Erin M. Riley is an artist who’s truly committed to portraying women’s sexuality and issues. Born in 1985 in Brooklyn, where she still resides, Erin specializes on tapestry, the art of weaving. But she doesn’t weave classical, dull motives – she weaves sexts, porn-screenshots, sexual themes. Her artworks are intimate, exciting, extraordinary and trivial (in a good way) all at the same time. We talked to Erin about her work, trichotillomania, porn and feminism.
Lola Who: You learned painting and tapestry at school. Why did you choose tapestry for your artwork?
Erin: I was interested in painting and image making from a young age. I thought I would major in painting in college but found textiles which hit a nerve with me. I was always interested in sewing and fashion, and weaving was something I had no knowledge of. I was inspired to learn and explore a brand new medium, be humbled by it.
Lola Who: What do you find so fascinating about it?
Erin: Weaving kicks your ass. It’s hard. I was proud to work hard and be challenged every day at school. It was interesting and inspiring. There were no boundaries.
Lola Who: You were talking about your trichotillomania (a hair pulling disorder) openly in public. Did it cost you quite an effort to do that, and does weaving somehow help you deal with it?
Erin: Yes of course. It’s another intimate thing that I talk about openly. It’s vulnerable and causes a lot of fear, but I think it’s best to face the things we hold the most private out of shame. Women shouldn’t be burdened by societies standards.
Lola Who: In your series “Year of Porn” you explore different areas of sexual content, and how we access and consume porn nowadays. How do you reconcile porn and the ideas of feminism?
Erin: Sex work is something that has always been stigmatized from the old ages and yet is one of the things that has stood the test of time. I think porn can fit within feminist ideals if we are dismantling the structures that are in place so that women can be empowered, supported, safe and stable in their quest to fuck, or strip, or provide any sort of necessary relief via sex. Selling your body is not inherently anti-feminist, being FORCED to sell your body is. When women are allowed to make these decisions happily, and for themselves (and not questioned or psychoanalyzed) the world is a better place.
Lola Who: You also use some of your personal sexts. So this must be pretty personal for you, right? Why did you choose your own sexts for your work?
Erin: Because it’s personal! My work is not a social commentary on “they” it is a personal exploration of my life and desires.
Lola Who: I’m curious, do you think that the increase of user-generated porn is somehow liberating for women?
Erin: Sure. I also think that porn is liberating for women. Masturbating is great and more women need to be encouraged to explore that sensation.
Lola Who: In a world full of Snapchat nudes and dick pics, why do you think it’s important to put some of these pictures on long lasting tapestry?
Erin: Because there was once a time when the body was IRL 24/7. When showing a partner your breasts or your stomach, your body was part of a sexual exploration that was not documented. Nowadays our bodies have lost this power they once had, they have become symbols of sexuality that is a costume. I am interested in slowing down the viewer to see these images out of context.
Lola Who: Some people are shocked by a tapestry showing the plucking of nipple hairs. Is your purpose to shake people up? To make them realize that it’s really not a big deal?
Erin: I want to show the female body in all of its forms. We are forced to be pretty or edited, or posed and I want to show the images that are a real and a true side of me. Maybe more true than how I portray myself online to the public. It is important to bare your soul so that people don’t feel alone in their inner turmoils.
Lola Who: What is your message? What would you like people to know?
Erin: I think it’s important to be in touch with your own sexuality, to explore every kink and urge, but more importantly to be supportive and judgment free of others! I want to talk about the things we all do to jerk off or get off so that one day, sexual desires are one less thing that are burdening women in society.
Lola Who: What are your plans for the future? You said you have a folder full of dick pics which you collected over the years—maybe a topic for your next works?
Erin: I have been making recent dick pics that have been bleached out. These are interesting, and I was actually surprised at how positive the reaction was to them. I’m working on a series of works abstractly about domestic violence or sexual violence. I’m interested in decontextualizing this work so that it might be more impacting to the unsympathetic person.