Abigail Wheeler is a textile artist and the co-creator of Opt Studios—a Berlin-based design studio in which Abigail and her husband create unique art objects that are tangible, yet resist classification. Moved by the creative freedom that solitude has afforded them, the duo has begun curating art shows for their neighborhood to observe through their windows.
09 APR 2020 Hi! My name is Abigail Wheeler and I make carpets by hand. I’m originally from the US but moved to Berlin about 6 years ago to study. I did my bachelors in textile design at the Berlin Weissensee School of Art and completed my masters in product design at the Universität der Künste. My husband, Leo, and I have a mutual design practice called Opt Studios through which we create visual dialogues between each other and our work. He has a background in abstract painting, as well as custom plaster and sculpting work. Right now we make unique art objects from polymer plaster and bespoke carpets. Through these objects, we question the boundaries between art and design. We embrace the undefined and therefore seek the creation of questions rather than answers.
To play with these questions, I started making carpets a little over a year ago with a technique called tufting. Tufting a carpet is a fairly physical process which involves this wild machine that “shoots” yarn through a stretched backing cloth. I focus on exploring what a carpet is as an object; does it belong to the category of fine art, craft or design? Are carpets items of use or something to behold? Each piece I make is unique and aims to blur the lines between maker and tool, design and process, environment and object.
The main concept of my masters work was exploring the subjective definitions of fine art, craft and design and where these categories came from. Within investigating the biological origins of art, it is so apparent that craft—that making things—is one of the oldest things we do. After we made tools, we made craft and then we made art. This is something very old, very foundational and makes us the species that we are!
In a time when we are being ordered to only do essential things, it is clear that one of the basic things that people are prioritizing is making. People are baking their own bread, sewing masks, refining old or learning new skills with their hands! As people contract as a result of the virus, we have a valuable opportunity to get back to essential human nature and what enriches our species.
Sure, the pandemic has totally affected what I do. My husband and I make art and design pieces and then sell them to support ourselves. So in a normal setting, we would to some extent, be in dialogue with the market. Now that the market has been so affected, we are left with this motivating freedom to just be creative and hone what we are most interested in. We are thankful to have this great studio space right now, so we are curating art shows for the neighborhood to observe through the windows. Our currently evolving show is called Objects of Value and includes paintings Leo did when we first came to Berlin, marbled plaster pieces and bespoke carpets, repurposed studio objects, a roll of toilet paper, a biology book and some marble vases. How do objects’ values change during times of crisis? What becomes most valuable (and useful, or sentimental) during this time? If you’re on your way to do some essential shopping and want to ponder these questions, come by and check out our show through the windows of Greifswalder Straße 35!
We are left with this motivating freedom to just be creative.”
As many others, we are working on finding a good rhythm. The beautiful spring in Berlin paints a very surreal backdrop to all the existential angst during this time! I’m thankful to be able to spend time with my best friend and have creative, productive discussions. There are so many things to do that can be positive for us all at home. There is no reason for boredom during this time. Make things! Have you ever wanted to learn to make pizza? Dumplings? Meditate and refine what it means to be appropriately compassionate towards yourself and others. The neuroscientist, Sam Harris, is making his Waking Up app free right now—sign up for it and do it! Take yourself to film school! Listen to podcasts by biologists! Make masks, make art, write jokes!
There’s so many ways that governments and our current economic infrastructures have totally failed us during this time. This can be a great moment for DIY initiatives and bootstrapping our own safety, sovereignty and new methods for sense making. COVID will make us contract and change, period. So it’s time to stop being bored and angsty, and look at who we are and what is important to us. We are creative as a species, so it’s time to apply that inherent sensibility to this situation and better ourselves!
I recently came across the work of Daniel Schmachtenberger, who talks about future sustainability measures and an alternative social operating system termed “Game B”. It was odd timing to come to this information just as a global pandemic was beginning but it is timely information to look into!
As much as I ever was, I am really keen on listening to biologists like Drs. Heather Heying and Bret Weinstein, who are putting out excellent podcasts and Q&As about COVID currently.
I’m also inspired by all the grannies, homemakers and DIYers who are bootstrapping the production of masks to protect the medical community and essential retail employees instead of relying on horrendous, unconscionable decisions made by big businesses and government. The people who can turn their Corona virus-related existential angst into productive creativity and compassion are tremendously inspiring!