“My thoughts, my memories and my dreams, what came to my mind while I was awake, with eyes open, wide open, or what was manifested in my dreams dreamed with closed eyes.A dance between conscious and unconscious organized in words that suddenly aligned themselves. Literally. Discoursed in a sequence that seems endless. I can get it with my hands if I want it. They became concrete. I can move them to another place, I can put them aside. I can work on them with my hands, until they become knitting. Each centimeter of that line, word by word, passed through the fingers and carefully woven, getting a new and proper shape. I can get in or get out of it, I can turn it inside out or I can make it my reverse”.
Cecilia Vilela is from São Paulo, Brazil. She got a degree in Fashion Design there, and also studied Contemporary Artistic Creation in Portugal. Now she’s living in London, a city that inspires everybody and where creativity emerges from everywhere. Her artistic works are permeated by the idea of the handmade, almost obsessive in nature, they demand time and challenge the fast speed of most contemporary forms of expression.
At So Catchy! Where Fashion Begins, we talked to Cecilia to get an approach to her work, Woven Dreams, first published in QUINCAS Magazine (link in Portuguese) last June.
So Catchy!: Is this the first artistic handwork you’ve done? What other ways of artistic expression have you tried before?
Cecilia: All the works I’ve done before explore handwork as a strong characteristic. There are always meticulous details made by hands, taking time… However, I could say this was the first work I’ve done without worrying so much about what it is… Is it fashion? Art? Textile? Most of what I’ve done before was strictly related to making garments. Although they could be very conceptual, they were still clothes. Now I’m getting rid of that as a requisite outcome for my creations… And what remains, no matter what I’m doing, is exactly the handwork.
SC: How did you come up with this idea of writing words on lace, and then knitting them?
C: The first idea came up on the development of a university project which had ‘identity’ as a concept to be explored. I wanted to highlight the process rather than the outcome. Also I wanted to explore the relevance that written pieces have to me, although written pieces are never the outcome of my work actually, they are always an influential reference for me. And I like the idea of showing that they are there somehow. Although you cannot read them, there’s a huge amount of energy disposed on creating this content. And it’s there, in its essence.
SC: How long was the lace, in the end?
C: It was about 150m. I cut the strips of the fabric and I sewed a continuous line using a sewing machine, which also put all the strips together…
SC: You talk about dreams and memories in the description of this artistic piece. What does this work mean to you?
C: It’s about externalizing feelings, playing with the expression itself. They are my own ideas placed out of me, materialized in a shape which was modeled by my own hands. It’s a process of turning a matter of feelings into aesthetics.
SC: Could you tell us 3 words of those you knitted? Why did you choose those ones?
C: Honestly, I don’t think I could single out 3 words that would bring some sense to it… but I can explain a bit about the content.
It is intentionally not the focus of the piece, but basically it is a mix of notes that I took from my old notebooks. Lots of descriptions of dreams I had (yes, I’m used to writing them down when I wake up, whenever I remember), mixed with other texts, these a bit more conscious: Some impressions about my reality, some notes of what, at some point, I wished was my reality too. And some memories of other people’s words: quotes or excerpts from books, but these with the care of writing them down by memory: only what remained in my mind – exactly as I had them in mind – would be included. Everything mixed in a way to follow the lack of linearity of our own minds, a back and forth, a mess. I wanted to explore the idea of the unconscious manifested on our thoughts, so I let some thoughts that came to my mind mix together in a free and random style.
However, the intention was not to reveal them one by one… It matters that they all came from my mind, became concrete and, as you can see in the last pictures, to my head they returned!
SC: You talk about this as a reaction to the rush of life… How long did it take you to finish the work? Tell us about the creative process and its execution.
C: It was a project I had decided to do anyway and just before I actually started there was the invitation to do it for the magazine, which have forced me to have a deadline! With creative works you can easily keep developing, developing and never have it done! So, I had about 3 weeks to do it! Along with a full time job, well, there was not much time left, and I have to be honest and say there was a big hurry to finish this project! Some sleepless nights… Just the knitting stage took me over a week.
However, when I talk about the slow processes, I’m talking about the idea of going back to craft instead of industrial – not quitting the industrial processes from our lives at all! But finding little gaps where we can keep manual processes still present, bringing a kind of balance…
Any kind of process where you use your hands to make something takes a time that there’s no way to hurry. When we have a person instead of a machine there’s a human factor in the process, and it imposes certain limits…it becomes more human.
SC: What do you think about London as a city to live in? Does it inspire you? How?
C: I really enjoy living here, especially because of the diversity. I have the feeling differences are more welcome and naturally accepted here. And this attitude is what open minds for new possibilities, in any aspect. I think this is what excites and inspires me the most here.
SC: Where is your work placed, now?
C: The piece itself is here, stored inside my wardrobe! (laughs) Which is quite ironic if you consider I didn’t want to make a garment and it ended up inside the wardrobe!
But, my idea for this project was to have only photographs as an outcome. Since the beginning I meant to have the photos of the process as the final thing, not the knitting. Photos, by the way, in which I had the crucial help from the photographer Asher Herr. Having him working on the photos with me was essential to make my work visible.
SC: Are you thinking about doing something else like that in the future?
C: I know that the writing and especially the knitting are very important references for me and for sure they will be recurrent in my future works. At the moment, for my next works, I’ve been also exploring some possibilities with photography and embroideries together…
SC: Now, we want to get to know you a little bit more: What are your favourite materials to work with?
C: At this very moment my favourite materials are threads! They are very versatile. With a needle as a tool, they allow you to build structures, weaving. You can also modify surfaces with embroideries, or you can sew and just put things together. Moreover, aesthetically, threads are lines, which is a basic element for visual compositions…
SC: Where is your favourite place to live?
C: Big cities where everything happens all the time and which give you the feeling you can find any kind of thing and people. Although you are probably never going to look for all this stuff!
SC: What music do you listen to when you work?
C: I don’t distinguish music from different activities, so working I just keep listening to whatever I have on…and most of the time it’s Brazilian music!
SC: Who is that fashion artist whom you take part of your inspiration from?
C: Ronaldo Fraga, he’s a Brazilian fashion designer. The visual identity of what he produces and what I do are completely different, nor do I intend to have a fashion brand as he has, but I feel inspired by him as a reference of professional successful. He does something that seems to be impossible in Brazil: To provide commercial viability for fashion that is also artistic and very authentic, nourished by Brazilian culture as his most influential inspiration.
SC: And finally… What are your plans for the future?
C: I want to consolidate my work on this gap that exists between fashion and art which is so difficult to be labeled, and combine my background and my interest of both to find a productive balance of such a nice mix!
You can see more of Cecilia Vilela’s work on her Tumblr and her new Twitter account.
Photos courtesy of Asher Herr.