Weaving it all on the Dancefloor: A Discussion with dani lopez

dani lopez portrait. Courtesy of the artist.

Interview by Harper Wellman

There is something eternal and necessary about textiles — Clothing, canvas, tapestries, and tools are just a few of the almost universal applications of textile work. For dani lopez, textiles are at the center of an artist practice that transforms an ancient and ubiquitous undertaking into a modern and personal endeavour. Her work entwines weaving, text, and modern iconography with queerness, camp, pop culture, and personal experience, generating a body of work that is both sincere and relatable.

After studying at the University of Oregon for her BFA, and later at the California College of the Arts for her MFA, lopez has continuously shown at a variety of spaces, including Tropical Contemporary, Amos Eno Gallery, and the Frank Ratchye Project Space among others. As her work continues to evolve, the personal experience expressed in lopez’s early work has amalgamated into an expression of queer collectiveness, creating a cohesive body of work in which ongoing themes are given space to exist and evolve in time and various incarnations.

dani lopez,(for the ACT-UP dykes who cared for their gay brothers while they were dying of AIDS), film still from BPM (Beats per Minute) Hand-embroidered sequins, imitation silk, thread, and interfacing 36 in. x 18 in. 2019.

Can you tell us a little bit about what attracted you to textiles? You describe your work as a sight of both regret and redemption. Can you elaborate on that for us?

When I discovered textiles, it was the start of some soul searching. I was working with a fibers professor who is an out, Black man. I have often said that meeting and learning from him was a lot like a gay friend taking you out and showing you the ropes. I didn’t come out until my early 30s. Textiles gave me the space and time to process my life and why being straight felt so damn hard. Weaving was the meditative space that slowly unravelled the fact that I couldn’t stay in the closet anymore. I knew I was queer for over a decade, but thought, well if I like men too, why make it harder on myself? (This is something many bisexual women are familiar with). I can’t separate my coming out from discovering textiles. They are inextricably connected. My coming out late in life has so much regret tied to it. For a long time, there was also shame connected with that regret—Now I see that regret as an opportunity. I can attempt to redeem myself or atone for all the times I chose a man over a woman/non-binary person. Now, I’m giving myself back that lost time, the lost opportunities, the lost hook-ups, and those lost loves with the work I make and how I make it.

dani lopez, i want to be her/i want her. synthetic hair, muslin, fabric paint, cardboard 60 in. x 24 in. 2017.

dani lopez, your sinner in secret. handwoven fabric, cotton yarn dyed with commercial dye, crochet thread, dowel, finials, curtain tie backs 67”x108” 2016.

When looking at your work, there is seemingly a shift over time. Your early work, such as pieces like i want to be her/i want her, 2017, and your sinner in secret, (2016) are much softer and femme, evoking ideas of magic girls and comfortability. Your more recent works, DYKES ON THE DANCEFLOOR, 2019, are tonally darker and almost mysterious. There is also a shift, seemingly from the personal experience to the experiences of a community. How did this progression happen?

While the focus now is on the larger project, DYKES ON THE DANCEFLOOR, I shift back and forth from community-minded work to personal work. The shift is a big one and it came from the desire to see myself in culture and to also illustrate how and where other queer women could find their stories in the world. Coming out later in life is often compared to a “second adolescence” and that has been true for me. I was searching, desperately, to find stories that looked like mine or just to see stories of queer women in general (beyond The L Word). So, once I found those images, I decided to commemorate them, to celebrate them, and to adorn them. The progression always starts as a small question or idea that begins to grow and evolve, and if it becomes big enough, I start to pursue it. Often, access to resources and limitations of space have a bigger impact on the work than I’d like. With DYKES ON THE DANCEFLOOR, I had just finished grad school and lost access to the loom I worked on. I moved into a small studio and I wondered to myself, well, okay, what do I make now? What’s that saying? Necessity is the mother of invention? In my case, it was true.

dani lopez (for the trans dykes who never felt safe enough to come out), still from tv show Euphoria. Hand-embroidered sequins, imitation silk, thread, and interfacing 36 in. x 18 in. 2019.

Pop culture plays a big role in your practice. Euphoria, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Robyn are just a few references you have made throughout your career. Why was it important for you to consciously include and highlight queer, and queer-claimed, media and performers in your work?

I’m so glad you picked up these references because I often wonder if anyone is catching these signals I’m throwing out into the world. I would say personal and cultural research are at the crux of my practice. We find ourselves, as queers, looking out into the culture that at times doesn’t reflect much back. So, when I do find these signals being sent out to queer folks, I feel compelled to continue to push that signal forward. How far can these signals reach? Will someone feel connected to me or my work because they see a certain signal or clue? Artists love to leave little clues around in their work for certain audiences and having it picked up on is truly such a joy to me. It’s an acknowledgment, it’s a nod, it’s an “I see you,” which is what I’ve always wanted, being a straight-presenting queer woman. I’m not “visibly queer” (whatever that even means), so I am constantly trying to signal to others that yes, I am one of you.

We find ourselves, as queers, looking out into the culture that at times doesn’t reflect much back. So, when I do find these signals being sent out to queer folks, I feel compelled to continue to push that signal forward.

The dancefloor is another recurring theme, and I know personally, the dancefloor and clubs are often safe spaces for queer communities. How have you dealt with the loss of physical queer spaces throughout the pandemic, both personally and within your practice? Now that those spaces are opening again, what are you most looking forward to having back in your life?

Personally, it’s been a huge blow to the sense of community. [I miss] the sense of abandon, joy, and research that happens for me at a dance club. Within my practice, it means that I have to do other sorts of research and looking. Whether that’s through mainstream media, music, literature, or critical theory, I’ve continued to look and attempt to find others to talk about this. I’m still not ready to be in a club space, enclosed spaces still make me really nervous, and I highly doubt I’ll be going to a club until next year. For me, that just means more reading, more research, [and] more conversations. I miss the dance floor so much, but safety is important to me. But when I am ready, I’m just hoping to see joy, excitement, and lots of queer desire.

Finally, what can we expect to see from you in the future, and where can our readers find you online?

You can expect more work! The DYKES ON THE DANCEFLOOR series will get more sculptural and strange. I just got a grant to help with the exploration of that project. By the end of the year, I should have my own loom (!), so you’ll be seeing new weavings too.  Next year I am in the Bay Area iteration of Queer Threads curated by John Chaich, which I am so excited to be a part of. I will also be talking queer textiles with another artist, Liz Harvey, on Textiles Arts LA this September.

You can find more of dani’s work on Instagram at  @dani___lopez___, or at www.danilopez.us.

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