Florencia Walfisch

Internal Spaces: Florencia Walfisch

“The textile is like the body, always unstable,” Buenos Aires-based Florencia Walfisch explains, “the feeling is visceral, very direct.” The Argentinian artist has long taken her own body as the starting point for a creative practice that spans poetry, performance, drawing and painting. With birth of her daughter eighteen years ago and no dedicated work space at home, she began to stitch from the bed and desk in her bedroom. Initially, she had no idea how to use the basic sewing machine she was lent, but decided: “If I can draw, I can sew. It is going to be like a drawing.”

Performative elements of reciting and walking were part of her poetry practice, but the sewing machine required Walfisch to remain in a static position. To allow herself greater movement she dismantled the machine’s foot. “I need to move,” she explains. “Even when the machine stays still, the cloth moves – the reverse logic of drawing.” Over the years, machine and hand-stitch have come together. At times an embroidery hoop is used to stretch the textile taut, but the approach is not exclusive and elsewhere stitches clutch tightly bunched cloth. An “open dialogue between the body and resistance” is her description of the stamina necessary to produce the large works recently exhibited at Galería Van Riel.

Words stitched in Spanish (the artist’s mother tongue) appear in many compositions, but literal translation offers only small clues. “Like poetry you take something but make fiction,” she explains. “Not in a biographic way, but you put them to work in a fictional way.” I inquire about the bones scattered across many of her textiles: “Bones? The pelvis is subconscious – I always follow what I need to know.” If the works feel cryptic, Walfisch explains it is to “protect this experience. Sometimes the work is crude or raw – but maybe only to me.” I suggest the particular choice of red reminds me of blood. “Me gusta!”, she smiles. It is a colour she likes a lot but acknowledges: “I do not have expectations that people will get the biographic. People arrive at this intimate point in very different ways.”

When we speak again, Walfisch explains she has been thinking about bones, which have long appeared in her poetry and textiles. “They are the strongest part of the body, the last part of the body to leave the earth after we die.” During Argentina’s dirty war it is estimated that 30,000 lives, predominantly civilian, were lost. DNA matching to bones, many found in mass graves, is now part of an enormous undertaking to identify the disappeared. The weight of this period in her country’s history, Walfisch explains, is inescapable.

She reflects, “over the years the textile work has become more complicated, more heavy. I have been preoccupied with force of my body.” She cites the soft tissues of the body – muscles and tendons – as a new interest. Walfisch shares with other South American artists such as the Chilean Cecilia Vicuña, whose practice also spans poetry, performance and textiles, a reluctance to dissect or over-intellectualise meaning. This may in part be explained in the intimacy of the content, but also confirms an outlook that truly trusts poetic meaning: “I start work from an inside space, like an internal map. I may be in that internal space for many months before I discover what is profound or important.”

published in Selvedge magazine (2022). Home page image "Lenguaje" ("Language") embroidered and pieced textile. Image courtesy of the artist and Galería Van Riel. Photographer: Daniel Duhau.