This article is part of Hyperallergic’s Pride Month series, featuring an interview with a different transgender or nonbinary emerging or mid-career artist every weekday throughout the month of June.
Based in Illinois, artist Poppy DeltaDawn teaches at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago (SAIC), where she emphasizes to her fiber students that “weaving is a human right.” As a transgender woman, DeltaDawn highlights the inherent “transness” of converting raw sheep fleece into woven cloth as well as the craft’s switch from a labor-intensive, women-dominated trade to a largely automated process. The artist’s fiber work is produced from a myriad of inspirations: the subversive embroidery samples of the 19th century, New Deal-era motivational posters, the “un-automation” of weaving, and an appreciation of the “fragmented bodies” (particularly that of sheep) we clothe ourselves with, to name a few. To hammer the point home, DeltaDawn underscores that the art of weaving is just as ancient as the existence of transgender people.
Hyperallergic: What is the current focus of your artistic practice?
Poppy DeltaDawn: I have a lot of work in the planning process that I’m excited to get started on in the fall, but this summer I am devoting a lot of my time and energy to a series of wool weavings made on both the Jacquard hand loom and the harnessed floor loom. I think of my weavings as samplers. Samplers, or samples, take many forms, including sample blankets, swatch books, or embroidery or mending samplers, like with an alphabet or maybe a short bible verse … I like samplers because they can be useful tools for planning future projects, or learning and experimenting, but they are also objects that point the user in the direction of the author or the maker. I love that they take the viewer back to the studio or the work site. They’re also more vulnerable: a space where anything can happen.
People have been spinning and weaving cloth since we’ve been human: Neanderthals were spinning thread 46,000 years ago. Many of my weavings start as raw fleece in my studio, shorn off the sheep’s back complete with grass, maybe a couple of bugs, and anything else that might have gotten caught before the shearer takes it off and sends it to me. Then I clean it, card the wool, spin it, dye it, and weave it into cloth before it ends up in the work. I’m interested in how invisible the work of it all is, in the same way that the labor of the person who made the shirt I’m wearing is invisible. I’m interested in the power that handwoven cloth holds and the power of cloth historically. I think weaving cloth is an act of resistance, and handwoven and manipulated jacquard is a subversion of its intended use: to bring cloth production closer to automation.
H: In what ways — if any — does your gender identity play a role in your experience as an artist?
PD: Spinning wool into thread reinforces the proximity and connection I feel to the material. In the same way that a part of the sheep’s body is manipulated, spun, and woven into cloth, I’m able to change my own trans body. I feel such a bodily, spiritual connection to spinning and weaving cloth, being a woman and also being human and trans. I think a lot about my connection to the land and how the land is another body.
In the same way that I make samples, I make other examples of what I think of as instructional tools, namely videos that are analogous to instructional videos, sort of like what you’d find on YouTube. My videos are made like my weavings: with materiality in mind, using a lot of green screen technology, musical instruments, and spinning wheels … My instructional videos also provide some context for my weavings. They also address my body materially, and I present in the videos autobiographically. A big part of my work is the exploration and pushing of vulnerability. I find the power in showing varying degrees of my vulnerability through my work.
H: Which artists inspire your work today? What are your other sources of inspiration?
PD: I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at objects from antiquity, namely from Egypt and Sumer. I find research to be a necessary and rewarding part of my practice. Knowing about the legacy of craft and objects and how people have sustainably cultivated the land and harvested objects from it is really at the core of my work, so learning about things like shepherding and wicker bee skeps is so fascinating to me.
I love so many artists and have so many crushes, but I just went to the Sarah Sze and Gego exhibitions and can’t stop gushing. Some of the biggies as far as inspiring or influencing my work goes: Brian Bress, Ed Rossbach, Martin Puryear, Mary Reid & Patrick Kelley, Jeanine Oleson, Kristine Woods, Ellen Lesperance, Pipilotti Rist, Carol Rama, and Charles LeDray
H: What are your hopes for the LGBTQIA+ community at the current moment?
PD: I mean, right this second I really just hope that we can all be free. All bodies deserve freedom from the state.