While acclaimed Mexican artist Tania Candiani was visiting a museum in Oaxaca, Mexico, a weaver told her he preferred working in the dark so that he
could hear the snap of a breaking thread.
“Many of the works are related to that story,” Candiani said in a Skype interview
from her Mexico City office.
An installation born of collaboration, “Tania Candiani: Cromática” opens at 516 ARTS on Saturday, Feb. 8. The show is making its American debut after traveling to Oaxaca, Guadalajara and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. The exhibition explores sound, color and synesthesia, a condition in which one sense is simultaneously received by different senses, knitted through traditional arts and crafts.
516 ARTS Executive Director Suzanne Sbarge discovered Candiani’s work while on exhibition research in Juárez.
“She has pulled together work that is in some ways very traditional, but she is placing it in a contemporary context,” Sbarge said.
“Cromática” focuses on the primary color triad: red, blue and yellow. The color
trio also reflects the three kingdoms of nature: the animal from the cochineal insect used in red dye; the vegetal from indigo blue and the mineral pigments used in yellow.
A repurposed antique loom forms the nucleus of the show. Artists Sal Moiss Revilla and Jess Ramirez Ortiz turned it into a zanfona, a musical instrument from the 14th century. The continuous friction of the strings becomes the central function of the loom. The work spans architecture and science, as well as art.
“It makes a deep, strange sound, and the audience actually plays it,” Candiani said. “Most of the works are the sound of labor.
“I thought it spoke so well to the span of time from traditional craft to contemporary. It brought together the concept of the past, present and future.”
A photo of a display of 800 pieces of prickly pear cactus infested with cochineal
insects explores the color red. The cochineal was used to dye ceramics and textiles, to write and to draw murals. Embroiderers created a series of cross-stitch imagery using dyed silk thread on cotton. The patterns were based on illustrations from the 1794 book “Benefit of Grana Cochinilla” by José Antonio Azate.
A tapestry woven by Juan Prez Martinez charts the primary colors in a rainbow of horizontal lines.
A display of hand-embroidered hoops reveals anecdotes related to the color blue, originally harvested from the plant indigo. It includes a snippet about the director Billy Wilder (“Some Like It Hot,” “Sunset Boulevard”).
“He wanted to paint the (white) flowers in yellow for a movie,” Candiani said.
Another reflects the sapphire preferences of the Victorian painter John Ruskin.
“He only allowed his pupils to paint with Prussian blue,” she said.
The anecdotes expand to the French Surrealist/Symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud, who applied color to letters.
“He’s looking at the color blue every time you say, ‘Oh,’ ” Candiani said.
In creating the exhibition, Candiani is defying the obsolescence of traditional art forms.
“It’s been overwhelmed by the industrialization of things, especially in textiles,” she said. “I believe nothing is obsolete. I believe everything deserves a new way of understanding.”