Today, I visited the exhibition of a friend who I was meeting for the first time. Trang T. Lê is an artist and in the course of writing about her work for KCET Artbound, I studied her paintings closely and then talked to her over the phone. Through this process, I began to feel connected to her, and she to me. We became friends. Her work, a series of paintings called Threads, is an exploration of connection – our connection to others and to our selves. In her paintings, she tracks a single thread back and forth across the canvas, simultaneously unraveling and weaving together delicate strands of vibrant color. As the thread reaches the far edge, it turns and starts back to the other side, sometimes running parallel across the composition, but in places straying to the left or right, sometimes crossing over other threads. Her Threads series is highly meditative and has helped her paint her way through emotional pain, using a meticulous, repetitive approach to heal wounds caused by the unraveling of relationships in her own life.
The symbolism of threads is very profound. Our lives are indeed like threads woven or bound together in families and communities, and sometimes knotted tightly in marriages, jobs and other commitments and contracts. When the weave is strong and when knots are tight, we feel safe and strong. But when they unravel, we reel and totter and question the value of our single thread, forgetting that our thread strengthens others too. Rather than isolate, we can rebuild, reweave, re-tie, rebind. Trang’s exquisite paintings reminded me of this lesson. This morning I found some beautiful silk threads that I was given on my first trip to Japan when I stayed with a kimono-maker’s family in Kyoto – my first real exposure to Japanese art and culture. I unraveled the strands and knotted them firmly at the ends, added a glass bead that also contains a thread pattern and gave it to Trang in thanks for creating such beautiful painted reminders that we are all connected.