Installation Artist Spotlight: Lizz Aston

Lizz Aston is currently an Artist-in-Residence in the Craft Department at Harbourfront.  Her incredible work is both austere and playful, and straddles the compelling space between sculpture and fine craft.  Don't miss her massive interactive installation, Beginning to Macrame, which will be hanging above the risers in the Theatre Centre during City of Craft!  

As a craft, macrame is somewhat obscure, and associated with a particular time in history-- the 1970s.  What originally piqued your interest in macrame?

Wow. Macrame really gets me going!

If you’ve ever had the chance to pick up an old book on macrame you’ll see what I mean.  Like you mentioned, macrame was all the rage in the 1970’s.  I guess I hold a certain sentiment towards it because like many others, it conjures up feelings of nostalgia from my childhood in the early 80’s, being surrounded by the remnants of bizarre homemade objects.

Macrame was a very absurd and extravagant craft-form, where artists would dye great lengths of hemp, jute, or other natural fibres and knot them together in monumental hangings and excessive three-dimensional sculptures.

As a subject in my work, macrame first claimed my attention, when I took an Artists Books workshop a couple of summers ago. I spent an entire week dissecting images and patterns; and making cut-outs from instructional diagrams in a book of How-To Macrame. All of the work I have done since then has propelled forward from those initial small scale studies.

There is so much history and symbolism behind knotwork, from the endless knots of Buddhist and Celtic art and spiritualism, to nautical knots, to macrame and lacework.  Is this idea of the knot as a symbol at play in your work? Have you done any research on the greater implications of the knot?

I find a great sense of poeticism in knot-work as being one of our oldest, most basic and sophisticated technologies. There is an endless wealth of ideas, associations and symbolism to knots and knotting.  Knotting practices are representative of a greater identity, encompassing the beliefs, practices, languages and superstitions of many cultures.  I am interested in the knot as a universal language, one that carries residual histories and memory, connecting the past to the present as a living tradition.  As a ritualistic process, it is compulsive and repetitive, used to build connections and bridge gaps.  Knots can be transcendental, where one type of knot may be found similarly among other knotting practices under a different name; and the names of the knots themselves are each rich with significance and word histories.  My work continues to evolve as I delve further into these themes, inspiring a greater dialogue into the symbolism of the knot.

I feel like your work occupies a space somewhere between art and craft. Can you talk a bit about this division (or lack of division) with regards to your current work and methods of making?

I have always considered myself to be an artist working in a fibre based medium.

To me, craft is a very process driven practice where you are given a specific set of starting points that are largely based on discovery through material exploration and the use of sampling.  My work confronts a set of concerns that are as equally based in material craft practices as they are in conceptual ones. 

As makers, we are constantly engaged in an ongoing dialogue that exists in the creation of meaningful objects; challenging the application of traditionally learned skills, to expand upon a greater definition of art and design.  Contemporary craft continues to evolve as it has become a celebrated practice that is of-the-moment and vital.  This marks a turning point for a community of makers, whose work charts out and advocates a larger discourse in the ever-evolving landscape of contemporary Canadian art and design.

Aside from your piece Beginning to Macrame that will be up at City of Craft, what other projects are you working on right now?  Or what projects do you have waiting in the wings for after City of Craft, or the New Year?

I am currently developing a body of work using one of my favorite processes, which incorporates a technique of stitching and burning-out different surfaces to create knotted and crocheted patterns.  Hopefully I can find a way of taking this technique into a three-dimensional direction without compromising the preciousness and fragility of the work.

Other than that, I’d like to make some cool Christmas presents for my friends and family and maybe get a good website up and running, ready in time for the City of Craft.


Images, from top:

Beginning to Macrame (detail), 2009

Decreasing Your Knot Vocabulary, collaged paper fibres, machine embroidery, burnout, 2009


  1. As a child of the 70's, I remember macrame knotting with my sisters. I think it's really cool that Lizz has brought back macrame in a new form of art.

    Elaine Kent