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Massy Interviews / Pippa Cherniavsky

February 8 @ 12:00 pm March 31 @ 5:00 pm PST

Feb 08 – Mar 31, Massy Arts will host a new window piece by Vancouver-based visual artist Pippa Cherniavsky.

For her installation piece entitled “Home” (with quilting done by Lauren Tolhurst), the artist aspires to create or recreate the child’s ideal of HOME. Using the quilting technique, she invites the viewer to experience the feeling of shelter/comfort through the heart and mind, innocence and goodness, trust and joy of our hidden child self.

The Massy Arts Gallery is located at 23 East Pender Street in Chinatown, Vancouver.

The gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday, 12pm to 5pm.

Entrance is free, and masks are mandatory.

To contact the gallery, send an email to: info@massyarts.com.

Click here to know more about the exhibition

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To celebrate Pippa’s process and research, Community Engagement Coordinator Rafael Zen interviews the artist for Massy Arts, debating multiple understandings of what home means – and how art can connect memory and belonging.

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Pippa Cherniavsky: Reclaiming and healing the metaphoric child

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Rafael Zen – Why do you say – in the exhibition statement – that a quilt is the embodiment of safety and love? Why was it important to you, as an artist, to work around these themes? Do you think this piece could be also considered a self-portrait of what you were experiencing when creating the piece?

Pippa Cherniavsky – Quilts are functional. Whether lying on a bed or hanging on a wall, their original purpose was to shelter us: to keep us warm and covered when we sleep which is when we are our most vulnerable. This functionality is one of the things that drew me to making quilts. Quilts are functional Art.

I sleep under two of my quilts in the winter, one in the summer. Always the same quilts. I love the weight of them. Their weight feels wise to me. It comforts me, makes me feel safe, protected, loved.

I know the love and good intention that went into the making of the quilts under which I sleep. How can that love, that good intention not imbue every piece of fabric and every stitch, how can that love, that good intention not be watching over me at night while I sleep?

I think that a quilt can only be made with love. It might be love for the creative process or love of color, love for fabric or love for the satisfaction of making something. It might be love for the unfolding wonderment of beauty or the learning of a skill. It might be love for those generations before us who quilted from necessity or it might be love for the person who in the future will sleep under the quilt. It takes so many hours to make a quilt, so much patience and grounding, mental focus and calming and pacing of the self.

I don’t think negative emotions like anger or resentment, jealousy or fear are either compatible with or sustainable against the hours of cultivating positive thoughts required in quilt making- which is not to say that there are not many frustrations along the way when quilting. There are.

That is why I think quilts – and quilt making – are the embodiment of safety and love.

It is an interesting question you ask: why was it important for me as an artist to work around themes of safety and love? (First of all, to answer your next question: yes, as with my other work, my quilts most definitely are a reflection of an aspect of my inner landscape at the time of their making and in this way are self portraits.)

I actually think the theme I am always working with and was with the quilt is vulnerability- my own vulnerability. How we relate to our vulnerability- as a gift or a liability, limiting or liberating, empowering or threatening, as a thing of beauty or a toxic swamp- affects everything in our lives including how we perceive and relate to existence, to others, to such basic needs as care and safety, worthiness and love.

In a series of drawings I made about ten years before I started making quilts, the lens through which I experienced -and subsequently drew- my vulnerability was one of Fear. Vulnerability as a state of being felt unsafe, dangerous. I felt exposed, compressed, contracted, alone, broken, helpless, unable to breathe. The drawings – all self-portraits- were rough and raw and hard.

They were spare and had little colour. Ten years later, when I began to make the quilts, it was obvious that something – the inner landscape of my vulnerability and my (ie me, Pippa the adult’s) relationship to it- had shifted. The quilts and the vulnerability they embodied were colourful, expansive, whimsical, light, joyful. That place of vulnerability felt safe, seen and loved.

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RZ – You also say that home is unconditionally safe and loving, magical but not fantastical. What visual and material choices in your piece represents this particular vision of what a home should be? As an artist, do you think the household environment is something that inspires you to create? If so, why do you think that happens?

