Stitch by stitch, Liz Kueneke hand-embroidered maps in the water, the car, and by the lake for her project, The Urban Fabric. Since 2018, she has been traveling across the globe, bringing together embroidery and maps to create psychogeographic art. Psychogeography, which originated in 1950’s France, is neither geography nor psychology; it is an intersection of both that focuses on the psychological experiences and emotions with a geographical location.
Barcelona, New York, Bangalore, Fez, Quito, Ibiza, Los Angeles, Amsterdam, Sarnen (Switzerland)
With her needles and threads, Liz traveled through five continents to collect memories that people have with their environment. Whether an abandoned building or park bench, she translated the bits and pieces of people’s life into stitches.
Whenever she visited a new location along her journey, she would spread out a hand-embroidered map of that place on a portable embroidery table and invite passersby to share their stories and mark the significant places for them by sewing symbols on the map.
“In Fez, I was told a story by a man whose grandmother had been a young bedouin girl in the desert and who had been kidnapped and forced to marry a wealthy man in the city. A teenage girl named Pinky in New York, who sadly marked where her brother had been shot dead in front of her house. Hopefully, this marking and telling the others at the table about it was cathartic to her in some small way. In Bangalore, various people talked to me about and embroidered on the map, their love, whom they are not allowed to see, because they belong to a different religion. Instead of the dark stories, there also are wonderfully beautiful things. In Quito, some young men were embroidering the name of their mother into the edges of the map, this is because an ancient culture, the Valdivia, where current day Ecuador is located, was a matriarchal society.”
“It’s like a party under here! A woman smiled and said: ‘Embroidery is easy! It’s just in and out, in and out!’ There were people from all walks of life who participated. Some people would sew their graffiti icon on the map, and there were people who sewed their breakfast.”
“I usually use cotton bedsheets, I like how the bedsheet relates to our feeling of being at home…so that even when people are in the street they can feel intimate and cozy there, and also think about how the city is also their home.”
Liz even used her grandma’s old floral bed sheets for embroidery.
“Where do you live? Where is a positive place? Where is a place that needs changes?”
“In all places though, I ask the same general questions; however, before going to a place, I talk to locals who help me to decide on some specific questions. I always want them to be pertinent to the location and thought-provoking to the participants.
For the colors, I customize them depending on the place I am in, depending on the meaning that is generally associated with them in that place. For example, in the United States, red is sometimes considered to be a color signifying danger; so there I used it for negative or dangerous places, whereas in India it is auspicious so I used it there for positive places.”
These questions, colors, and symbols bring strangers together to sew while sharing stories and the secrets of life with each other.
When Liz was young, she was on a synchronized swimming sports team. “I feel like what I am doing with embroidery and what I am doing with artistic swimming are actually similar. In the sense that both are healing and meditative to me. Both are also activities which provoke a certain amount of fear in me, for example, being alone and exposed in the public space in faraway places in the case of the artivities of The Urban Fabric, and physical fears, dealing with cold water, jellyfish etc, in the sea. I am trying to use both the handicraft and the sport to make different genres of art. Even though on the outside they may appear incredibly different, for me they are very close.”