Talking Craft: MAI Interview with Hanna Norrna
by: Anna Backman Rogers , December 13, 2021
by: Anna Backman Rogers , December 13, 2021
Hanna Norrna is a weaver and textile artist based in Gothenburg, Sweden. She works with weaving as an alchemical formula, a thought experiment and a ritual gesture. She is especially intrigued by the relationship between weaving and mysticism as a search for a language that unveils how craft, passion, vulnerability, loss, body and sanctity are connected and claim space. Norrna’s interests lie in women’s work and silent knowledge, in relation to affective, bodily, and denigrated forms of mysticism that balance the boundary between necessity and obsession. Her weavings challenge prevailing views about materiality, embodiment and feminism through site specific installations.
Her work can be viewed at: http://www.hannanorrna.se
MAI: Tell me your story about coming to weaving—were there any practitioners who inspired you to take to the loom? Did you find your ‘style’ rather quickly or did this take a while to develop?
Hanna Norrna: It during the bachelor program in textile art at HDK (School of Art and Design, University of Gothenburg) that I learned to weave. The weaving course was mandatory and an introduction to the fibre workshop. I didn’t like it at all! I felt like weaving was only about planning and making decisions beforehand, before actually starting to weave. It didn’t fit me at all. But then I was introduced to a digital loom, a tc1. Suddenly I felt free in the process and could make experiments without calculating. Working on the tc1 digital loom, one is not limited to any repetitions, like in a regular shaft loom. All the threads lift and sink individually by air pressure. Weaving like this, moving back and forth with the shuttle as the loom is pumping air, breathing, made me fall in love with the loom. The digital loom brought me back to the shaft loom and the basic principles of weaving. I remember finding Magdalena Abakanowicz’s woven ‘Abakans’ during this period as one of my early and most intense art experiences.
MAI: How has your practice grown? Are there consistent themes you are exploring in your work?
HN: I found copper thread by accident, in the great material shop at KADK in Copenhagen, where I took an exchange semester at the textile design program in 2015. Initially, I picked it for its shine, but this opened the door to sculptural weaving. I wove large sheets of metallic material that I draped, which shaped itself through its own weight.
During this time I was very interested in different occult themes and read a lot about theosophy, alchemy, Helena Blavatsky, Annie Besant and the spiritual movement around them. I continued to explore different metals in weaving, and it was like all the pieces came together: the activity of weaving – the spiritual seances – the materials – my body – the body of the cloth. In my MA work, I made a study of four female mystics: Helena Blavatsky, Annie Besant, Hilma af Klint and Mechthild von Magdeburg, focusing on relations between weaving and spiritual seances. The year after, I made a study of a text in the form of a diary by Hilma. My weaving has grown in relation to these women and their body of work. I continue to explore metals and silk and have introduced other materials such as flax, hair, glass, bronze and these materials bring new references with them.
MAI: Do you see yourself as part of a ‘slow craft’ movement? What are your thoughts on craft in relation to attention and time? Do you think art and craft has an important role to play in conversations around mental health?
HN: I am not sure of my position in the ‘slow craft’ movement. From my perspective, the slow processes of hand-weaving can work as a resistance towards the pace of activities and productivity in society. But there are more layers to this; of course I often feel the pressure of delivering new work and to be very active as an artist, to show that I have things going on. I am also very privileged to have received enough commissions and scholarships to be in a position where I work full time with art, which is also entirely dependent on me being able to show that I am active and productive.
For sure I know that one of the things I love with hand weaving is the preconditions that each step takes its time, there is a bodily limit to how fast you can make for example a new warp, or thread 2000 threads. Each step demands full presence from me: I cannot be somewhere else in my thoughts, and I cannot ignore an aching shoulder. I feel like I have a different and more respectful perspective on time when I measure it with weaving, and I think that many people would if any craft were put into their own hands. So I definitely think that craft is useful in conversations around mental health; and of course there are many examples of its healing properties.
MAI: Is there anything self-consciously feminist in your art do you think? You mentioned some really fascinating women artists and I love this project on female mystics!
HN: The self-consciously feminist aspect of my art is rooted in my training; that is, how I learned to work with textiles, but also within the textile art field itself. My guidelines are the importance of sharing knowledge with my community—this can be anything from how a binding works, to helping out when big deadlines are approaching. I have a cluster of colleagues around me with whom I share texts, applications and material expertise. I like to work in collaborative processes, that is where I learn the most, being in dialogue with other people and materials.
MAI: Absolutely! I think you just described a feminist community. So which artists inspire you right now? and what are you working on currently? I’m intrigued to know how the recent pandemic and the conditions of isolation affected your art.
HN: I am currently working on a project about sea silk, in collaboration with a Danish artist, Maja Lund Hvitfeldt. We are currently staging an exhibition together.
I also started the process of new weavings for an exhibition next year. I will go to Finland and work on a digital loom in the studio of Katja Huhmarkangas.
During the pandemic I really realised the importance of having a room of my own outside my own home. My first daughter was born in August 2020, so last year was also about adapting to being a family, living another kind of life and changing my relation to work, and also to time. Having a studio close to home where I can go, with her or on my own, got me through the pandemic. Recently I looked a lot at the work of Christine Wahlström Eriksson who is making fantastic work with seed flax for her weaving. I am also eager to go and see an exhibition with Ellinor Lager in Malmö. I love the work of the London-based artist Marguerite Humeau.
