The Density of Light

When I was growing up, my father was fond of clouds, particularly when a ray of light pierced through them, so luminous you almost wanted to touch them. He sometimes followed such sightings with a sketch on a scrap of paper, deftly portraying the light breaking through.

As a child, I often heard my mother express her admiration for the beauty of the sky, particularly on holidays any place in Mexico outside of Mexico City.  The bright blue skies of her childhood there, which by the time I was a teenager were often infested with pollutants, had made an impression on her in her youth. Her new-found admiration for the skies in places like Oaxaca or Querétaro was sometimes followed by nostalgic recollections of those long-gone skies of her childhood. I never quite understood her admiration at the time, particularly because what she seemed to admire the most was the blueness of the sky in plain daylight. As a young boy, I would roll my eyes, since the sky was obviously much more interesting at sunset when the colors were more intense and dramatic. If there really was a blue worth looking at, it was the rich blue that seemed to intensify after the sun dropped below the horizon. And despite my jaded attitude towards my mother’s appreciation of the not-so-intense blue of the sky in daylight, today I am able to appreciate her fascination with it. It pointed to something that might have otherwise gone unnoticed.

My own admiration for the sky, with all its subtleties of form and color, peaked when I moved to Texas. The dramatic overturns of the Texas sky captivated me, particularly during my long train rides to the university where I was doing my Master’s degree. It was in Dallas where the Plexus series came to be. It all started with a compelling experiment, one due to my inclusion in a show that aimed to explore the intersections between fashion and architecture. In this, and other early pieces in the Plexus series, I had not yet recognized the link between what I was doing and my own fascination with the sky and its subtle gradations of color and light.

And yet, right from the start, it was clear that this work is infused with many layers of complexity and meaning. One of the first ideas I began developing, which comes directly from the theme of that first show, is related to the human need for shelter. I decided to create an architectural structure by using the core material of clothing. I realized that among the many intricacies of the raison d’être of both fashion and architecture is the capacity to offer shelter to the body. When we get cold, we wear a sweater. When it’s raining we can go inside a building. By reversing scale and material to create an actual structure made of thread, the sheltering quality goes through a transformation, from protecting the body on a physical level, to soothing the human spirit in a subtle, yet powerful way.

Immediately, I had the desire to use gradations of color. It just made sense to subtly blend colors into a fine progression, and it was only later that I realized this was connected to the way light blends in the sky. The fineness of the thread makes these installations ethereal, almost immaterial, yet not, almost disappearing to the eye and leaving a color haze behind. This color mist alludes to a symbolic quest to materialize light, to give it density, so that I can offer the viewer an approximation of things otherwise inaccessible to us- a glimmer of hope that brings us closer to the transcendent, to show that there can be beauty in this messed up world we live in. Light is composed of the different colors of the spectrum. Here, it also comes to symbolize unity and wholeness.

The choice to use thread was a natural extension of my work at that time, which was, and in many ways still is, an attempt to explore and subvert social constructs of gender. My growing up in Mexico, where machismo is ingrained in the very structure of society, led to many frustrations as a boy, one that looked up to his older sister—a sister who was privy to certain activities that were a definite no-no for boys. One particular activity was embroidery. Eventually, I grew out of that frustration, but the memory of it led me to explore this technique as an adult, and in doing so, to question the many social constructs that we sometimes presume to be permanent, rigid and inflexible. Eventually, I came to see the structures I was making with thread as symbolic representations of these social constructs, the viewer navigating and negotiating the installation in a dance that is analogous to what we all do in real life, without any particular thought, on a daily basis.

When it came to title these installations, I wanted to convey the complexity within and throughout all of these themes. I decided on Plexus, which literally means the network of nerves or vessels informing and sustaining the body. It was the perfect name because it not only refers to the connection of the body with its environment, but it also relates directly to the intricate network of threads forming the installation itself, and to the tension inherent in the thread, vibrating with an almost tangible luminosity. Plexus evokes the intrinsic order within the apparent chaos that exists in nature. A hidden codification breaks through, piercing our daily perceptions, seeming to create both matter and the immaterial with colorful rays of light. 

© Gabriel Dawe