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Crossing, 40in X 34in X 1in, polyethylene tubing, colored water, Hand weave  

Windy Waters, 24in X 15in X 3in, polyethylene tubing, fishing line, colored water, loom weave


Escape The Womb, 15in X 23in X 9in, polyethylene tubing, fishing line, colored water, laser cut 1/8 plywood, loom weave





Artist: Nathan Johns, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Interview 72: Nathan exhibited in the 2012 World of Threads Festival exhibition Variegated Threads in the Halls of Queen Elizabeth Park Community and Cultural Centre in Oakville, Ontario.

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Interviews published by Gareth Bate & Dawne Rudman.



Nathan Johns is a pursuing architect and designer from Winnipeg, Canada. He is a recent graduate from the Faculty of Architecture, Environmental Design Program, where he studied light, the body and kinetic sculpture. He has helped conceive and construct a tensile fabric installation (a fabric warming hut) at The Forks Market, Winnipeg for an Art and Architecture exposition on ice. Nathan has been published in two local architectural publications: Network, and Warehouse. His current work combines the traditional technology of looming with an unorthodox material: clear polyethylene tubing. When injected with fluid and air, these fabrics become animated with translucent patterns and colours. 

Nathan grew up with a large daunting loom in the house but never realised its material potential, until he questioned its ability to influence the realm of architecture. The area rugs scattered around the house that his mother loomed years earlier, suddenly became interesting structures and he saw them in a new light. His previous studies in mechanics drew his eye into the looms mechanical potential, where he applied his own idea of its function. This alternate introduction to looming brought with it an alternate palette of materials coalescing two different worlds, fibre art and architecture. Nathan's website.


Tectonic Shift, 40in X 36in X 1/8in, polyethylene tubing, fishing line, coloured water, loom weave


Tell us about your work?

My work stems from the study of architecture which values communication across a variety of mediums; drawing, photography, and scale modeling. I have implemented these mediums to explore the realm of fibre inspired construction.  My influential study of performative systems within a building has given me an eye towards kinetic art. To awaken an object and give it its own performative characteristics is my ideal.



Fabric body, 10in X 14in X 5in, polyethylene tubing, fishing line, coloured water, loom weave


From where do you get your inspiration?

I find beauty in self creating art, such as watching a snowdrift form in the wind like a wave in the ocean--building itself in slow-motion, crafting unpredictable sculptures. As time moves on, that same snow sculpture melts, and becomes something completely new and unexpected. These temporal acts of creation and destruction are everywhere - in the cosmos, in our architecture, in our bodies, and even in our art. By patiently watching the world as it changes, I’ve learned to value dynamic space that continually renews itself to our senses.


Muscular Tension, 24in X 34in X 1in, polyethylene tubing, Plastic mesh, colored water, Hand weave


What do you think of us placing your work within the context of fibre art?

I am excited that fibre art and architecture can influence one another as parallel mediums. I am in pursuit of dynamic materials that respond to people and weather, so I prefer fabric materials for their flexibility. Although I am driven by the craft of building assemblies, I am not bound by it as an end result. I am led by discovery, and the realm of fibre art has many techniques that have allowed me to grow as a designer.


Fluid Fabric, 40in X 36in X 1/8in, polyethylene tubing, fishing line, coloured water, loom weave


How do fibre techniques and materials relate to your practice? 

The history of architecture provides many examples of fabric enclosures. The nomads for instance, used woven tapestries or stretched animal skins to create tents, yurts, and tepees. Looms were used to create fabrics that would span across poles or beams, acting as tensile canopies for temporary dwellings. Contemporary architecture still utilizes these techniques, however with updated materials and armatures.

My current work attempts to exploit the material characteristics of thread in tension. I've been modeling in small scale with materials like thread, paper, aircraft cable and polyethylene tubing. These modeling materials translate into full-scale materials such as threaded cable, woven canopies and plastic pipe.


Studio desk


What other mediums do you work in, and how does this inform your work?

