in the Category: art

Hana Miletić

She started as a photographer, touched on editing poetry and now handles textile art. For Hana Miletić, artistic practice questions boundaries, whether we’re talking about medium, gender, language or technology. In the audio and textile installation ‘txt, Is Not Written Plain’, and the adjacent ‘Felt workshops’, she unites the collaborative work of a group of women from Globe Aroma, a multicultural open art house in Brussels. As she emphasizes the value of handwork, Hana lets traditionally ‘female’ practices resurface. After all, the loom led to the development of the computer. Next month the installation is featured during Playground Festival in Leuven, but when we called Hana was getting ready to go to London to prepare for another exhibition.

Interview by Milena Maenhaut
Photos shot in London by Trent McMinn

Why are you going to London next week?

I have a solo exhibition in The Approach, a gallery in East-London. It’s titled ‘Incompatibilities’. I will exhibit some brand new colorful hand-woven textile works, but also some work from a longer running series called ‘Materials’ that I’ve been working on since 2015.

Was it 2015 too when you got in touch with weaving and Globe Aroma?

It’s something the press tends to mix up: we didn’t weave at Globe Aroma, we felted raw wool. It’s a different technique. I learnt to weave in 2015 in a big collective weaving atelier in Brussels. Globe Aroma, on the other hand, is an open art house, also set in Brussels. I was invited by Globe Aroma in 2017 to facilitate a project for newcomer artists. The project resulted in an installation of felted cloths accompanied by audio recordings of the poetry we wrote together and recorded in the music studio of Globe Aroma.

How did you start writing poetry at Globe Aroma?

When Globe Aroma invited me, I proposed to start a program for women because at that time the art house lacked diversity in its programs. They agreed, as they also wanted to tackle the issue but didn’t have the chance or means to do so. At first, I offered to guide the women in writing poetry together since it gave us the opportunity to interact in an open and playful manner with the many languages that are spoken within our group. Yet while writing, we noticed that not everything can be expressed through the written or spoken word. At that point, we had worked together for some weeks and had gotten to know each other. The women knew I was interested in textiles and had begun weaving. One of the women in our group, Salome Grdzelischvili, had just arrived from Georgia. She struggled to communicate through speaking, but at the same time she excelled in working with felt; it is really her craft. We started to alternate the poetry workshops with felting workshops. The word ‘felt’ refers to feeling, which is an important aspect of our work. Feeling can lead to thoughts and actions. At first the workshop was meant just for us. Only after exhibiting our installation, we started giving ‘Felt workshops’ to others, which is what we’ll also be doing during Playground.

Not everything can be expressed in written or spoken word

How do you manage to write poetry, a rather individual activity, in group?

Our writing was influenced by our felting work. We felted the wool together, which resulted in a collective image. The same goes for our writing: we looked at the pieces of felt we made the week before to make lists of words. Lists of the colors of the wool we worked with and its associations. We continued working on these lists by writing poems with colors as starting points. We started as a group, but it didn’t necessarily end that way. However, collaboration is an essential part of our approach.

Collaboration is an essential part of our approach

Can you give an example of the poetry you wrote together? 

Some poems talk about territory, race or communal work like felting. For instance, someone included ‘negro’ on the list of colors. It caused a discussion. In Spain they say ‘cafe negro’, that person said, but other women in our group thought we shouldn’t use this word as a color because it is an insult. As a response, Shilemeza Prins, a Belgian woman born in South Africa, wrote the beautiful poem ‘Negro Is Not A Color’.

Do you write poetry yourself?

Not really. I made two artist books in 2014, in which I adapted existing texts. I have a lot of interest in the symbolic power of poetry. It can have the same intensity a snapshot has in photography: it allows you to tell a lot in a very fast and direct way. With few words a poem can communicate a lot of differently layered meanings.

In order to write one of those books, you edited the lyrics of hip hop band La Frénétick. Do you still work with them?

I don’t. It was a long-term project; I got to know them in 2013 and our collaboration ended two years later. When I was selected for the Young Belgian Art Prize in Bozar, I organized daily poetry readings based on texts of La Frénétick. At the same time La Frénétick got access to the music studios of Bozar to record an album. After our collaboration we all went our separate ways. Some artists of La Frénétick quit making music, and two of them are still performing under a different moniker. After that summer I learnt to weave and my artistic practice started developing in a different direction.

By organizing the ‘Felt workshops’ you want to revalue gendered cultural practices. It resonates third wave feminism: emancipation shouldn’t result in the devaluation of handiwork, caregiving or other stereotypical ‘female’ practices.

Yes. Most of the techniques I work with, both on my own and in Globe Aroma, are associated with the handiwork or work of women, a labour I grew up with. Those practices can be very caring and valuable but often aren’t understood as important labor. They often stay invisible and unpaid or underpaid, as reproductive work is unfortunately still considered inferior in the society we live in.

Reproductive work is unfortunately still considered inferior in the society we live in

In your work you’re trying to find a balance between technology and handcraft, between the digital and the offline.

This weaves further on the gestures of reevaluating handwork, actually. The first computer is based on the Jacquard loom, an automated loom. Ada Lovelace, the assistant of Charles Babbage, was an important figure in the development of the computer. Her knowledge of the loom lead to the tethering of code and hardware used in all the technology we use today. Yet, just like the value of handwork, her labor remains in some areas undervalued. What fascinates me is how something particularly immaterial, like codes and algorithms, sprang from a very material and tactile labor. I’ve been working on an ongoing series of works called ‘Softwares’, for which I work on a Jacquard loom. During the production I intervene by manipulating the textile so there’s an interaction between manual and automated labor. 

Something particularly immaterial, like codes and algorithms, sprang from a very material and tactile labor

The ‘Felt workshops’ aren’t made to explicitly question our relationship with technology. Yet those two hours or more of touching soft materials in group and getting to know each other definitely have value in the time we live in, a time in which technology is vital yet sometimes hard to handle.

Playground: Hana Miletić, 'Felt workshops' + 'txt, Is Not Written Plain'
14-17 Nov - M, Leuven

Playground: Nel Aerts (performance)
16 Nov - M, Leuven
free for members

Hana Miletić - 'Incompatibilities'
30 Oct-20 Dec - The Approach, London