The Interlaced Project: Art as a Means of Fostering Human Potential

Images and story by Margot O'Malley, SCD Content Creator

Joyous chatter erupts as designers sit down at their seats to make more progress on their tapestries. They got to work quickly, meeting for 3 three-hour sessions throughout the week under the guidance of artist Patrizia Polese and UIUC School of Art & Design's Chiara Vincezi.

Polese spearheaded The Interlaced Project upon her experience leading Dynamo camp’s Art Factory project in Italy. The Art Factory project involves collaboration between an artist and children with chronic illnesses to have fun and to promote their well-being. The “resilience” lab sparked a new era: fifteen parents presented the technique of weaving, each bringing to life a tapestry that represented their individual story through their choice and placement of fibers. Polese combined the fifteen small tapestries at the end to assemble a collective piece.

The Interlaced Project fosters connection between participants from different backgrounds, ages, and experience levels with tapestry-making. Members of the greater Champaign-Urbana community join undergraduate students. “At first, people come here very silently and keep to themselves. By the third day, they are collaborating and sharing their experiences with each other,” says Polese.

The designers experiment with the variety of fibers. Polese and Vincezi chose a wide range, exposing the designers to new, natural, or unconventional materials. There are your typical balls of cotton yarn, but there are also some made of hemp or cocoons. Polese brought hay-like sisal fiber with her from Italy. Fluffy pads of cotton and wool sprawl across the table alongside tree bark and branches. “We try to reuse everything,” Vincezi remarks as she holds tissue paper splattered with turquoise and pink from the dyeing process of yarn. Even the copper wires used to string the vertical warps of the loom are reused from companies.

Sustainable Design sophomore, Elise Koch, intently weaves tie-dye tissue paper through her loom. She started off with the idea of replicating a sunset but gravitated towards the textured fibers to experiment and to explore new methods. Koch has never done anything like this but enjoys working with her hands and picking up new skills. She appreciates the atmosphere cultivated here in Moonlight Bay: “Whenever I go get more materials, I love walking around and seeing what other people are doing. I get inspired by them, and I’ll let them know that I love what they did with that color or texture. I never would’ve thought of that.”

Like the “resilience” lab, these smaller tapestries will come together to form a giant one. Together, they craft a larger message about the interconnectedness between us all. There is strength in the collective narrative formed by these individual tapestries. In sharing personal stories and having a tapestry that reflects each designer’s perspective and personality, they realize how they are “part of a large fabric.” Every time Polese has led this workshop, the end result of the physical tapestry is different but the feelings are the same. Everyone is bringing a little piece of their soul to this project.

The collective unity embodied by the tapestry owes its roots to the process of weaving. “It’s very natural for people, the slow movement. There’s a memory of weaving instilled in everyone,” Polese says.

Voices occasionally bounce throughout the Bay as hands continue to steadily glide across the loom: these designers are in a groove. “I feel grounded,” says Koch. This feeling doesn’t go unnoticed. Polese observes a shift in people’s faces: “They feel better working with their hands and feel more relaxed. They’re lightening up.” “It’s meditation,” Vincezi adds.