Based in Holland, the Polish-born designer creates unique textiles of a three-dimensional, tactile effect
Aleksandra Gaca carries on the legacy of textile manufacturing from Łódź, the city where she was born in 1969, with her novel aesthetic combining technology with texture in projects that span fashion, product design and architecture. Her fabrics even exhibit singular acoustic qualities, with a unique structure called ARCHITEXTILES® that carries sound through a space, even a building.
Graca enrolled in a fashion-design programme at the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague in 1991 and discovered a fascination for fabrics during her second year of studies. In an interview with Czas na wnętrze, she reflects on how many of her fashion design turned out as three-dimensional objects, made of materials of a defined structure. "After a month-long internship in England, where I studied textile design, I was able to concentrate on the material itself. I began learning about various techniques and fell in love with weaving in particular".
Decorative textiles allowed her to unleash her imagination, and permitted the freedom to draw upon a range of inspirations not dominated by trends dictating dynamic change in the fashion industry. 'In decorative textile design it's entirely different', she explains. 'Collections are shown once a year and the creative process can last a very long time'.
Early in the 2000s, Graca began to experiment with 3-D textiles on a trial and error basis, using a hand loom. She found that she was able to create dimension in a fabric, with a particular style of weaving. She combined mohair and resilient polyester with fabrics and materials including cotton, metal wire and paper. The unusual technique created a contrasting structure that changes based on its configuration, with shiny or matte effects, the material soft or stiff, thick and opaque or delicate and transparent. Fashion remains one of her creative outlets, with projects incorporating her ideas about textures into wearable pieces such as the Slumber Shawl, made of textured wool and mohair.
Aesthetics and form are her point of reference, and only after she's created a textile does she consider its function. From 2002 to 2004 she presented her first 3-D textiles as interior design fabrics. These designs won awards at the Decosit Awards in Belgium and the Neocon Awards in the U.S., among others. Her most recent awards including Best Professional Product at Dutch Design Week, Absolute Creator at the Design Alive Awards at Łódź Design Festival and first prize at the Design District Awards in the Netherlands in 2012.
Hermès, the global luxury brand, commissioned Graca to create custom interiors for its boutiques in Korea and China via RDAI architect Nathalie Baron, and she created a textile installation for the front-window spaces, a 10-metre crimson wave of fabric woven through with gold thread. The bright red slowly shifts into a dark burgundy in a rhythmic pattern set off by the irregular golden weave. Gaca received three more commissions for Hermès signature boutiques in Shanghai, Harbin, Wuxi and Seoul, each adapted to the local market and environs.
Gaca has expanded her business, shifting from handiwork to industrial manufacturing. This began her cooperation with the Textiel Lab at the Textile Museum in Tilberg. She created her best-known collections - Slumber (2011) and ARCHITEXTILES® (2011-2012), made up of cushions, blankets and acoustic wall panels produced by the Belgian firm Casalis. Her Slumber cushions were presented in Milan in 2011, winning acclaim with their colourful shapes reminiscent of Grandma's handiwork, with a softness achieved thanks to the blending of mohair and merino wools. This material soon became Gaca's favourite, as she remarks, "I love mohair for its lovely, long thread, for how nice it is to touch. If we want to wrap ourselves in fabrics, they have to be pleasant, inviting us to cuddle up to them, to stimulate our senses".
Her latest creation, the ARCHITEXTILES® collection of 3-D acoustic fabric panels, combine merino, polyester, elasthane, cotton and viscose. Their texture mimics an organic form as seen through a microscope, absorbing soundwaves more effectively than flat fabrics while providing a visual effect of light and shade in light, natural hues. These multifunctional panels can be used as wall decorations or partitions - their multiple purposes won Gaca an innovation award from the Jury Dutch Design Awards for the poetic design of infinite possibilities.
Gaca’s textiles were applied in diverse projects in public spaces, decorating banks, airports and embassies. In their project for the Schilpol airport MV Architects decided to make sure that the usually cold airport space gains a slightly more friendly character. They used panels of CELLO fabric, with its overscaled knitting pattern, to cover some parts of the roof. Panels act here both as a noise reducing element and a material that is to add some warmth to the whole building.
For the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Hague Gaca prepared a series of green and grey panels. Also in this case her fabrics were chosen to create some intimacy to the buildings canteen. Sandra de Steur-Klaasman, the architect rearranging this space, divided it into smaller compartments, using Gaca’s panels, this time made of BLOKO fabric. Gaca also contributed her designs to the Dutch embassy in Berlin. For this rather stark building by Rem Koolhaas she proposed two panels. Rendered in soft mohair in shades of grey and green they compliment the building, mirroring its colors, at the same time delicately blending into the building walls and contrasting with them. With a truly virtuose skills she plays with a subtle dynamics between the hardness of concrete and the softness of wool, between the smooth surfaces of the walls and her panels’ fluffiness.
For her day-to-day business, Gaca works out of her studio in Delft. When asked about her identity as a Polish or a Dutch designer, she says,
In Holland I discovered my passion for designing fabrics, gained knowledge and experience, but if it wasn't for my first - Polish - stage of my life, I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing now, because my fabrics come about not only thanks to knowledge and experience, but also that which I brought with me from my native country.
Read more about Aleksandra Gaca at www.aleksandragaca.nl
Translated and edited by Agnieszka Le Nart based on the original text by Paulina Kucharska for Culture.pl, January 2013. Article includes quotes from Anna Oporska's interview with the artist for Czas na wnętrze. Updated, July 2016, AM.
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