With just over a week to go until The Festival of Quilts we caught up with Eszter Bornemisza  to talk about what we could expect to find in her gallery at festival of Quilts this year.

Q: Eszter, you spent the first 20 years of your career as a research mathematician. How and why did you make such a major jump into making quilts and textile art for a living?

A: Sewing has been one of my favourite free time activities since my early teens. I learned using the sewing machine in a self taught way through altering my grandmother’s old clothes to fit me. Later, I sewed almost everything from leather shoes to overcoats and even suits for my family, and I wove jackets. As I had many small left over fabrics, I stitched them together – someone said they looked like quilts. In 1996, I had the chance to visit a Quilt Expo in Lyon, France. I saw art quilts for the first time and thought they were like modern paintings made in the medium of textiles. I had always been keen on contemporary art, but never thought of trying to paint myself. Here, my two independent interests suddenly joined up together: textile and modern art. It became clear to me in a flash, that this is what I have to do! I was bold enough to decide that in the next Expo, a piece of mine would hang on the wall. And so I did it. But before that, in 1997, I entered a piece for the First European Quilt Championships in the Netherlands and won Best of Show award. That gave me a real kick off. I also got very strong support from my family, especially my husband, so after a few years of hesitation, I dropped maths and turned to be a full-time studio maker with the immediate desire to make art quilts.


Q: Does being a mathematician bring something unique to your work?
A: There is no direct connection between math and what I do now. But I have been always keen on elegant solutions with refinement and simplicity. In my recent work, I’m striving for something like this.

Q: You live and work in Budapest, Hungary. The work you will be showing in your exhibition, You Are Here, at The Festival of Quilts is concerned with maps, our relationship with urban life and our sense of identity and place. Why does this theme resonate with you?
A: When I started to make quilts, I realised that loving art and doing art were two different things. So I started to train myself through studying albums about modern and contemporary art while trying to develop my technical skills. On the other hand, I have always been keen on the graphical appearance of urban maps, old or new, and draw inspiration from them. With the multi-layered surfaces of real and imaginary maps, I am striving to grasp moments of finding our place both physically and mentally. As experimentation and research have been my primary tools for developing ideas, labyrinth-like maps with many dead-end streets have been a visual metaphor for a journey to find my identity in the art field.

Q: You are well known for working with layered newspaper and other delicate materials? Is the fragility of materials like these important to your work?
A: I like working with found soft materials like recycled paper and textiles. The choice of newspaper as a basic material plays a central role in my recent work as it provides further visual experiences by its ephemeral character. It is fragile; the content is obsolete, sometimes at the hour of appearance, while still bearing fragments of important details from the near history. It also represents the overwhelming avalanche of fake and relevant news we have to distinguish day by day.

Q: What are your memories of the last time you were at The Festival of Quilts and what are you looking forward to seeing this year?
A: It was great experience last time and I saw many visitors in my gallery with lots of great conversations. I could also visit fellow artists’ shows and could talk to them. It was an extremely intense four days and I am looking forward to living it through again.

Q: You are part of the 62 Group of Textile Artists, a group that has championed contemporary textile practice for 60 years. What does it mean to you to be part of this group and how do you think attitudes to textile art have changed in that time?
A: It was a great honour to have been accepted for the 62 Group two years ago. At the same time, it has been a great challenge to keep up with the ever renewing fresh work of the members. Being part of the group inspires me to be bold in finding new ways of expression. Attitudes have changed in the period, mainly in breaking the rules, both in terms of choice of materials and techniques, but also in striving to deconstruct the strict borders between applied and fine art.

Q: Which textile artists do you think are making exciting work right now?
A: There are so many new trends nowadays that I couldn’t mention a few artists. At the moment, the fiber installations are the most exciting for me.

Q: What projects are you working on currently and what’s next for you after The Festival of Quilts?
A: I was invited to propose a paper installation for a XII century church that is located in the middle of a paper factory in Alsace. I am very busy working on that right now. In a few days, I’m travelling to Iceland to have a solo show and workshop there, then I’m going to Austria where a piece of mine was selected for the ETN’s Garden of Eden exhibition. For the fall, I have been invited to exhibit in St Petersburg and the next year will bring a big exhibiting and teaching trip to Australia and New Zealand.