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The Art Five, Issue 17, with Artist Marianne Fairbanks

Updated: Aug 3, 2021

Marianne Fairbanks is a visual artist, designer, curator and Assistant Professor of Design Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, living and working in Wisconsin, USA. In this interview, we discuss Fairbanks' new works and the medium of weaving, and her recent collaborative exhibition Loud Volumes Soft Stuff alongside textile artist Sofia Hagström Møller, which opened in Copenhagen in June 2021.

‘Cut Counterpane (sourcebook series)’, 2021, Painted and dyed Japanese flat paper yarn and tencel handwoven on TC2 Loom, 53 cm x 61 cm. Photo credit: Martin Yam Møller. Right, Marianne Fairbanks.

MF: I first visited Sweden and Denmark in 2018 on a research trip to learn more about how textiles are currently taught and more widely perceived as an art form in the Scandinavian culture. As part of this research, I arranged a studio visit with the Danish weaver, Sofia Hagström Møller. Beyond sharing her studio and work with me, Sofia guided me around the art venues in Copenhagen, including Officinet and the Danish Artist Workshop. After this initial meeting, I invited her to contribute to my social weaving project, Weaving Lab, and she helped me connect to 40 other Danish weavers and exhibit small pieces of their work as part of the Weaving Lab installation at Copenhagen Contemporary.

The following year, Sofia was able to come to the digital weaving lab at UW Madison for a one-week residency on the TC-2 Loom. In 2020, we applied for a residency at the Danish Artist Workshop followed by an exhibition at Officinet. We were thrilled to receive both opportunities and worked over the year to develop our work while navigating the pandemic and possibility of actually travelling. Covid ultimately prevented me from travelling to Denmark for the residency, so I wove my work back in Madison while Sofia wove her work at the Danish Artist Workshop. Our collaboration wasn’t able to happen in physical space so we worked together remotely via WhatsApp and Google drive sending photos and ideas.

Woven works of art by Marianne Fairbanks
‘Fold (sourcebook series)’, 2021, Linen knitted tape, viscose, paint, hand woven on TC2 Loom, 61 x 109 cm. Photo credit: Martin Yam Møller Right, Installation View, 'Loud Volumes Soft Stuff'. Photo credit: Martin Yam Møller

MF: I was trained in handweaving as an undergraduate and only more recently started weaving on the TC-2 Digital jacquard loom. The digital loom spurred ideas around beyond pattern, colour and materiality into image, object and infinite binding structures. I love that weaving is simple in its binary format with the warp or weft passing over or under at every intersection. I am also enamoured by its complexity -- that within the simple binary format there are infinite possibilities of what it can do as a cloth, image and 3 dimensional object.

As a conceptual artist I use the loom to express ideas, but it is just one of the many tools I can employ so it is important that the concepts connect with the process and outcome. The ancient roots of weaving are tied to the language of abstraction and pattern, but more recently, with draw looms and jacquard looms, images can be portrayed in cloth. Visually, my work juxtaposes these ideas of how the threads can be used to create a textile -- built 3 dimensionally, line by line -- to portray patterns AND imagery.

In the USA, when you study in this field as an art form, it is called “Fibers” but when it is for a more utilitarian outcome it is called “Textiles”.

Woven textile art by Marianne Fairbanks
'Bend Magnolia (sourcebook series)', 2021, Painted Japanese linen knitted tape, Japanese flat paper yarn and tencel handwoven on TC2 Loom, 109 cm x 77 cm. Photo credit: Martin Yam Møller
Marianne Fairbanks' work shown in progress on the loom.
Marianne Fairbanks' work in progress on the TC-2 Digital jacquard loom. Photo credit Marianne Fairbanks

MF: Ooh, this is a fun one. I always come back to Sol LeWitt for the abstraction and geometry and Eva Hesse the materiality and playfulness. Another art star combo is Buckminster Fuller (I love his ideologies, approach to structures and architecture) and Anni Albers, for her theories and playfulness around using materials and being responsive to the process of weaving (they were at Black Mountain together so somehow I put them in the same boat).

I love Lygia Clark’s paintings, sculptures and social practice work- it is great to have role models who did it all. Optically I cannot tear myself away from the high contrast pattern explorations of Bridget Riley. Contemporary weavers whose work I love include Samantha Bitman, Christy Matson. KG and Jovencio de La Paz. Other contemporary artists that I have been obsessed with and know from when I lived and worked in Chicago include Dan Gunn, Allison Wade, and Jessica Labatte.

