Imperfection I

Zealous Stories: Craft Winner, Carmen M. Castañeda is an artistic researcher and practitioner specialising in hand-embroidery techniques. Her winning project, Imperfection I, examines our relationship with time and, more specifically, the way that we measure progression. Imperfection I focuses on process over progress. The finished product might be seen as a topography of thought: fragile, delicate and tentative but bold by its accumulative mass.

Imperfection I (2021) by Carmen M. Castañeda (Hand embroidery on silk organza.191,760 pearls, 4.300 meters of cotton thread.)

Imperfection I is a collection of almost 200,000 pearls embroidered onto a silk fabric. Seen from far away, the piece looks as if it could be a collection of precipitous clouds, with occasional breaks or perhaps even a murmuration of birds on a white sky; when viewed from up close, though, we see individual beads, carefully stitched on by hand. Did you have a specific image or landscape in mind when making this piece?

I don’t usually have any specific image in mind when I start an artwork. I find it more interesting to create these shapes and images using the core characteristics of each material – what I see as a type of nature – as well as allowing my hands to move in an unconstrained way, only controlled by my subconscious mind. There are times when I don’t see the result as I do not work directly with the final image; rather, I embroider on the backside of the work. I simply work my way through the textile using touch and incorporate the materials under the canvas as I embroider.

Conceptually, the mental landscape is created by the different layers of memory that are always in constant change, which lose details and become intertwined with each other. I capture time in the form of abstract spots, making the hours take on a physical and material aspect. I see this as an expression of the uncontrollable nature of memories

Imperfection I (2021) by Carmen M. Castañeda

Your experimental project Anómina by cm pays homage to the prominence of materials and haute couture (which literally translates into English as ‘high sewing’) techniques. Your project aims to ‘decontextualise the haute couture hand-embroidery techniques’ – thus, taking something traditionally associated with the fashion world and introducing it into a fine art context.

What prompted you to borrow these techniques? Why are you so interested in haute couture culture?

I have always been interested in haute couture because of its connection to unique, timeless, and long-term pieces, but also the search for new ways of converging different disciplines. I studied Fine Arts and Scenography in Madrid. At that time, I developed different artistic works, focused on paintings and installations.

I came across haute couture embroidery techniques by chance in 2012 when at L’École Lesage in Paris. Since then, I have persistently investigated and deepened this discipline within my own practice. Finally, it became the basis of my artistic language, within a more conceptual and abstract framework. These techniques gained my highest respect and esteem while I was studying them. At the same time, they showed me a new creative and technical world that I had to explore, outside of ornament and clothing.

I found my voice as an artist through my involvement with haute couture techniques, although this was never what I set out to do by studying them.

Imperfection I (2021) by Carmen M. Castañeda

You’ve used silk, pearls, sequins, paraffin beads, vegetable paper, dried petals and plants to realise your work. What’s been your favourite material to work with? Do you have a dream material that you’d love to work with in the future?

It is quite difficult to choose just one! Every material has led me to their properties in more depth, playing with their limits and possibilities. This is my favourite part of the process. If I had to choose one, I would say that I have a special place in my heart for vegetable papers because they offer different transparencies and practical difficulties that make the process even more challenging. I like finding a way to embroider contrary from the conventional rules.

I am excited to use other material in new projects I am working on. For instance, I have just started to develop semi-transparent sequins. They are so subtle that sometimes I forget that I’m using sequins and not layers of watercolour!

Imperfection I (2021) by Carmen M. Castañeda

It took 280 hours (almost 11 whole days) to complete Imperfection I. Your work is a testament to time, as well as memory. It struck me that this might be a comment on how current consumer culture is so reliant on fast fashion: products manufactured with speed in mind rather than quality or durability. Are you concerned about the sustainability of the fashion industry? Would you say that this is something that you address throughout your work?

Of course, I am concerned about the sustainability; not only of the fashion industry but also from the world’s consumption.  My artistic processes, as well as my way of living and consuming art and design, are consistent with this concern.

My work, whether intentionally or not, is marked by the repetition of the same gesture as opposed to industrial rhythm. This procedure is an unhurried, costly, and repetitive process, which I use almost as a mantra: it allows me to reach deep meditative states. In my opinion, it is necessary to reflect on mass consumerism and the fast pace at which we live. I consider myself lucky to stop this fast rhythm while I am working. Therefore, I am also interested in the need to reflect on time; accounting for it and giving it proper value.

Imperfection I (2021) by Carmen M. Castañeda

Is there anything you’re working on right now? Do you have plans to show your work anytime soon?

Fortunately or unfortunately, I always have work in progress! Actually, I am continuing with the exploration in large formats, exalting the very nature of the material without control in it and entering, in a deeper way, in the same act, more than in the technique. These processes are bringing me, once again, to a more pictorial dimension, of many nuances and layers.

In June 2022 I will take part in an art fair in Paris, called “Salon Révélations”, at the Grand Palais. It is a fair on Arts & Crafts which makes me very excited, due to the quality of the fair and also because it’s my return to Paris, where all my embroidery career started. It will be a great opportunity to show my latest works.

Also, I may have another solo exhibition at the end of 2022, but this is yet to be confirmed – but stay tuned!

Written by


Olivia Fletcher

Community Executive

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