Outsider Textiles: A Conversation with Shanell Papp

This interview is a part ofย Issue #2: Breath. You can get your own physical copy of the zine through our store or Patreon.

In our last issue, Birth, we featured a single piece of Shanell Pappโ€™s distinctive artwork. We would have liked to show more, and initially planned for an in-depth look at her talent for textiles. Itโ€™s a medium she explores and warps in surprising ways, with an intense attention to detail. The physicality of her output makes her focus on anatomy and the macabre more direct. For this zine, we spoke to Shanell about some of her intentions and drives.

Below is a cropped sample page from our zine. You can see the complete spread for free atย our Patreon, or scroll down for the full interview with Shanell Papp.


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What initially attracted you to working with textiles?

I have a very long history with textiles and always made things. I started knitting, crocheting and sewing at 8-10 years old. I gave up textiles for a bit in university because photography seemed more interesting, and it was easier to explain. People understand how a career in photography can work,ย but trying to explain functionless anatomical textiles was a harder thing to explain.

People are generally pretty disinterested in textiles. Also, Canada doesnโ€™t have a very rich history of art and design, or celebrating creatives, and it is worse if you work in textiles. It is sad, but it is true. Textiles are a weirdoโ€™s medium. So, for a few years, I did street photography, portraits and video. I was pretty good at it, and I still use that skill often. It helps make the textile work translate to social media, websites and print media.

What does the medium offer that others donโ€™t?

It is very quick and easy for people to relate to the work personally. I think this is because people have a bodily relationship to textiles, and they relate it to their life before they relate it to the history of art. Like, a delicately knit anatomical heart is somehow more touching than one made of metal, cement, photography or drawing โ€” the traditional respected mediums. I think people want this type of sincerity, or sappiness, from art right now.


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How important is tangibility to textiles?

People do want to โ€œget physicalโ€ with the work. I mean, they look at it and relate closely to the work materially and empathetically… Some people just start nervously laughing, distancing themselves. Others fall in love. I think people want to touch the work because they feel like, maybe, they are in the mall for a second โ€” like the work is for them to try on.

It is weird to watch people with the work, because I actually have no idea what they are thinking. We are in very different places with the work. I think about it all the time, and they have just met. It is like having a lover and introducing them to someone at the grocery store; they will never know your lover as well as you do.

What makes textiles such a striking way to explore anatomy?

The labour, material and time are the interesting parts. I think making every organ and bone slowly is an interesting way to get to know your body, and mortality, better. Making the work with a fragile and time-consuming material is lovely.

But, honestly, I didnโ€™t think about it too much. I wanted to explore anatomy, and I wanted to make it in a medium I feel I am an expert at. I feel free to play with textiles โ€” it is my best voice. I think I just wanted to make a Frankenstein monster, and I wanted it to come to life.


What work in this area do you currently have in mind?

Right now, I am making pieces and props for photos and video. In the future, I might work with a model and build work for them… But, then again, probably not. I am pretty good working completely alone.

You can see more of Shanellโ€™s textiles, and art in general, by visiting http://shanellpapp.com.

This interview is a part of Issue #2: Breath. You can get your own physical copy of the zine through our store or Patreon.

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