“I feel like it’s important when I talk about my practice to introduce my hands first,” Eric-Paul Riege said as he held up his long-fingered, tattooed hands to the screen, flipping his palms first toward, then away from the camera. Riege was calling from his home in Gallup, New Mexico, where he grew up, close to the Arizona border and the Navajo Nation reservation. “My hands knew what they were supposed to do before my body did,” he added. The artist is Diné/Navajo, and comes from a long line of weavers and makers. For him, working in fiber is an inherited and intuitive experience.
Riege works not only in fiber, but also installation, performance, collage, and digital media. Still, in his mind, it all comes back to weaving. “I call everything I do weaving,” he said, referring, for example, to his performances as “weaving dances.” In addition to making elaborately detailed fiber sculptures and wearable regalia, he stages durational performances, athletic feats of improvisational dance. All the elements—the materials, the performance, the audience, as well as the ancestors and rituals that inform his practice—are woven together.
Riege graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2017, where he double majored in studio art and ecology and minored in Navajo language and linguistics. His interest in language finds its way into his work through his titles, which are often stylized interpretations of words with purposeful misspellings or letters and characters altered to mimic the shapes of his sculptures. His first solo exhibition, at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, in 2019, was titled “Hólǫ́—it xistz.” The title used both the Navajo word hólǫ́, meaning
“it exists,” and an internet slang version of “it exists” in English. During the exhibition, Riege presented two six-hour performances in the gallery, his body adorned with black paint and swathed in fiber art pieces. He wove through his black-and-white fiber sculptures, some of which he removed from their displays and donned while he roamed the gallery, at times swinging back and forth in a meditative dance. Heaped with layered textiles and dangling woolen tassels, Riege tiptoed delicately as though the dozens of extra pounds he wore were weightless. He performed the contemplative dancelike ritual mostly in silence, except for the sound of staffs that the artist banged repetitively on the floor, like the familiar clacking of a loom.
Riege’s art objects often get divided up—scarred, torn, and reconstituted—then reused in new pieces. Elements of previous works will likely reappear this month in the Toronto Biennial, where Riege is slated to offer a home for Her, an installation evoking his childhood residence—a site that regularly haunts his dreams. Multiple looms will form the outline of the house, which he has entered only once since his family moved out over a decade ago, even though their new house sits just next door. The weavings for this project, which Riege made in collaboration with the women in his family, pay homage to inherited craft, cosmology, and knowledge. The installation and accompanying performance aim both to revive and exorcise the former home.
CURRENTLY ON VIEW: An installation by Eric-Paul Riege in the Toronto Biennial of Art, Mar. 26–June 5, 2022.