Ruth Jeyaveeran FDGA 2017

FDGA Research Grant Report:
Ruth Jeyaveeran, Assistant Professor
Department of Textile and Surface Design

In June I traveled to Deere Island, Maine to attend a two-week summer residency at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. I would like to thank the committee for providing a research grant to help defray the cost of my room and board. During my time at Haystack I began working on a collection of felted and laser cut Torans to be exhibited in an upcoming show of innovative textiles, Crafting Change, at the Museum at FIT. This exhibit coincides with New York Textile Month, a high profile event involving major museums and educational institutions in the metropolitan area.

I’ve always been fascinated by the textiles of my South Asian heritage, particularly the various Torans I encountered on my travels throughout India. A Toran is a gateway in Hindu and Buddhist architecture. Torans made of embroidered fabric decorate the entranceway in homes across South Asia to  welcome guests and newcomers. Recently I’ve become interested in working with this symbol of hospitality because it directly confronts the concept of the wall and border in this current political climate. 

Working on this project in its conceptual stage while at Haystack proved to be invaluable. Located on forty acres overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the campus offers visiting artists wide, open spaces to think and create work. I was given twenty-four hour access to a large fiber studio as well as uninterrupted time to develop my ideas. The nightly talks and presentations by creative thinkers and craftspeople were inspirational and invigorating, and I spent quite a bit of time in the library, an important resource of rare books on crafts and textiles.

To create the Torans, I used felted wool, one of the oldest known textiles, because of its ability to function in both 2D and 3D-based applications, as well as its historical significance. Felt is a relatively new material in my art practice so it was helpful to work alongside other fiber artists in the studio who offered practical advice, technical suggestions, as well as informal critiques. 

This collection is an extension of my ongoing research mining the area between traditional and innovative materials and techniques. Specifically, I’m interested in exploring the way traditional materials such as felt interact with new technologies like laser cutting. One of the reasons I applied to Haystack is the presence of a Fab Lab staffed with a trained technician who offered suggestions on new and different ways to incorporate the laser cutter into my work. As the residency progressed, he became a true collaborator helping to push my ideas in new directions. 

With the knowledge, and skills I gained during the residency, I’ve continued to work on my Toran collection. The supportive and encouraging environment provided at Haystack was critical to the development of my initial concept. It is my hope that the pieces I create for this important exhibit will be the beginning of a new direction for me, one that expands beyond traditional textile materials and processes to create exciting, innovative work.