California-based artist Windy Chien began her career with macrame before becoming frustrated with its limitations. “I gave myself the assignment to learn one new knot every day for one year, and thereby increase my vocabulary of knots and become fluent in what I now recognize to be a language—the universal language of knots,” she says. The year-long exploration spurred her more recent series of Circuit Boards, large wall hangings of winding rope with gold, red, and white thread wound around the strands’ ends.
Spanning up to 24 feet, the fiber pieces resemble conductive pathways and tracks made from metal. While broadly inspired by electronics, Chien also is influenced by Massimo Vignelli’s 1972 redesign of the New York City subway map and fashion editor Diana Vreeland’s belief that “the eye has to travel.”
I find the metaphor of the journey to be potent and relevant here. For me, the visual pleasure derived from the Circuit Boards comes from choosing one rope end and following it to the conclusion of its journey through the work. Electronic circuit boards connect and conduct power; subway maps (maps in general) provide a kind of simulation of a journey, a guide to choices and paths.
The artist tells Colossal that by examining the inherent tension in knots, she hopes to consider both their physical function and aesthetic value. “The neurosurgeon Leonard Shlain pointed out that art interprets the visible world, while physics charts its unseen workings. I think of my work as a fusion of the two,” she writes. “Art matters because it voices the unavoidable—it is human experience distilled.”