I am led by observation and discovery, so my first medium is often photography for its immediate replication of my eye. Light, although immaterial, is a flexible component to work with, since it has the power to illuminate and dissipate other materials. From my photos, I build a storyboard of what I'm trying to create and act through drawing, which helps anchor my abstract ideas. Finally, I act on these photos and drawings, through paper modeling, looming, or laser cutting, which gives me a clear three-dimensional construction. Often I will cycle back through this process--taking photos, drawing my models and deconstructing my ideas once more. This cyclic process allows me to weave in new ideas and build upon, or refine, existing ones.


Fluidscape, 40in X 36in X 1/8in, polyethylene tubing, fishing line, coloured water, loom weave


Tell us about your Fluid Fabric Project:

The fluid fabric is composed of simple materials: polyethylene tubing to circulate fluid and transparent fishing wire for structure. The tubing allows for flexibility as well, as it contains a void for fluid to pass through the fabric. To animate this fabric, a mechanical heart (two small pumps) supplies the fabric with fluid and air. When this occurs, the fabric animates the coloured water and air into dynamic patterns and temporal colour gradients.

The fabric is anchored as a translation of the bodies systems, deconstructed of its materials and perceived for their immaterial mechanistic characteristics. My fabric attempts to recreate these phenomena through machine and architecture, bringing with it the sense of vital warmth.


Fabric Landscape, 24in X 36in,graphite on Vellum, drawing


What specific historic artists have influenced your work? 

Frederick Kiesler: Austria-Hungary, artist, architect, theorist.
I think my work predominantly reflects the work of Frederick Kiesler. His endlesshouse design has inspired me to blend the boundaries of wall, roof and floor, evident in my fluid landscape drawing. This method of construction, however, lacks an awareness of structural forces.

Antoni Gaudi: Barcelona, Spain, architect.
A Spanish architect named Antoni Gaudi discovered by building his models out of thread and hanging them upside down, he could visualize compressive forces. The Church of Colònia Güell, with its fluid masonry, is based on these techniques and has influenced me to value the plasticity of brick and thread.

Le Corbusier: France, architect, painter.
In contrast, Le Corbusier has given my work an awareness of the machine and the profound affect it can have on the way we live. Cars, trains and planes all revolutionized the way we move, and he was determined to implement the machine aesthetic into the fabric of our habitable spaces. Although he appeared rigid with his raw use of concrete, his awareness of the phenomenal senses of light, sound, and motion were highly tuned in his buildings, such as Ronchamp, in Notre Dame, and the Saint-Pierre Church in Firminy, France. I attempt to mimic his use of light as if it were a material to sculpt with.

J.M.W. Turner: London, England, 17th century surrealist painter.
William Turner also used light and colour to dissipate, animate and illuminate the world around him. I admire his beautiful surrealist paintings that evoke luminous mystery that pulls me, the observer, into my own imaginative realm.

Micheal Thonet: Germain-Austrian, 17th century Furniture designer, pop-art chair, double cantilever chair.
And finally Michael Thonet, a bentwood furniture designer who built his own machines to bend, twist and weave elegant wooden chairs like they were flexible fibre. His work has inspired me to find new ways of working with old tools, thus creating completely new designs that hold memory of the old.




What specific contemporary artists have influenced your work? 

Drawing is an important medium in my work, for it allows me to communicate abstract ideas.

Micheal Webb: architect and artist, 'Temple Island'
Micheal Webb employs unique ways of drawing temporal ideas. He has inspired my drawing to become more than a depiction of what I see.

Frei Otto: German, Architect and structural engineer
Curved surfaces can be illusive in drawings, so I have studied the fabric models of Frei Otto. His woven canopy tent-structure, The MultiHall in Mannheim, Germany, is again inspired by Gaudis' hanging model technique.

Zaha Hadid: architect and designer
Zaha Hadid, creates smooth web-like architecture and furniture design with similar flowing structures. I admire her work for its organic qualities and cellular connections.

Joseph Beuys: artist, 'honey is flowing in all directions' book reference
The underlying fluid motif is not lost with Joseph Beuys, who wove plastic tubing throughout a building that circulated honey. I admire his conviction of circulating warmth and creating social connectivity with the use of energized sculpture.




Explain how you have developed your own style?

