a children’s book confirms my suspicion that there is a universal ache for a home outside of ourselves.