In Conversation

Vita Cochran

Object Space is a window gallery located on William Street in Darlinghurst. On display 5 April - 23 May, is the exhibition En Vitrine (In the Front Window) by textile artist, Vita Cochran.

Embracing bold colour and geometry, Vita's hand embroidered handbags and applique hangings seek a position somewhere between utility, fashion and art. Made for Object Space, this exhibition has been conceived as a homage to a fascinating and forward-looking window display created by Sonia Delaunay for the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs in Paris. 

CEO and Artistic Director, Lisa Cahill spoke to Vita Cochran, to find out more. 


Lisa Cahill: Vita, what is it about textile design that you find most fascinating?
Vita Cochran: I like that my textile practice sits somewhere between art, décor, craft and fashion. It’s an interesting place to be, and somewhat under the radar. There’s a freedom in that. I also like that we all have a relationship to textiles – they're among our first tactile experiences, they clothe us, shelter us, warm us, and most people also have a connection to textile craft through the making that occurs in a domestic context, even if it is a few generations back. So textiles as a medium can engage us with an enjoyable directness.

Lisa Cahill: Your textiles evoke the modernist style yet are at the same time very contemporary.  How do you reconcile the past and the present in your work?
Vita Cochran: I am making work now, in 2018, using contemporary threads and fabrics, which reference an earlier modernist moment, and in a medium (hand-embroidery predominantly), which is thousands of years old. The work I am referencing is almost 100 years old, yet much of it – the fabric designs of Sonia Delaunay for example – were so forward looking in their time that they still look fresh and relevant today. So there are a few time frames at work in these pieces, and I like the thought that my work is hard to pin down in time, and could have been made any time over the last century.

Lisa Cahill: Your work is very graphic and painterly with a rich colour palette much like modernist paintings. How much is painting an inspiration for you in your work?
Vita Cochran: I am very interested in the traffic between the decorative arts and modernist painting. There were many different routes to abstraction in painting in the early twentieth century, and one of these was via the decorative arts and traditional domestic craft, for example the well-known anecdote of painter Sonia Delaunay making a cot cover for her infant son in 1911, using traditional Russian peasant patchwork technique, yet composing in colour and shapes freed from being representational. Both she and her husband Robert cited the making of the quilt as a pivotal influence on their painting. I like that something considered traditional and even conservative – quilt-making in a domestic context - informed something as radical as abstract painting. And then through the twentieth century the applied arts borrowed back from painting - we can see the influence of cubism in 1950s Formica for example!

Lisa Cahill: Your exhibition in Object Space pays homage to a fascinating window display created by Sonia Delaunay for the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs in Paris.  What was special about this and in what way do you play homage?
Vita Cochran: When I look at the sepia photograph of this window display I have an impulse to time-travel window-shop! The photograph offers a fascinating glimpse: boldly embroidered handbags, draped patterned scarves, and wonderful drops of fabric (which were apparently displayed on a mechanised hanging system, so that they moved) all jostle for our attention. The window itself was in an ornate art deco building on the Pont Alexandre III, the historic bridge over the Seine in Paris.

I like that Delaunay’s window sits somewhere between a retail space and an exhibition space, and that its objects, though casually displayed and attainable, are one-off pieces produced by hand and considered as artworks by their collectors. Most of all I like the bold graphic energy of the window, and the tantalising glimpse of forms and fabrics whose exact identity today is largely unknown. Also, because we know the display only through a sepia photograph, Delaunay’s trademark colour is missing. So in a spirit of homage I have recreated similar objects and patterns and invented colour schemes, with a desire to see how the colour and energy read in today’s context – a window on Sydney’s William Street.

Lisa Cahill: Who are your influences in fibre art? 
Vita Cochran: Up there in my pantheon are of course Gunta Stolzl, Sonia Delaunay, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Anni Albers. Also the quilt makers of Gees Bend, fashion designer Marilyn Sainty, New Zealand weaver Marjery Blackman and the anonymous embroiderers and domestic makers of the past.

En Vitrine (In the Front Window) by Vita Cochran is on display until 22 May, 2018. Object Space is in the window of ADC offices and available to view 24 hours a day. 


Explore the Object Space gallery webpage here.

Embroidered Abstraction: Vita Cochran in conversation
Vita Cochran is a textile artist with a particular interest in early 20th-century women modernists, and the way that the decorative arts of that moment informed painted abstraction and vice versa. Artists such as Sonia Delaunay and Sophie Taeuber-Arp applied their distinctive visual languages to painting and also embroidery, furnishings and fashion, which they considered of equal value. 
Vita's Object Space exhibition, En Vitrine was conceived as a homage to a fascinating and forward-looking window display created by Sonia Delaunay for the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs in Paris. In photographs of Delaunay’s window we see boldly embroidered handbags, draped patterned scarves, and a wonderful screen of contrasting geometric patterns. Diana Vreeland described it as “a one woman campaign of irresistible visual exuberance”.
Come and listen to Vita chat about her fascinating practice and the inspiration behind her Object Space show.
When: Thursday 3 May, 6-8pm
Where: Australian Design Centre, 101-115 William Street, Darlinghurst
Free event, bookings required


Image: 

Vita Cochran, New Times Call for New Visions, 2018. Photo: Vita Cochran