Alumnae Spotlight: Alayna Rasile Digrindakis

February 21, 2017 by

In 2012, Alayna Rasile Digrindakis came to our studio from Brooklyn via Washington, D.C. to contribute 50 of the 689 bowls made for our 2013 Annual Chili Bowl Fiesta. She was part ceramics instructor and part geographer, on her way to becoming a full-time artist. Before arriving at WSW, she told us, “Making fifty bowls means taking fifty risks, going on fifty adventures, and learning fifty lessons of what I want from my work.”

Alayna’s practice has evolved many times since we last saw her in Rosendale. She recently moved to her home state of Montana, but travels back east often. After we caught up with her in NYC, we followed up with a few questions about her residency, pirate radio, and milkweed.

It’s been just over four years since we last saw you! What drew you to our artist-in-residence program and what was your impression of the Binne?

WSW was my first ever residency—it marked my transition from being a creative hobbyist to a working artist. I was drawn to WSW because it is a well-established residency program that is incubating really high-level work, while also offering an accessible and supported space for artists coming from all backgrounds. My most vivid memories were of the daily potluck lunches. I remember lunchtime being such a sacred space where we would all convene from our separate studios to share and problem-solve and theorize.

The Chili Bowl Workspace Residency is a demanding project—just five weeks to make and glaze fifty pots! How did you approach making so much work while still bringing your voice to the studio?

I used the task of making chili bowls as an opportunity to play with surface design and be off the hook from any sort of specific personal aesthetic. I made small series of bowls all with vastly different decorative techniques. It was pure play.

I count sgraffito and colorful slip work among some of those techniques you used to decorate sets of ware with Rosendale buildings, folk songs, knots, and wildlife. Can I ask why these subjects?

 Most of the imagery was my approach to creating a sense of place—I spent just as much time in the ceramics studio as I did walking to Rosendale and sketching the historic buildings and hiking behind WSW to the kilns and quarries.  I remember listening exclusively to the radio down in the ceramics studio. There was a station that only played bluegrass and I got caught up in all of the storytelling in those classic tunes. I was trying to encapsulate my experience at WSW through the pots I made.

One of many bowls Alayna worked on during her Studio Workspace Residency

You’ve since shifted gears and now work primarily with textiles. What brought you to this point in your practice?

There is something about the permanence of ceramics that scared me away.  I love working with clay through all of its stages of wet to dry, I loved the forgiveness of being able to make things and then crush them and remake something else out of the same material.  But as soon as clay is fired it is a done deal—a permanent artifact on this earth, no going back.  I’m not much of a planner, my nature is quite intuitive and my creative practice involves a lot of material exploration and experimentation.

My obsession with reimagining materials is what led me to textiles – I can start with raw fiber and spin yarn and then I can make cloth by weaving or felting. Then I can cut apart the cloth and construct objects that I can dye and change their color and the items can always be deconstructed and reimagined once more.

From Composing Cloth, the first session of WEAV FM

For your pirate radio station WEAV FM, you broadcasted the sounds of weaving on your loom a Brooklyn rooftop. WEAV FM has grown into three recordings and totals more than eighteen hours! What motivated you to translate your weaving practice into an auditory performance?

WEAV FM was initially prompted by my experience living in NYC and being emotionally exhausted by acoustic stimulation of all kinds at all hours with no option to escape.  Through studying the work of John Cage, an experimental composer and thinker, I was pushed to listen deeply to these sounds instead of labeling them ‘noise’ and meeting them with resistance.  During the WEAV FM performances, I converse with my immediate environment by adding my voice (the loom) to the soundscape. This durational, deep listening has been a powerful way of placemaking for me, and I’m looking forward to arranging the next WEAV FM broadcast in a new location later this year—I’m hoping it will be much longer and further reaching.

Can you tell us about the work you contributed to the installation Standard Incomparable, which was recently on view in Ellen Lesperance, Helen Mirra, Traversing at the Armory Center for the Arts?

Helen Mirra issued an open call to weavers all around the world to create two pieces of cloth following specific parameters: seven stripes of undyed local fiber woven the length of the weaver’s arm and the width of the weaver’s hand. I haven’t got to see the collection in person, but the pictures are quite compelling: 51 portraits of weavers from 15 countries, all the same while being all so different.

In the last couple of years, I’ve shifted away from an inward or personal approach to making artwork and become much more motivated by projects that either are collaborative or that are meant to create some kind of community.  There are many reasons for this, one of which is a desire for belonging, which was certainly valued through Mirra’s Standard Incomparable project.

Lately, you were artist-in-residence at the Textile Arts Center and Cabin Time, not to mention you kicked off your textile line Absorka. Are there any upcoming projects on your radar?

My main project right now is the construction of a studio space built on 15 acres of land in mountains west of Helena, Montana.  My dad and I have built it out of primarily reclaimed materials and the intention is for the space to house a textile art residency called Hi-Altitude Center for Textiles.  Keep your eyes out for it – I’m hoping to have residents starting in the fall of 2017.

I’m also putting a lot of energy into a material innovation project called May West, where my collaborator Charlotte Sullivan and I are exploring the fiber potential of the Milkweed plant. I’m engineering flotational cloth using the fluff from the milkweed seedpod and using this cloth as a protective textile to help me study concepts of buoyancy, warmth, and belonging.

One last question before we go: do you have advice for emerging women artists?

Surround yourself with women who are pushing forward in their fields by being courageous, unapologetic, and committed to their visions.  Last summer I took a women’s Timber Skills class where I spent a week with a bunch of bad-ass ladies chain-sawing and running power tools.  It was the best thing I did for my creativity all year because I gained confidence in my limitless capability, not only as a woman but also as an artist.

Keep an eye on Helena, Montana for the Hi-Altitude Center for Textiles! Until then, find more of Alayna‘s recent work on Absorka, her line of textiles bringing together vintage and reclaimed cloth with plant dyes. Alayna holds a BA in Geography with minors in Community Arts from the University of Oregon.