We recently had the opportunity to connect with artist Lauren Prado and discuss her take on the theme of New Traditions, how her creative practice has shifted during our global pandemic, and more. Lauren works with a variety of textiles in her practice, exploring and challenging representations of the digital images and products which flood our online feeds.

We’re excited to share that conversation here.

What does the phrase “New Traditions” mean to you? 

Taking a custom or practice and making it fit into your lifestyle. My grandmother taught me the basics of sewing as a child, a skill she believed should be passed down. I learned how to sew buttons and fix a hem but I took that knowledge she handed down to me and used it as a tool for personal expression. No longer just a practice for tailoring clothes, but for making my junior high backpack look cool with hand-sewn patches! I took our family’s tradition of teaching women to sew and made it fit my life in a new way. 

How has your creative practice changed/grown/transformed during this time of global social and cultural upheaval? 

During these unprecedented times, I have found myself unable to finance a studio space large enough to continue making large-scale rugs. I have turned my sights back to hand sewing and have been creating smaller work for the time being. Forcing myself to continue to use my hands daily instead of being constantly glued to a screen. This past year has been very stressful and truthfully that has made feeling creative very difficult for me personally. 

How do you think about traditions in your creative process/work? 

I have always been taught that one should learn the rules and then learn how to break them. In my first fabrics art class, the professor told me right away that I needed to learn the basic rules before I started to stray away from the rules. I laughed, but of course I followed her advice. Who would have thought that the advice would stick with me to this day! Just like traditions that were taught to me, I had to learn them as they were before making them fit my mold. 

I also think about the intersection of repetition and learning and how it truly is the core of tradition. This crossroads seems to have parallels with my art-making process of sewing and rug making. Constantly making tedious, repetitious, laborious actions are at the center of my art practice. Is it because a function of tradition is the process of repetition itself? 

Are there traditions that you are influenced by or intentionally draw from for your work? Traditions that you break from? 

When in the realm of textile work, I understand how rugs fit into the traditional sphere of livable, usable, utilitarian objects made of yarn but I also see a strong break from these traditional functions and space with my personal work. I make rugs that are starkly white, a color that brings about the fear of stains for most people. My rugs are the complete opposite of what you would look for in a utilitarian house rug. I have recently even tried to shift from the traditional shape of a rectangle rug and have begun cutting them to fit what I am representing on the rug itself.

Are there new traditions that you’ve learned/ incorporated/ embraced and want to share with others? 

When I started working with a tufting gun, I found it so difficult to find artists who were willing to share their knowledge with me. I tried to message people who I saw online making rugs, asking questions that ranged from tips on how to use the tufting gun to what kind of fabric they were using. Ultimately many of these people acted like gatekeepers of information and refused to open the doors to new hands. 

It’s ironic that these textile artists refused to share their knowledge when their medium itself is based on passing down information generation to generation. It felt like they wanted to keep these skills locked away, keeping it as an exclusive tradition that only the elite could have access to. I found this to be very off-putting! I told myself that once I was proficient in the practice I would share my insight with all and any who were interested. I want to pass down all my knowledge of the trade to those who want to know, just like my grandmother passed down the steps of sewing to me. I refuse to be a gatekeeper of exclusion, but instead wish to follow the blueprints of how traditions are started…by sharing information!  Every time I share my knowledge with others, I gain more knowledge through that interchange. 

From your perspective, how does tradition fit into the textile community? 

The textile community exists because the knowledge of these practices was continuously passed down through generations over the span of human existence! Tradition and textiles are different sides of the same coin, while tradition is remembering the past it’s also about sharing it with those who will be the future. It’s how the fabric of our society continues to evolve. 

Creating spaces to share knowledge, like making a tik-tok of how you set up your tufting gun or making a youtube video on how to cross-stitch helps the textile community not only learn but thrive. In a society where we have been pushed to exist almost completely virtually this is the new normal, creating digital space and a digital platform for interconnectivity between textile artists is the newest form of tradition that is unspoken and unconsciously participated in by many.

Interview by Stephanie Sun.

Images provided by Lauren Prado.