Luca Frei at Galerie Barbara Wien / Berlin

Luca Frei / Guiding Fabric

February 24 – April 13, 2024

Barbara Wien 
Schöneberger Ufer 65

10785 Berlin, Germany

Luca Frei, “Guiding Fabric”,
installation view

Luca Frei, “Guiding Fabric”,
installation view

Luca Frei, “Guiding Fabric”,
installation view

Luca Frei, “Untitled (On Light
Violet Ground)”, 2024

Luca Frei, “Untitled (On Coral
Ground)”, 2024

Luca Frei, “Untitled (On
Powder Blue Ground)”, 2024

Luca Frei, “Untitled (On
Emeral Green Ground)”, 2024

Luca Frei, “Untitled (On Rust Ground)”, 2024

Luca Frei, “Polygon Apertures”, 2024

Luca Frei, “Guiding Fabric”, installation view

Luca Frei, “Untitled (On Cobalt Green Ground”), 2024

Luca Frei, “Untitled (On Pale Yellow Ground)”, 2024

Luca Frei, “Untitled (On Light Ultramarine Blue Ground)”, 2024

Luca Frei, “Untitled (On Pale Smoke Gray Ground)”, 2024

 Luca Frei, “Untitled (On Sun Yellow
Ground)”, 2024

All images courtesy of the
artist and Galerie Barbara Wien, Berlin. Photos: Nick Ash

In anticipation of “Guiding Fabric”, Luca Frei‘s
latest show at Galerie Barbara Wien, we had a conversation with the artist
about the exhibition and his work.

In your fourth exhibition at Galerie Barbara Wien, you
are showing ten textile works. The exhibition title “Guiding Fabric” also
refers to the works’ production – how can we imagine this process? What is it
about sewing that fascinates you?

Frei: I begin creating my works by employing a sewing
machine on simple unbleached cotton fabric. Later, I hand-stitch these
machine-sewn elements onto painted canvases. Their rendering evokes landscapes,
living systems and hybrid architectural motifs reminiscent of worldly scenes
and objects. Each piece has a unique character, influenced by nuanced
variations in stitching and the chromatic depth drawn from the backgrounds. The
manufacturing process demands careful planning, intuitive insights, and a deep
understanding of technical synergies – from selecting fabric and adjusting
thread tension to cutting, folding, pressing, machine stitching, hand
stitching, knotting, and ironing. To me, the allure of sewing and working with
textiles lies in this meticulous process, where every detail contributes to the
final creation.

How did you develop the motifs for the images? Which
associations are important to you?

Frei: The textile works evolved from preliminary drawings,
which went through numerous iterations of refinement to achieve the right
tension. I strive for images that are familiar yet strange, recognisable yet
diffuse – alluding to a sense of place without necessarily representing
specific locations. Each piece is unique but can be seen as part of a story or
a score with recurring elements, such as shores, circles, or polygons.
Suggesting a continuity between them, these motifs are inspired by
recollections and observations of everyday situations, combined with graphic,
almost diagrammatic representations of landscape and architecture. Some works
are characterised by shifts in perspective, with cross-sections blending with a
map view. In others, the scale remains ambiguous – is it a micro-organism, a
city plan, or a blueprint for a more extensive system?

How are drawing and sewing different for you?

Frei: In contrast to drawing, where the hand holds the
pencil, sewing reverses the process, because one has to guide the fabric
through the sewing machine’s needle. There is a strong connection between the
body, the senses, and the creative process, as your entire body moves the
material and controls the machine. It is similar to playing an instrument, with
fingers, hands, arms, and even body movements contributing to producing sound
and rhythm.

What is the role of the differently coloured,
passe-partout-like backgrounds? How did you choose the colours?

Frei: The backgrounds have both a structural and aesthetic
function. Hand-painted on raw cotton canvas, they provide easy hanging for the
lighter, stitched works while framing them when on display. Each background, in
a different colour, provides a protective and ornamental border, eliciting
associations linked to the visual narrative of the motifs in harmony or
contrast with the images. Even the titles of the respective works mention the
colours, prompting various connotations with material states and natural

What interests you about the mediality of textiles,
which is said to be capable of being contextualised in many ways?

Frei: One of the reasons behind my fascination with
textiles is their double character – both decorative and functional. With
inherent tactility and a strong presence, fabrics offer a sensory experience
that extends beyond the immediate and the visual, weaving together multiple
cultural, historical, and temporal meanings along with personal associations.
For instance, the intentional choice of unbleached cotton emphasises a sense of
‘basicness,‘ aligning with the use of an ordinary domestic tool like the sewing
machine. Traditionally associated with practical tasks and at-home crafting,
the sewing machine plays a new and expanded role in these works, summoning
familiarity and connecting the artwork to the viewer‘s everyday experiences.

How are these new works linked to previous works in
which you utilised textiles in spatial and participatory settings?

Frei: In reflecting upon previous works like the quilts in “Musica
Viva Spreads” (2016) and the upholstered furniture elements of “Circular
Arrangement” (2019–2020), I recognise a distinctive evolution in my approach to
textiles. For example, “Musica Viva Spreads” emphasised visual and political
aspects of translation, rooted in a 1939 music journal edited by my
grandfather, conductor Hermann Scherchen. Similarly, the upholstered furniture
elements of “Circular Arrangement” explore the geometric symbols of the
flowchart, a tool for visualising and communicating work processes. While
seemingly disparate, both share a common thread – an intrinsic connection to
the body, language, and communication. It‘s about taking a widely available
material and crafting it with intentionality and detail, where each fold,
stitch, and texture becomes a language that speaks directly to the viewer.

What atmosphere do you aim to create with your textile
works? And how does the steel mobile titled “Polygon Apertures” (2024)
contribute to this?

Frei: Through a relationship between the textile works and
the weathering steel mobile, I aim to create an immersive, suspended atmosphere
where the flat polygonal rings of the mobile echo the shapes found in the
textile pieces. Change and connectivity are embedded in “Polygon Apertures” and
are evident in the steel links, reminiscent of seams, that suspend the various
elements of the mobile and the evolving steel patina. Circular apertures in the
rings emphasise the relational aspect of the installation and serve as lenses
through which visitors can explore and observe the surrounding space.

Questions by Barbara Buchmaier

Luca Frei
(b. 1976
in Lugano, Switzerland) lives and works in Malmö, Sweden.
He had solo exhibitions at venues including Museum
Dhondt-Dhaenens, Deurle, Belgium (2021), Malmö Konsthall, Sweden (2020),
Kunsthaus Glarus, Switzerland (2013), Bonner Kunstverein, Bonn, Germany (2012)
and Lunds Konsthall, Sweden (2008).
Frei hat participated in group shows at Trondheim kunstmuseum, Norway (2020);
Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, Switzerland (2019); Haus der Kulturen der Welt,
Berlin, Germany (2019); Malmö Konstmuseum, Sweden (2019); Tensta Konsthall,
Spånga, Sweden (2019); BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, UK
(2019); National Museum of Modern Art Kyoto, Japan (2018); Kunstmuseum
Solothurn, Switzerland (2016); the 31st Ljubljana Biennial of Graphic Arts,
Ljubljana, Slovenia (2015); Museo Cantonale d’Arte, Lugano, Switzerland (2014);
Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France (2010); Moderna Museet, Stockholm,
Schweden (2010); Van Abbe Museum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands (2010); Kadist Art
Foundation, Paris, France (2008); Kunsthalle Sankt Gallen, Switzerland (2008)
and Kunstverein München, Munich, Germany (2003).