The core of Michelle Rinow's art practice, whether working on a garment or a fiber arts piece, is focused on the combination of colour, materials and finishes to tell a story or to foster an emotional response. Her practice is heavily research focused, and every piece begins with in depth reading and writing to gain inspiration and to understand what she wishes to express.
Rinow's educational background is in textile design, a field with rich and diverse technical processes. Having studied textiles at both the Royal College of Art and the Rhode Island School of Design, she has gained technical skills in a variety of textile processes including embroidery, weaving, print, and knitting.
"I try to combine processes as much as possible to create work with richness and depth"
"All physical making begins with material experimentation, and I like to approach all my work with a sense of fun and playfulness in my exploration. The material reacts and transforms with each different process. Once I have settled on my materials and processes, I then focus on colour and pattern development. I like to use bold colour and textures in all my work."
In her recent series titled Transforming Touch, Rinow is is focused on fostering human connection and engagement through play. Transforming Touch is a series of playable, shape changing, and kinetic textile arts pieces. When touched, the pieces expand and illuminate, exposing an exciting variety of colours as it transforms. The pieces combine industrially knit fabric with soft robotic structures, sensors and LED lights to allow the work to playfully transform in response to the viewer’s touch. The pieces use colour and material to foster human interaction through play.
"My practice is very research focused, and before beginning with my material exploration I performed in depth exploration of play behaviors from a variety of sources spanning across psychology, biology, culture and history. My aim was to discover how to design a playful experience and what colours and materials would evoke a playful response in an installation. I wanted the work to be accessible to all ages including children and the elderly. When people think of play, they automatically think of children, but tactile play is also beneficial to the elderly and adults. People are often hesitant to touch and interact with work in a gallery setting and adults are typically unwilling to act playfully in a public setting, so it was a fun challenge to work around.
The series goes back to the power of textiles as tactile objects. I have been working specifically with knitting as my medium, particularly digital knitting with Stoll and Shima Seiki industrial knitting machines. My technical skills influence the work heavily. I had the idea of creating knits that expose hidden colours or yarns as they move and expand, so I had to program knit structures that would be able to achieve this. The particular structure I used is called garter stitch, and it creates ridges that hide the areas underneath. This structure is also incredibly stretchy and creates double sided fabrics. Knitting is a powerful medium because it has a strong sense of familiarity and coziness. Usually we wear knit fabrics as garments, but I am interested in the idea of using knit to soften our environments and the technology within our environments.
Technology is increasingly a part of our everyday lives, yet people have come to feel technology can be quite dehumanizing. Transforming Touch aims to humanize technology through combining tactile, soft materials with technological components such as sensors and arduinos. Textiles and technology come together harmoniously to achieve the playful movements and transformations in this series."
Originally from the United States, Rinow has fallen in love with the art scene in London. "I think one of the best parts of the art scene here is the sense of community as well as the easy access to opportunities across Europe. Living and working within the US left me feeling a bit isolated from global opportunities. As my current work focuses on human connection and interaction, the strong community aspect of London and the UK in general means more relevant exhibition opportunities. Many art opportunities here are focused around fostering community engagement so I feel my work is relevant. Plus each neighborhood of London and each town across the UK has a unique feel, so there is always something fresh and exciting to explore."
Rinow's background with Fashion Design is an advantage when approaching artistic work.
"I think there are strong links between the fashion and art industries"
"Both fashion and fine art are strong modes of self-expression and evoke a response from viewers. Both offer a chance for people to connect through shared taste and opinions. Often fashion designers are inspired by artists and the art scene happening around them. After working in the fashion industry, I found mood boards for fashion collections often feature images of popular artist’s work. Inspiration for the fabrics, colours, and textures often come from art. I know personally fashion heavily influences my fiber art pieces.
My fiber art practice focuses on movement, tactility and connection but in the early stages of making I always ask myself ‘how would this move on the body? How would it feel against someone’s skin? How could the piece allow someone to express themselves?’ After thinking of how something would react on the body, I then think of how it would interact with the body within a space. The body can play an integral role in the textile without it being worn which is why touch became an important aspect of my most recent work."