In the Studio with Veteran São Paulo Artist Edith Derdyk
Brazilian artist Edith Derdyk has dedicated her life to researching and experimenting with lines—drawn, sewn, extended in space, or in the pages of a book. Her São Paulo studio, an airy respite that looks out onto treetops in a small park across the road, is filled with hundreds of books, neatly arranged on floor-to-ceiling shelves, that not only offer aesthetic and intellectual inspiration, but also surround the artist with lines.
“My understanding of what a line is has changed.”
Derdyk describes her relationship with drawing as biological; scribbling and drawing, she often says, have been with her since her childhood. But her understanding of line has evolved over time.
“It stopped being a contour that defines territories and form—a condition that was inherited from Neoclassicism and has to do with measurements, scale, proportions etc.—to become an event in space,” she told me. “I started physically using line, sewing thread in my works in 1988, and stretching thread through space in 1997.”
Derdyk’s 1990 exhibition “Viés” at the São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP) consisted of works that she calls drawings but which are composed of small cut-and-stitched pieces of cloth hung from the walls. For the artist, this was when her work began to move towards the three-dimensional.
“People questioned me about whether they were drawings and I said they were, because drawing goes beyond pencil and paper.”
That show led to more sewing for Derdyk, which coincided with a rising interest in contemporary art in Brazil. Sewn and drawn lines began to populate her works, and she experimented with ordinary materials, many of which she still uses today and have become iconic elements in her work, such as black thread and paper.
“It was when I started to investigate what drawing was more profoundly—line and space—that the line went physically into space.”
Her first installation, at Galeria Adriana Penteado in 1996, was a three-dimensional scribble. This work, a black blur comprised of 22,000 meters of thread, installed in the corner of the gallery, demonstrated that Derdyk had begun creating spaces within spaces, her work materializing in three dimensions.
“The more I made things, I started to realize that repetition, layering, and accumulation had been recurring elements in my work since the early days.”
A viewer can only start to comprehend these works by moving around them and observing them from different angles. Tension and gravity are important features; together, these thin black lines in space are strong enough to knock down some of the walls and surfaces they are stapled onto. With this discovery, Derdyk began to suspend objects with black thread and to work with specialist teams to create large-scale, demanding pieces; she has continued to work with a team on her installations ever since.
Her new installation, Contrapelo (meaning against the grain), created in collaboration with Artsy for the SP-Arte fair this year, is intimate yet monumental in its efforts and concept. Made from hundreds of white sheets of paper and meters of black string, the work will be destroyed when it is de-installed, its title serving as a statement about how an ephemeral work such as this can resist the commercial environment of the art fair.