MAI: The piece I saw in your recent exhibition in Gothenburg is rather unusual in that it’s a standalone piece that does not necessarily fit into a series. Could you talk about this a bit more and describe how you came up with this particular weaving?
HN: I worked on this weaving in the Autumn of 2019. I moved into a new studio with my loom that I bought during my studies for life-after-school. Putting it up for the first time was like getting to know a new friend and a new language. I had been away on residencies for the last year and felt a need of settling down, creating routines for work and weaving, and also a need for concentration on the very basic bindings and ‘roots’ of weaving.
The weaving is constructed in two layers of plain weave, with curved lines or reliefs that ‘closes ‘the layers together and creates channels that are filled with flax fibre. The imagery of the lines grew as I wove, I didn’t have a sketch that I was following. It marks a time/gap between different projects, where I was playing, exploring, learning on and from the loom, and worked without a specific context or towards a particulars result.
MAI: I love this idea that the ‘integrity’ of your weaving is dependent on threads that both bind and separate. It’s probably because I am reading a lot of Melanie Klein at the moment, but this seems really psychoanalytic in its intent to me: that to survive we need to be able to stand alone as individuals, and yet this is entirely predicated on an ability to recognise our dependence on others. I also inevitably think of her concepts of reparation, healing and love in the context of creativity as cure. I think this is especially interesting in light of you recently becoming a mother. But I know you have your own philosophy which you explore in your essay ‘The Binder’: can you say something about this?
HN: The renaissance philosopher Giordano Bruno writes about the binder in his work “Of Bonds in General” (probably written 1590-91) and in my interpretation it appears in different forms: as a figure, an essence, a system or a force of some kind which illustrates the relationships of different figures/essences/systems/forces. Many of the things Bruno proposes through the binder can easily be translated to weaving and its fundamental condition of binding and separating threads. The Swedish philosopher Jonna Bornemark talks about Bruno in her book “Det omätbaras renässans”, and it was in a conversation about her that my friend told me that a work of Bruno had recently been translated to Swedish by the publisher Eskaton – “Om band i Allmänhet” in 2019. Since then this idea of the binder is present for me in many ways. In my essay for the Lux publication (re-printed below) the binder is in dialogue with the weaver, a pregnant body and blue mussels.
MAI: How do you feel when you have immediately finished a weaving? and does this change once you move into an exhibition space?
HN: I find it thrilling to take a weaving down from the loom, to see the whole of it for the very first time. Usually there’s a lot of mixed feelings—disappointment, relief, wonder, and it takes a while to accept the result. I braid all the warp-ends and spend time with the weaving for a couple of days and then it feels better.
This changes again in the exhibition space. I feel a lot of respect towards my work when it is ready to be shown.
MAI: Can you tell me a bit about the size of your weavings? you’ve spoken about how this is very much informed by the size of your own body, but that the weavings are also slightly bigger than you. It seems that you have a physical relationship to your work, to the act of producing it, to your body performing labour? I also wonder how this changes when you work on an electric loom? I cannot help but think about mass produced textiles and how we use machines to erase traces of human labour in the textile industry and how this is really an act of bad faith—since we know that people working in these industries often suffer terrible, often dangerous conditions for poor pay. It seems to me there may be a political or ethical point to your way of working, Hanna? You’ve said how important it is to make the weavings yourself and not have anything made for you…
HN: The act of weaving is very physical, I see the weaving/cloth as sometimes part of my own physicality, and this relationship is the core of my work I would say.
For me, one way of communicating the tacit knowledges within the weaving process has been to make weavings in scales that immediately can correspond to a viewer’s body. Before they know more, the perception of proportion and time can be felt in an instant.
The electric loom TC2 that we spoke about is not connected to mass production to me, as the loom is developed for hand weaving and for hand weavers. Of course, it can be used for making woven samples that are later outsourced to the industry, but that is a really different way of working and with different intentions.
I feel more connected to the mass production of textiles when I buy materials. I get silk from Bangalore and probably big companies buy the exact same material. Yet I haven’t emphasised a political agenda towards this part of the textile industry in my work, it has been more around the silk worm and our brutal use of living species. This last year I have been very occupied by sea silk, made from byssus threads of mussels. One aspect of this material is that there will never be any economy in it for the industry to use. And this thought is somehow touching me on an existential level.
MAI: We’ve spoken at length about the importance of community and sharing in the artistic/craft world. I think this is something that we are completely in denial of in academia (that good ideas do not happen in a vacuum, but are part of an endless conversation with many people). How has the artistic community in Gothenburg informed your work and why does it matter to you? Can you tell us about the seasonal rotation of your studios? I think of you in hibernation in the winter here in Sweden, and then going out into your community again in the spring….
HN: I am lucky to have very good colleagues and friends, from art-studies but also from new connections in the city. These relations inform my work in the way that I find contexts for exhibitions or other events together with other people and often in collaborative processes. And there is always someone to ask for advice when it comes to, for example, finding a new material, which makes me less afraid of trying new things.
My first loom (that I mentioned earlier) is placed in the attic of Gathenhielmska huset at Stigbergstorget. I go there from around April, when the house is warmed by Spring sunshine, and I can work there until September-October depending on how early the Autumn arrives. Then I have my other studio in a basement close to home, a room of my own where I have my other loom and also everything else I need to make my work.
In the attic I feel separated from the rest of the house, I hear nothing from downstairs but everything from outside: the wind, the traffic, people, birds. But in my basement-studio I feel like I hear people coming and going in the house, I hear doors and steps, but almost nothing of the weather as I only have two small windows.
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