Cloth and Computer Screen: Meet Kate Nartker
By Cameron Walker
Shadowy images from home videos flicker across the screen: long-ago parades, a now-grown child on a seesaw, a family station wagon. But the medium isn’t film; it’s fabric. Kate Nartker, new assistant professor for the Department of Textile and Apparel, Technology and Management (TATM) in the Wilson College of Textiles at NC State, creates her art where cloth meets computer screen.
“The driving idea behind a lot of my work is exploring perception,” she said. “Haptic perception is something that I researched in graduate school, a way of looking where the eye operates as an organ of touch…I’ve explored this idea through digital printing, through weaving, through animation, different techniques and design applications and fine art.”
Through Jacquard weaving and digital printing, Nartker produces works — both still and animated — imbued with a sense of nostalgia.
“Jacquard weaving is different than weaving on other looms because each thread can be lifted individually, so you’re not confined to a repeat pattern,” she said. “This is how you can weave an image or pattern that looks almost photographic, because it’s almost like a pixelated image. You can get this insane level of detail…Basically I start with a video, I render out a series of sequential images that I then weave. I scan the weaving back into digital format, then animate those woven images. It’s basically like a stop-motion animation, but the frames are coming from woven imagery.”
Nartker’s work is currently showing in “If You Have Ghosts” at the Alabama Contemporary Art Center in Mobile, Alabama. She has shown internationally at galleries, art centers and museums up and down the West Coast, in Texas, South Carolina and Mexico — even Norway, alongside photorealist painter Chuck Close in a show curated by craft expert Glenn Adamson. She has secured several scholarships, including a work-study at the Penland School of Craft in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and the Split Rock Arts Program at the University of Minnesota. She was awarded the Lia Cook Residency at the California College of the Arts, the Creative Promise Award from the Surface Design Association and the American Association of University Women (AAUW) Career Development Grant, among other distinctions.
But art was not always in the cards. She was born in the small town of Napoleon, Ohio, and graduated in 2002 from the Ohio State University in Columbus. She liked the idea of majoring in art and took a lot of art classes, but she was not sufficiently interested in drawing, photography or ceramics to make any of them her career. She ultimately majored in Comparative Studies and moved to San Francisco, California after graduation.
As a teen, Nartker learned to sew from her grandmother, and later took sewing classes at fabric and craft stores. In San Francisco, she attended a small private school called Apparel Arts, where she earned a certificate in flat pattern drafting. But she was more interested in the textiles than what they could be made into, so she began taking classes at San Francisco State University, where she learned how to weave, dye and print textiles. After building a portfolio, she applied and was accepted to the MFA program at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. After graduation in 2012, she taught as a lecturer at San Francisco State University, and in 2019, she moved to North Carolina and joined our faculty here at the Wilson College of Textiles. She currently teaches a design skills workshop, where she introduces students to garment construction and familiarizes them with the specialized equipment in the apparel lab.
“Using these techniques and ideas that I’m really interested in and having the chance to wrestle with them with students is really such a privilege,” she said. “I love being one of the people to introduce them to the potential of what textiles can do. [They] may not have a lot of experience or…yet fully know the potential of the medium, and I think it’s really exciting to work with students and see them discover that.”
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