Weston Voices: Meet Catheline van den Branden, Visual Artist
Weston resident Catheline van den Branden has opened her first solo exhibition “Weaving I Restoring I Healing” in Athens, Greece. The exhibition is part of the Athens City Festival and the program “Culture is Athens” and will be on display from May 28-July 7, 2023 at the Museum of Folk Art and Tradition “Angeliki Hatzimichali.”
“In my artistic activity, this path we walk, the sensible line we carve, comes to me as an image of a flexible thread, like the threads of Greek mythology I grew up with,” said Catheline.
According to recent reviews, Catheline’s displayed work “demonstrates the power of weaving, both structurally and artistically, as well as psychoanalytic and symbolically, with all the possible readings and interpretations, that escape the field of visual arts and tradition.” [Culture is Athens page].
As a part of the exhibition, Catheline also made an external intervention on the pedestrian street in front of the Museum. Restoration of the paving with gold-colored resins reminds viewers of spider webs. The welding of parts by precious materials takes on another meaning and “becomes a tribute to trauma, treatment, and continuity.”
The Owl has been friends with Catheline since moving to Weston nine years ago. We’ve even taken a class at the Art & Innovation Center together — acrylic painting (needless to say my works of “art” were scribbles next to hers). She’s an alum of the best college on the planet, and one of the most elegant, observant and artsy people the Owl knows. If you are friends with her on Facebook, you would know she can set a dinner party table like no other and that she has something like 7 Christmas trees all decorated with different themes. Who needs the Concord Tree Festival when you know Catheline? Also a fantastic backyard view there on the southside.
One of the things I most appreciate about Catheline is how she went back for a MFA just a few years ago–her “nontraditional age” did not stop her for one second, nor did the pandemic’s arrival in the middle of her studies. The Owl caught up with Catheline online yesterday as she was just traveling back to her second home in France after being in her third home in Athens for a few weeks. Meet Catheline:
Owl: How long have you lived in Weston?
Catheline: A little over 10 years, a feat for my nomadic tendencies.
Where are you from originally?
It’s the question every Third Culture Kid dreads because it’s never a simple answer for those of us who have been born in foreign lands and have grown up in foreign cultures, taking bits and pieces with us as we move on from one place to the next. I would say I am a Mediterranean Francophone-turned American. French is my native language, one I love and identify with before all else, and one which has shaped much of my personal literary, musical and artistic culture. That said, my Hellenic roots and very Mediterranean family culture are also at the core of much of my artistic explorations.
Have you been making art your entire life?
I have always tried! Encouraged by a very artistic and creative mother, I started expressing myself visually very early on, yes.
You worked in diplomacy for a while, yes?
I worked in cultural diplomacy mostly because of my own personal history and an intrinsic desire to connect with and facilitate connections among people from different backgrounds. This is still very present in my work both as an artist and a member of organizations that encourage cultural exchanges.
You went back for a MFA during the pandemic or before?
I started in 2019, but during the pandemic lockdown I took a long break, as the traditionally hands-on studio arts classes that had to be held via Zoom instead were a real struggle! I have painful memories of a WEAVING class where I found myself tangled up in thread, holding both my phone and my computer to try to get the cameras to show my work to the instructor as they tried to help me with a back-strap loom we were building. There may have been tears of frustration and muffled screams into a ball of yarn. I ended up finishing my degree in May 2022 with not a single physical fiber work to show, but plenty of illustrations of weaves unraveling!
It is a country that speaks to my family history and traditions and to my past as I have lived in Greece and absolutely loved it as a teen. More to the point of the choice of venue, this museum is the former home of an influential woman, the Greek folklorist and philanthropist Aggeliki Hatzimichali, who turned part of her house into a weaving school to help women of little means find a way to make a living. The work I am showing explores illusions of weavings and often takes inspiration from Greek mythology tales involving some memorable, talented and strong-willed women. I was truly thrilled to be invited to exhibit in this special space.
What is the magic of this kind of art for you?
The magic happens when my part is done and I surrender the work to the viewer, and where a new form of conversation or collaboration begins between them and the work, outside my own interventions and opinions. At that point, I am in a passive role and it has its rewards. For example, it’s been thrilling for me to observe people walking near the museum and stopping to look at the street installation, wondering, questioning, snapping photos. It’s especially wonderful when children are pulled by the glittering objects and bring their parents over to look more closely. With the indoor exhibition, I have gotten some very kind feedback from visitors, with some surprising interpretations – this is definitely part of the magic, when people view something you have made as their own, with their own experience and personal stories changing your creation.
If only Athens were in my travel plans! Hopefully, they are in yours. The exhibition is on display from May 28 – July 7, 2023. If you find yourself in Athens, please visit. City of Athens Museum of Folk Art and Tradition “Aggeliki Chatzimichali”. 6 Aggeliki Chatzimichali Street, Athens. (Note there are two different spellings for this museum as it is translated from the Greek). Opening hours: Monday closed, Tuesday-Friday 11:00-16:00, Saturday-Sunday 10:00-15:00. Free Admission.