Craft in America Filming &
Lia Cook Lecture

Posted May 10, 2012 in Blog

Behind the scenes of "Craft in America" with artist Lia Cook at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft

Behind the scenes of “Craft in America” with artist Lia Cook at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft

A couple of Fridays ago, April 27th, to be exact, HCCC had the immense pleasure of having the crew of the PBS television series, Craft in America, here to film the current exhibition, Bridge 11: Lia Cook, a solo exhibition of the work of internationally recognized fiber artist, Lia Cook. The TV series is just one part of Craft in America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the exploration, preservation and celebration of craft and its impact on our nation’s cultural heritage. Cook’s work will be featured in an upcoming episode, titled “Crossroads,” which will examine the intersection of craft and technology today and try to answer questions such as:  Why is the handcrafted object important in the Computer Age? How is the computer a tool for craft production, education and commerce? How do borders and personal crossroads affect an artist? This episode is scheduled to air in October of 2012.

In case you haven’t been by to see Bridge 11 yet, the exhibit presents large-scale woven images of human faces and introduces several works from a new body of work based on the artist’s recent art-neuroscience collaboration. With the use of a digital jacquard loom, Lia Cook weaves the images and creates monumental works that blur distinctions among computer technology, weaving, painting, and photography. Cook developed an interest in the way we respond emotionally to these weavings of photographs, as well as how we physically interact with them. For example, moving closer to examine the work, moving backwards, the moments when people realize it is a weaving of a photograph, and, for the blurred ones, the moment when the viewer can decipher the image. At a residency with the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine, she worked with scientists to develop experiments using an fMRI brain-scanning machine to evaluate people’s neurological responses to her weavings.

It was exciting to have our space chosen as a filming site and, along with filming Cook’s work in our exhibition space, they captured interviews with Lia Cook; our curator, Anna Walker; Dr. Luca Pollonini, from the University of Houston; and me. Earlier this spring, during Brain Week (March 14 – 16), Dr. Pollonini was kind enough to join us in the gallery to conduct brain-scanning experiments of people viewing and interacting with Cook’s work using a NIRS machine (that’s Near Infrared Spectroscopy). The Craft in America crew wanted to film someone wearing the NIRS machine and viewing the weavings. So, after they had arrived, I was ecstatic when Anna told me I was going to be the subject for this part of the shoot.

Behind the scenes of "Craft in America" at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft

Behind the scenes of “Craft in America” at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft

Because I am not very familiar with these devices and neuroscience research, I think it’s best if I let Wikipedia explain the machine to you…“The primary application of NIRS to the human body uses the fact that the transmission and absorption of NIR light in human body tissues contains information about hemoglobin concentration changes. When a specific area of the brain is activated, the localized blood volume in that area changes quickly. Optical imaging can measure the location and activity of specific regions of the brain by continuously monitoring blood hemoglobin levels through the determination of optical absorption coefficients… NIRS can be used for non-invasive assessment of brain function through the intact skull in human subjects by detecting changes in blood hemoglobin concentrations associated with neural activity.”

So, Dr. Pollonini placed a small device on my forehead, securing it in place with an exercise sweatband.  He also made sure to brush all my hair off the skin to ensure there was no interference and that the machine was able to capture an accurate reading of the blood flow. The device on my forehead was attached to a small remote transmitter, allowing me to walk about freely in the gallery space. The crew instructed me to interact with certain works, stepping closer and closer, then moving back, filming me as I observed and as my brain sent data back to a computer monitor.

It was entertaining being a part of the filming and fascinating to watch the crew work, even after my part was over. I have always been interested in the process of making and wanting to know how things come to be. This experience was no different. I had never witnessed this sort of documentary filming before and thoroughly enjoyed seeing this well-oiled machine of a crew capture the images they needed for the show.

Artist Lia Cook in front of her piece "Big Tera" at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft

Artist Lia Cook in front of her piece “Big Tera” at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft

If you are interested in learning more about Lia’s work and her neuroscience research, we invite you to join us for her lecture, “NAVIGATING THE MAZE: NEUROSCIENCE AND FIBER CONNECTIONS” at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston this Saturday, May 12, at 2 p.m. in the Brown Auditorium.  Bridge 11 will be on view through this Sunday, May 13.

Also, make sure to see the latest episode of Craft in America, titled Threads,” airing this Friday, May 11, on PBS Channel 8.  The episode will examine the needle arts, including the long history of storytelling through quilts and textiles.

Ashley Powell
Curatorial Assistant
Houston Center for Contemporary Craft