An Interview with Artist Erin M. Riley
‘Tapesty-weaving’ may not be the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of sexually provocative art work, but Brooklyn artist Erin M. Riley does not weave your typical tapestries. Taking an almost quaintly-antiquated medium, she uses weaving to replicate images found online to frankly address sex, social media and feminism. We had the pleasure of interviewing the artist about her work as well as how social media affects and influences our sexual selves.
Erin Riley’s pieces depict aspects of modern, online-based culture, whether it be a woman taking a sexy selfie, or a reproduction of a publicly-shared photo of a Plan-B wrapper. The subjects of her work cause a sense of dissonance when it comes to the medium she uses, which isn’t wholly intentional.
Volonté: How and why did you come to choose your medium? [Do you feel] weaving is strongly tied to the themes and topics you work with, such as femininity, selfies, contraception and feminine hygiene, porn and masturbation?
Erin Riley: I fell into weaving during college. It took a while for me to see how it could be utilized in visual art but it has become seamless for me. I think no matter what medium I was working in I would be discussing the topics I am, mostly because these are the things that are interesting me on a daily basis.
Tapestry is taken seriously in art history, they are hung in castles and shown in museums. I present sex and porn in a different perspective that isn’t about shock, but about an honest presentation of my most private moments that I have no shame about.
V: Can you expand on your creative process, from choosing a topic to how long it takes to create one piece?
ER: I collect and take photos constantly. I organize these photos and get them ready to weave, by blowing them up using a projector and tracing them to scale. My looms are 48 inches wide 24 inches wide and the hundred inches wide so depending on which size I’m working on is how large I trace the image. The scale drawing is the simple line drawings. I use reference color images on my computer to dye the yarn and blended together while I weave and also before start piece.
V:Do you see the rise of social media and sharing of our private lives has done more to normalize things like masturbation?
ER: I recently heard a podcast that masturbation is still one of the constant taboos in today’s culture. That surprises me because the way I live my life, but the subject is not something that I bring up in conversations with family or sisters, even though it’s something that I feel makes me a healthy and happy woman.
I do think that the orgasm gap is closing but women need to be reinforced and validated in seeking pleasure in life, and understanding themselves and how their body works. I hope that women are being as strong as they are on social media in the bedroom with their partners.
V: If it can be said that our personal sexuality and that which we share with others, do you think social media and the ease and normalcy with which we share risqué photos of ourselves in (traditionally) ‘private’ moments, has this made the two closer to each other or farther apart?
ER: I try to present an authentic version of myself with my work that touches on porn use, masturbation and sexting. I am definitely curious to see how disparate the way people represent themselves and how they are in real life.
But the more that social media is combined with our day to day lives there is no “real” life and “internet” life, I think that if being sexual on the internet is what gets you off and you aren’t interested in meeting or having tons of sexual [in real life] situations, that’s totally acceptable. I think that what will change in the years to come (hopefully) is the correlation between visual “sexuality” and literal sexuality. How we dress and present ourselves has nothing to do with how or what we want in the bedroom.
V: Do you have one piece that is a particular favorite?
ER: I am definitely in love with each piece as I make them and that evolves and changes as I make new work. It’s kind of like having sex [in that way].
I am currently weaving giant porn stills and this is so satisfying because I am finally committing time and energy to my practice that is resulting in challenging and massive serious works that I care deeply about.
If you want to see more of Erin Riley’s gorgeous and provocative tapestry work, check out her online portfolio.
Katy Thorn is a post-grad writer with a passion for writing about sex, sexuality, and all things rated R. She received her degree in Women’s Studies with a focus in Intersectionality at the University of California, Berkeley (Go Bears!). She has a cat named Yoko, drinks too much black coffee, and hates writing bios.