PC – In my statement I referred to Home with a capital H – the ideal Home, the Home we all wish we had had, the Home we wish we could create for all children. The ideal Home with a capital H, the Home that as children we create and hold in our hearts is unconditionally safe and loving, is magical but not fantastical (by not fantastical I mean it is not a vision of Home that is only possible in the realm of fantasy). Of course, every home with a small h SHOULD be unconditionally safe and loving, magical and not fantastical but we know this is not the case.

Home is very important to me. Feeling safe is very important to me. My more vulnerable parts (ie my inner children) feel safe in my home- in both my outer, physical home and in my inner home: myself. The very material solidness of my home creates the illusion of safety which grounds me.

When I am grounded, my vulnerable places feel more safe; when they feel safe, I am able to be more grounded. The relationship between safety and groundedness is not a closed circle but a spiral that just keeps on going. The more safe and grounded I feel, the more I am able to carry true safety inside myself, not rely on the external world (the physical home) for it.

For me, quilts and the process of making quilts is also grounding. The materiality (is that a word?) of the fabric, the tools and techniques required to bring the pieces of fabric together are grounding -and grounding is connected if not essential to feelings of safety. As an artist, my nature compels me to create from my vulnerability, whether that is an easy place to access and stay in or a difficult place.

So, finally circling back to your question, more than deriving creative inspiration per se from my household environment, I get a sense of safety from it and it is that sense of safety that supports me in creating.

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RZ – Home is a show supposed to (re)activate the inner child inside every one of us. Why evoking the image of children? What do you think they have, that is lacking in us, adults?

PC – To me, the concept of the inner child is a metaphor for the parts of ourselves that, when we are young, split off from our psyche because of perceived unsafety.

These parts bury deep in our unconscious and wait until such time that we, as adults, are seen by the wisdom inherent in those dissociated child parts to be ready to take over responsibility for whatever it is that those parts have been holding on our behalf- the shames, the guilts, the fears, the griefs, the faulty beliefs; as well as innocence, trust, love and belonging, for example.

Reclaiming these lost parts offers us not only our wholeness but access to our own deeper wisdom. That is why the concept of the inner child is important, why reclaiming and healing the metaphoric inner child is at the core of the notion of ‘coming Home’.

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RZ – Because it relates to the concept of childhood and home, this piece seems to also touch on the basis of memory and togetherness. While making this piece, were you able to also reflect on your own childhood? Could you tell us what is this ideal home that you seem to look for in your artwork? Does is resemble the home that you had as a child?

PC – I cannot say that I thought much about my childhood home when making this piece other than to be reminded of what it was not. The experience of home I had growing up was in no way similar to the sense of Home that I am trying to create in my quilts.

One way we can facilitate the healing of our traumatized and wounded places (inner children) is to reframe or re-imagine events or circumstances. On the surface, I suppose this is what I am doing with the quilts: re-framing Home, re-creating Home.

While there is positive, cathartic value to re-framing Home, the transformative aspect of making the quilt for me is not the final product but the cumulative, nonlinear, multifaceted process it took to get to that product. It is an inward-focused process that cannot be hurried, cannot be pushed, that requires patience, kindness and quiet listening (not with the ears).

It is a process of connecting with the hesitant, subtle places within that I think of as those frightened, wounded inner children whose trust I have nurtured over many years. I know how to be quiet and listen to them, wait for them. I know what it feels like when they have lifted to the surface of my consciousness.

I have learned how to give them space without compromising the adult self. In my quilt making, my adult self is the practical one, the one who is logical and linear, the one who does the sewing and the cutting and replaces the bobbin when the thread runs out.

The adult self is the one who pins things together, makes corrections, figures out how to make the sewn pieces lie flat and be somewhat square. The inner children are the ones who say “Let’s cut this up” or “We need green right in the middle here.” or “More pink!”

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RZ – In your bio, you say: I have been a draw-er and a paint-er and a moth-er and many oth-er things but infrequently have I been a sew-er. What do you think is the main difference between working with traditional art platforms (painting and drawing) and working with what you call a sewed-assemblage? What were the challenges of creating for this particular art form?