When I am passionate about my work, I find style emerges from personal experiences. However, when my only exposure to inspiration is my studio, it is easy to get tunnel vision. Expanding my interests and questioning what I do not understand outside the realm of design, helps me approach my work with a fresh outlook. Another way I've developed my own style, is to entertain a thought that is unordinary or irrational. Having the wrong answer to an ordinary question can mean you just have an unsolved outlook to the problem.



Hybrid Skin Armature, 9in X 15in, Aircraft Cable, polyethylene tubing, clear acrylic, colored water, laser cutting


Tell us about your training and how this training has influenced the artistic side of projects such as Fluid Fabric?

In our studio, we are encouraged to grab our imaginations and dive down the rabbit hole to explore what intrigues us the most, regardless of what architectural or artistic value it may hold. I draw a lot of inspiration from the complexity of the body as it moves and evolves through space. If closely observed, the body is composed of many individual cells which, when combined, make up individual organs that move, grow, repair, and perform to the needs of itself. It is a self-generating, self-evolving piece of artwork that sustains many systems woven into its complex biological armature and provides me an immense amount of inspiration.


Bulb Fabric, 24in X 18in X 15in, polyethylene tubing, fishing line, coloured water, loom weave


What project has given you the most satisfaction and why?

Although there is only a single thread involved in this project, my favourite has to be my invention of the 'Wickle'; a device that returns excess melted wax from a candle onto a single thread below. This collected wax can then be used as a new candle, when the device is flipped over. I enjoyed creating this prototype, since it embodies many of my admired qualities in a piece: the use of illuminant light, temporal design (kinetic art), fluid mechanics, self-creation and human interaction.


Windy Waters, 24in X 15in X 3in, polyethylene tubing, fishing line, colored water, loom weave


What project are you working on now?

My current work attempts to automate my fluid fabric through human activity, since people are drawn to design that is interactive. Our world however, is dominated through text and voice interactive design. Imagine developing our senses to acknowledge information through colour. When properly tuned, the fabric has the ability to slowly change colour from day to night, giving it the ability to convey the time of day or other information through colour gradients. The morning could be a burst of yellow, the afternoon a cool shade of red, followed by a pale blue in the evening. Other activity displayed in the fabric could convey weather patterns or temperatures. A vibrant blue could indicate a bitter wind; a dense yellow could mean it is calm and sunny. We are attracted to atmospheric change within our dwellings and I see potential in weaving this fabric into our dwellings to convey information and create atmosphere.


Glowing and Growing, 40in X 36in X 1/8in, polyethylene tubing, fishing line, coloured water, loom weave


Tell us about your studio and how you work:

I work side by side with Undergraduate and Master's students, which provides me an immense amount of creative energy to work with. There are always people to lend an ear and give some critic when I'm tackling a difficult subject. Our studios are occupied night and day, divided into groups of 8 to 12 students, each with a "Crit" to guide us with advice, or torment us with deadlines. Although we work in groups for community and encouragement, each student is in their own world developing what they find interesting.


Fluid Connections, polyethylene tubing, fishing line, colored water, loom weave, photo collage


Where do you imagine your work in five years?

I'd like to develop a structural armature for the fabric and have it installed into interior spaces where the aesthetics of it may thrive, such as in restaurants, bars and lounges. Another possible outlet I wish to develop, is utilizing the fabric as an active sunshade for building openings. Draped fabrics have been used for ages to block out the heat and sun. By filling the transparent fabric with fluid during the day, it defuses heat and light. It also has the potential to colour a space with projected light that filters through the fabric. Aside from my prototype developments I hope to further my education and gain some practical design experience.


Amoebic Threads, 24in X 34in X 1in, polyethylene tubing, Plastic mesh, colored water, Hand weave


Is there something else about you or your work that you would like us to know?

The fibre is a single cell, a single unit that can build endless combinations of beauty, so I admire the precise quality and craftsmanship I see here at the World of Threads. I am inspired by the work and am thankful to be a part of its expanding outlook on fibre art.


Crossing, 40in X 34in X 1in, polyethylene tubing, colored water, Hand weave



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Interviews published by Gareth Bate & Dawne Rudman.