HELLEN ASCOLI: CIEN TIERRAS
Hellen Ascoli’s multidisciplinary approach to art making derives from an active engagement with weaving, movement, listening, and writing, which she applies to an exploration of the political relationship between body, object, and environment. Working primarily with the backstrap loom—a tool that attaches to the body of its user and to the space in which they are working—Ascoli generates ideas and experiences that are rooted in place, and which are therefore contextual and relational.
“Each weave is intimately related to the body it harnesses,” she writes. “Its warp is the width of my hips, its length mirrors my height, its designs are spaced by the threads I can hold in my hand… It carries memory through touch, a proximity sense. I choose to use materials that reveal vestiges of bodies that were once there.”
For her first solo museum exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Center, Ascoli presents several new works including a large-scale textile installation in the CAC’s lobby, a site-responsive kinetic wall sculpture, text-based weavings, videos displayed in custom-built furniture, photographs, and sound works. These are exhibited alongside salvaged and constructed objects—a mattress frame, brick molds, combs—that reference ideas of the body, memory, and home.
Many of the works investigate translation—literal and metaphorical—as an entry point for destabilizing Western-centric modes of understanding and communicating. They demonstrate Ascoli’s interest in reflecting on personal and collective experiences of trauma, and on the potential for change embodied in ordinary actions.
The exhibition’s title, Cien Tierras, which is shared by two bodies of work included therein, is derived from a Spanish expression meaning “one hundred earths” (though tierra can also signify “land,” “ground,” and “world”). Here, “cien tierras” evokes the multiplicities that underpin the practice of weaving and connect it to other forms of recorded knowledge.
Reflecting Ascoli’s collaborative process, the exhibition features contributions by writer Laura August, poet and weaver Negma Coy, painter Jorge de León, sound artist and musician Sofia Jade Tanski, and designer Karl Williamson.
Hellen Ascoli was born in Guatemala City in 1984. She received her BFA in sculpture from Southern Methodist University, Dallas (2006); and her MFA from the Art Institute of Chicago (2012). Her work has been included in numerous group exhibitions including the Bienal de Artes Visuales del Istmo Centroamericano (2014); Bienal de Arte Paiz, Guatemala City (2014, 2018, 2021); My Body is Here, Concepción 41, Antigua, Guatemala (2016); One Stone and the Rain, Lawndale Art Center, Houston; Guatemala from 33,000 km: Contemporary Art 1960-present, Museum of Contemporary Art, Santa Barbara (2017); To Weave Blue: Poema al tejido, University of Memphis; Stone’s Throw: Arte de Sanación, Arte de Resistencia, The Anderson and Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond (both 2020). Ascoli teaches at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. She currently lives and works in Madison, WI.
Hellen Ascoli: Cien Tierras it’s on view at Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, USA, April 9–September 19, 2021.