I have done a few enlarged site-specific weaving installations that explored pattern, colour and scale. For Holding Pattern (Magnolia) I wanted to try to keep the enlarged scale and push into representing the weaving draft with a dimensional shift. I had been flipping through lots of weave pattern books and found that as I turned the pages and saw the effects of the perspective on the pattern they really came to life. I think somehow this is how we live with the patterns as cloth, they are always moving as they enter spaces and cover the body. The new laser cut work is stopping time as I photograph the moment of the page being turned and showing the pattern held, not flat but with dimension. I knew I wanted to install in the window to allow for the openings in the pattern to let in the light but also then it really brings into focus the binary nature of positive and negative space, absence and presence and somehow might refer to a jacquard punchcard.

Window installation by Marianne Fairbanks
‘Holding Pattern (Magnolia)’, 2021, Laser cut high density polyethylene, paint, 124 cm x 190 cm. Photo credit: Martin Yam Møller
'Radiant Indeterminacy', 2020 Chazen Museum of Art, Faculty Exhibition. Photo credit Marianne Fairbanks
'Gradient Slippage', 2018, 35.5” x 26”, Cotton, polyester thread handwoven on TC-2 Loom. Photo credit James Prinz

MF: This is the biggest challenge! When you are weaving, the colours are always intersecting as warp and weft so the way the colours interact in a weave structure is very different from how a painter might use colour that actually is blended. I think I struggled when I first started weaving on the TC2 because I was trying to source interesting coloured yarns and this was impossible. I have now gone back to a lesson I learned from my professor Sherri Smith, who always said you must always dye your yarns. Now I do dye the yarn but I also sometimes spray paint or use other inks to coat the yarns. Luckily for me, I can get the yarns to be the colour I want without worrying about them washing out- the textiles I make are not utilitarian so it doesn’t matter as much if the colour is dyed into the cloth. I use whatever I can to get the colour and texture I want. Mastering this will take me the rest of my life!


MF: Weaving Lab is a project I first initiated in 2016 and ran for two summers in Madison, WI. In 2019 it became mobile, traveling to new locations domestically and internationally including Oak Park, IL, Oslo, Norway, Copenhagen, Denmark, and Gothenberg, Sweden.

Weaving Lab invites the public to come participate in the process of weaving and informal conversations. Tutorials on how to weave are combined with conceptual inquiries into domains of rhythm, math systems, meditation, and materiality. Weaving Lab both explores and subverts each of these associations, hovering between process and speculation, theory and making, and providing questions and experiences so that each participant can draw their own conclusions. The project works to extend access to weaving so that we might invent new ideas about textiles, community, and making.

I was supposed to have Weaving Lab Residency at the Villa Terrace Museum in Milwaukee in the summer of 2020 but it was cancelled due to Covid. I am not sure what the future will hold for this kind of social practice but I know that I do not want to move it entirely online. I love the interaction that happens in the lab between people but also between a person and a floor loom.

Left. Weaving Lab Window Installation, 2017, Madison W1. Photo credit Marianne Fairbanks
Above right, Weaving Lab at Copenhagen Contemporary, 2019. Centre, signage for Weaving Prompt. Photo: Lara Kastner

Thank you to Marianne Fairbanks for participating in The Art Five, Issue 17.

Exhibitions and Residencies:

  • Loud Volumes Soft Stuff, 4 June - 1 July 2021, Officinet, Copenhagen

  • Domestic Reflex, Marianne Fairbanks solo exhibition, at ArtStart, Rhinelander

  • In 2022 Fairbanks will return to Copenhagen for a residency at the Danish Artist Workshop to make new work with Sofia Hagstrom Møller that they hope to exhibit in the USA.


Marianne Fairbanks is a visual artist, designer, curator and Assistant Professor of Design Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her BFA from the University of Michigan. Her work has been shown nationally and internationally in venues including The Museum of Art and Design, NY, USA, Copenhagen Contemporary, Copenhagen Denmark, RAM Gallery, Oslo, Norway and The Röhsska Museum of Design and Craft, Gothenburg, Sweden. Her work spans the fields of art, design, and social practice, seeking to chart new material and conceptual territories, to innovate solution-based design, and to foster fresh modes of cultural production.

All images courtesy of The Artist unless otherwise credited.


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