PC – Like many others, my interest in exploring quilting was piqued when I learned about the Gee’s Bend quilts. I had never seen art that was so utterly, absolutely and directly honest as those quilts. They were humble, unpretentious and natural. They blew my mind and sensibilities wide open. I loved their functionality.

I loved that the quilts had been made with scraps of this and that saved from worn out clothes, old curtains, sewing offcuts- scraps that had been cut and pieced by hand, sometimes with tiny, precise stitches, sometimes with hurried, impatient stitches but always with a clear, robust, bold voice unique to the maker of the quilt.

I loved that, even though the quilts had a necessary purpose, the women who made them had used the opportunity to uninhibitedly be themselves. I loved the quirky lines and the imperfect shapes, the splashes of colour and patched tears, the everydayness of the practice and pride in the product. I loved the unschooled, intuitive, unHigh Art of them.

Here was traditional ‘women’s work’ and it was without question Art with a capital A. It was Art that was used every day, was jumped on and slept under, was washed on wash day and hung on lines or draped on bushes to dry; Art that when it got old and tatty would be repurposed as stuffing for a cushion or a bed for the dog or taken apart and the good bits included in another quilt.

These quilts were as necessary for everyday life as a chair or a wash basin or a wood box. That they were pure expressions of love and joy, community and family was by-the-by.

After close to a hundred years of such quilt making by the women in Gee’s Bend, some quilts were seen drying on bushes by a big city curator who happened to be driving along the back roads of Alabama on wash day.

Right away he saw in those everyday objects something rare so he bought them and put them in an art gallery. On Monday, the quilts of Gee’s Bend were second class handicrafts and on Tuesday they were first class High Art.

It makes you think.

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I used the term ‘sewed-assemblage’ for my quilt because I wanted to give focus to the quilt’s non-traditional nature and because the organic, intuitive way that the quilt came together felt similar to the process of making ‘assembled art’.

While I wanted to acknowledge these two aspects of my quilt by calling the quilt ‘sewed-assemblage’, I had feelings of discomfort and disloyalty doing so. I could see that I was playing into and contributing to the centuries old, elitist divide between High Art, that historically has been non-functional and the domain of men, and traditional art like sewing, cooking, knitting, embroidery, weaving, quilting, lacework, basketry, embroidery, pysanky, etc., the creative territory historically relegated to women.

Until recently, traditional women’s art was patronizingly dismissed by society and by the art world as ‘handicrafts’ and ‘folk art’ despite evidence of their skill and artistry.

I wondered if by referring to my quilt as ‘sewed-assemblage’ I had betrayed the generations of unseen and unsung women before me who did not have the luxury of having their quilts included in an art show; women who, like the rest of society, did not see value in their quilts, did not see their quilts as art nor themselves as artists; women who made quilts out of necessity and for no other reason than to keep their families warm.

I thought about my need to have my quilt qualified as Art. On one hand, I do see my quilt as more than a quilt – which is not to say that I see it as better than any other quilt- but I also see it as less than High Art which perhaps makes me guilty of practising the very patriarchal elitism that I despise. I don’t know.

Even with the artsy label of ‘sewed-assemblage’, I don’t think that a quilt made by a woman is likely to be invited into the lofty and exclusive club of High Art not only because a quilt isn’t a drawing or a painting (and I doubt very much that sewing counts as a High Art sculpting technique) but by virtue of the lingering laws of the patriarchy: a he would probably have a better chance of breaking or changing the rules than a she. But maybe, in thinking that way, I am giving away the more repressive times in which I grew up.

When I was looking for a creative direction twenty years ago, the one thing that I knew was that I wanted to avoid High Art. I specifically chose quilt making because of the functionality and familiarity and everydayness of quilts. I liked the simplicity of the materials and straightforwardness of the technique.

I loved the rich and humble history of quilt making. I wanted my quilts to be used: to be jumped on and slept under, to have inviting textures to touch and colours to savour. I wanted them to be rolled into a pillow or turned into a tent and, finally, to be draped over a bush to dry on wash day.

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