Maker Monday: An ASPIRE Exclusive Interview With Windy Chien

We all learn to tie our shoes making us novice knot tyers. But artist Windy Chien has taken this skill to the next level, proving to be the farthest thing from a novice. Windy recognized knot tying as one of our universal languages that bypsses generational, age and racial boundaries. Her extraordinary hand-tied works come together to create a living, moving piece of art. From her Diamond Rings collection to her Year of Knots, each piece she develops demands attention and further examination. Windy’s work has been seen all over the world in spaces such as the Google headquarters and Nobu Hotel. She has been featured in Wired, The New York Times, and now ASPIRE DESIGN AND HOME. Introducing the master of knots and this week’s Maker Monday, Windy Chien.

Hanging on the exposed brick wall is one of Windy’s “Diamond Rings.” Inspired by hitch knots and Diana Vreeland’s film “the eye has to travel,” this piece is installed at Verve Coffee Shop in Los Angeles.

Andrew Joseph: Describe your design style as if you were explaining it to someone who cannot see.
Windy Chien: Of all of the basic building block elements of art —such as color, texture, shape, etc— the line is my focus. So in all of my several bodies of work, as well as in knots themselves, the journey of the line tells a story. Even if you cannot visually follow the line with your eyes, you can touch my work —all of my work invites touch— and follow the line’s journey that way.

Andrew: What’s the best thing that happened to you this month?
Windy: I was invited to exhibit two large works at the 2021 Cheongju Craft Biennale. I’ll be traveling to South Korea to install them. I often travel to install or make works on site, but in 2020 that was completely curtailed by the pandemic, so I am really looking forward to this.

Windy Chien was up for the challenge to tie a knot for every day of the year. Creating one-of-a-kind knots, she collectively placed them together to make up an entire mural. Now with her new book “The Year of Knots,” you can see all the behind-the-scenes of creating this innovative piece of work. Photo Credit – Cesar Rubio

Andrew: What’s one thing people don’t know about you?
Windy: I owned and operated a world-renowned independent record shop (Aquarius Records in San Francisco) for 14 years. I’m an expert in Jamaican rocksteady, Japanese noise, Brazilian Tropicalia, and Ethiopian jazz. I can easily sell your grandmother on a heavy metal record.

Andrew: What would your dream project or dream client be right now?
Windy: A work of monumental scale in a public space, such as an airport. Knots are truly a universal language spoken by virtually all of us: we all wake up and tie our shoes every morning. Knots are artifacts of human ingenuity that predate the use of fire and the invention of the wheel. So I think that heightening awareness of our common language —a language that bridges borders, oceans, genders, and centuries— and our wonderful human ingenuity is one way of “tying” us together.

Andrew: How would you define your work in three words?
Windy: Contemporary. Beautiful. Meaningful. Enlightening.

Above is one of Windy’s pieces titled “Pittsburgh Linescape.” She describes it as “a singular, exquisite knot finds its ultimate expressive potential, comprising form, shape, and texture in these geometric abstractions.” This piece proudly hangs in Fogo de Chao. Photo Credit – Alexandra Ribar.

Andrew: Go-to quarantine read?
Windy: Earlier this year, I only wanted disaster/apocalypse stories. Worlds falling apart. It’s comforting to have a narrative, fictional or not, to help make sense of chaos. My favorite of the half-dozen or so I quickly inhaled is Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. I love how Mandel connects the world-building in sci-fi and comic books to the world-building necessary after a population-extinguishing real-world pandemic. She identifies the emotion that continued acts of creation exhibit and civilizations require: hope.

Andrew: What are some creative ways that you have kept yourself busy during quarantine?
Windy: The night Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez got on Instagram Live and spoke encouragingly about, among other things, the important ways artists can contribute during times of crisis. As a sculptor exploring line via abstraction, pattern, and repetition, though, it doesn’t make sense for me to start using text or representational imagery in my work, no matter how much I believe statements such as Black Lives Matter to be fact and no matter how many blocks the pandemic food pantry line stretches on my daily walk to the studio. What I have figured out during this time is a way to give back and a way to support. During pandemic lockdown, I’ve made more than a dozen works, sold them quickly via Instagram, and donated all the money (more than $14k) to Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative, the San Francisco Marin Food Bank, and the progressive Movement Voter Project. It’s the right thing to do, and I get to partner with admirers of my art in supporting those fighting the good fight.

Above is one of Windy Chien’s “Circuit Boards,” seen in Meso Restaurant in San Jose, CA. Drawing inspiration from Massimo Vignelli’s classic New York City subway map, the piece is an amalgamation of spontaneous and interesting rope cinches. This piece is composed of synthetic sailing line, leather, and walnut. Photo Credit – Windy Chien.

Andrew: Where will be the first place you will travel to after COVID-19?
Windy: I will head to the Mediterranean, where every summer I sail for a week on a 50-foot monohull with a small group of friends, setting anchor in random coves, jumping into the clean water, and tying knots on deck.

Andrew: Who/what was your biggest supporter or motivator in these unsettling times?
Windy: I’m very motivated by the histories I’ve happily found time to research during the pandemic, stories about the unsung heroes in early technology, specifically historically low-regarded craftspeople such as Navajo weavers who assembled circuit boards and the “little old ladies”, as NASA called them, who physically hard-coded computer memory into the early Apollo missions using wire and knotting techniques. Although awareness of their stories is absolutely not a prerequisite for viewers to appreciate my work, their stories enrich it and have enriched me, and the wonderful responsibility for telling the stories via my art motivates me.

About The Maker | Artist Windy Chien is best known for her 2016 work, The Year of Knots, in which she learned a new knot every day for a year. Her work ranges in size from a knot that can fit in the palm of a child’s hand to room-sized installations that are sought after by private collectors. Following long careers at Apple and as owner of legendary music shop Aquarius Records, she launched her studio in 2015. Select clients include the National Geographic Society, Nobu Hotels, IBM, Google, and the Kering Group, and her work has been covered by Wired, The New York Times and Martha Stewart. Windy’s book about her work was published by Abrams in 2019.

Andrew Joseph is a regular contributing editor for ASPIRE DESIGN AND HOME magazine. See more of his work here.

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