In the summer of 1947, between terms as a student at North Carolina’s Black Mountain College, Asawa traveled to Toluca, Mexico, on a service trip. In the local markets, she discovered craftspeople making wire baskets. The experience inspired her technique of looping wire around wooden dowels. “You work on it as you go along,” she explained. “You make the line, a two-dimensional line, then you go into space, and you have a three-dimensional piece.” Asawa made Untitled (S.114 . . . ), among the most evocative and ambitious of her hanging wire sculptures, in her studio on Saturn Street in San Francisco.
Asawa’s children discuss her sculpture practice
SFX: The voices of Asawa’s children are interwoven, sometimes overlapping. Minimalistic and repetitive MUSIC accompanies them. Sound of wire being unspooled and cut is interspersed.
I’ve always felt, um, that these sculptures take space in the room like a person would. My name is Aiko Cuneo, and I’m the daughter of Ruth Asawa. She used wire. She would just start at the bottom oftentimes and work her way up.
I like to look at her sculptures from different angles because you always see something new.
My name is Paul Lanier, and I’m Ruth’s son.
The surface changes; but it’s a continuous one wire. She generally starts from the inside and it moves to the outside. I’m Addie Lanier, and I’m Ruth’s youngest daughter.
She’s using her fingers to loop these triple loops together around and around, you know, thousands of them in one sculpture.
She was always making them. And she would work on them for a little while, and then stop and do her chores or take care of us.
My mother said about her work: “I am able to take a wire and go into the air and define the air without stealing it from anyone. “
Transparency is part of the magic of her work. They have this lightness to them, and it’s almost because of the shadows. I think it’s almost like they transform.
It’s more clear in the shadow how it’s made rather than just by looking at the piece.
The shadow — it’s just like having another sculpture.
This is Ruth Asawa’s Untitled (S.114, Hanging, Six-Lobed Continuous Form within a Form with One Suspended and Two Tied Spheres) from 1958. This sculpture hangs from the ceiling and reaches nearly to the floor, stopping inches above ankle height. It is nearly 11 feet long from top to bottom and 22 inches at its widest points. It is woven entirely from metal wire, tight little loops of iron, copper, and brass. It’s like a long dangling earring with six different sections—earthy shapes of different lengths and diameters, expanding outward then cinched back in. The wire weave is strong enough to retain these natural shapes but airy enough to see through. Inside of the second, third, fifth, and sixth of these gourd-like structures is yet another woven wire object, and sometimes there is even a third one contained even deeper within. The entire outer form is actually one continuous weave from top to bottom—a single wire, looped and structured into this long, undulating object. It moves gently, casting lacy shadows.
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