Fiber Artist Constanza Camila Kramer Garfias Finds Threads in Social and Cultural Subjects

“Textiles so often look old-fashioned,” Constanza Camila Kramer Garfias said during a visit to her studio in Munich, Germany. “I really want to challenge that.” And challenge that she does in works made to address topics ranging from how Chile’s native Mapuche people understand the cosmos to deconstructing colonialism to genetic research and computer science. Underlining all her artwork is a dedication to mining the depths of what textiles have to offer, both as a medium and as a subject.

Kramer Garfias was born Chile in 1988 and moved to Germany at the age of seven. At university, she arrived upon art, and specifically textiles, by chance when she saw Textile Studies and Conceptual Textiles on offer at Burg Giebichenstein University of Art and Design in Halle, Germany. “I had a gut feeling to try it,” she remembers, “and it was a huge surprise when it kept me fascinated all the time.” She discovered that many of her female ancestors in Chile had worked with textiles, and felt that working in such a lineage not only connected her to her past but also helped her understand social, cultural, and historical differences between Latin America and Europe.

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Over the past 10 years, Kramer Garfias has developed various working methods: She weaves by hand on a loom in her studio; she writes and tests her own computer programs to generate Jacquard fabrics (a Jacquard loom, considered a precursor to modern computers, is a programmable device fitted to a loom to ease the traditionally laborious process of manufacturing textiles with intricate patterns) that are then produced at a workshop in Como, Italy. Most recently, she acquired a tufting machine, a handheld gun-like device that pushes a threaded needle through a backing material and pulls it out again, forming loops. “Weaving and Jacquard need planning and organization,” Kramer Garfias said, “but tufting is the opposite. It can be very intuitive, and it’s nice to experience something so immediate.”

Her current body of work, titled “Infernooooo” and inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy, is produced entirely with the tufting machine. “Because tufting can create a high pile, works can also look three-dimensional and become more like objects than images,” she explained. “It is immediately clear that this is about a fantasy world and not a replica of reality. Jacquard, on the other hand, is much more about images—the image is often in the foreground.”

An abstract textile piece with various shades of blue and white.
Constanza Camila Kramer Garfias: Xibalbà Level 1, 2022.

Before taking the tufting gun to a base fabric stretched like canvas on a wooden frame, she researched the significance of the afterworld in pre-Columbian Peruvian textiles and in Mexican culture. She then investigated geographic features of different types of caves and applied them abstractly to craft her own tufted portals, not into a familiar world with prescribed forms but into fantasy realms into which viewers can project their own ideas. Xibalbá Level 2 combines geometric pre-Columbian aesthetics with organic forms. It also builds on Xibalbá Level 1 in a way that invites viewers to enter the next stage of whatever afterworld they’ve conjured, not dissimilar, Kramer Garfias notes, to leveling-up in a video game.

Despite centuries-old textile traditions, the technologies for creating them are constantly evolving. “The techniques can be so fresh that you have to rethink the entire process,” she said. While Kramer Garfias’s art explores deeply researched social and cultural subjects, it equally concerns rethinking, redefining, and recontextualizing the traditions of textiles as comprehensively as possible. Thus, in her work, the medium is a message in and of itself. 


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