Face to Face: Concerning Avatars in the Works of Jon Eric Riis


Jon Eric Riis, Ancestor’s Tapestry, 42 in x 75 in, 2013, silk, metallic thread, gold and seed beads

see enlarged images of selected faces:                                       https://selfiesonslow.wordpress.com/face-to-face-concerning-the-avatars-of-jon-eric-riis/ancestors-up-close


c o n n e c t i n g   p o i n t s   by   D o r o t h y   C l e w s . . . 

Writing for these pages, I wonder what I am doing here. I do not do selfies. It is a somewhat strange and alien world I find myself in. A virtual world that impacts on the real world.    —dc

W a n d e r i n g  around the internet I came across the concept of cameos. Not those exquisite finely carved pieces of jewellery consisting of a portrait in profile carved in bas-relief on a background of a different colour, but a system that virtual games use allowing players to include their own images as avatars in other games. Inserting a virtual construct of a real person into differing game-worlds. A system that keeps track of that persona no matter where it is, virtual links to other avatars that interact according to their remote controlling brain.

〈 〈 Avatar—

a virtual body guided by the mind of a remotely located human; a perfection guided by decisions made by computer-generated algorithms. The avatar can be set in any virtual space with no previous links to that landscape other than a Cameo equivalent of GPS. Avatar— a mask a person wears, hovering between the real world and that of no man’s land; the land of virtual reality.

Selfies, profiles, avatars, they are all carefully constructed with many steps between the real and the artificial, subtly linking the two ways of being.

D i f f e r i n g   images woven by one person can tend to be unified by the style/hand whilst weaving a tapestry. The source of the imagery may come from many places, like the original humans (the source) who ‘own’ the avatars. The software/system/weave brings imagery into some kind of conformity determined by the technology used, whether virtual or actual.

A  w e a v e r  as a maker of algorithms within the binary system of warp and weft, under and over constructing his or herself in a shifting scheme of backgrounds. Re-creating old connections and making new ones. Adding to the weave a virtual track of interconnecting trails and traces in the virtual plane of being with subtle links and unforeseen consequences to the world of reality. Creating new images, understandings, or miss-readings. Is there too much information or not enough? Do we need to know everything? Or should there be some ambiguity, room for a different perception. A space between the warps and weft for other readings.

J o n  E r i c  R i i s’  A n c e s t o r’ s   T a p e s t r y   depicts faces that look as if the originals come from the pages of a series old encyclopaedias, with the images printed in a now forgotten technique made up of fine lines of varying density. The woven faces are set within oval frames that look three-dimensional and appear to be attached to the background rather than part of it. Images cut and pasted. Echoing the older form of jewellery where the figure is cut in bas relief and the upper layer of stone is carved/cut back to reveal a background of a different colour.


Jon Eric Riis, Ancestor’s Tapestry, detail

The original source of the faces look as if they might have been photo-made in the era of early photography, when exposures were long and gave the subject a somewhat self-conscious, self-aware look, something that selfies share. The setting/background for these studio photos was carefully contrived to enable the viewer to ‘read’ the image. The background is important. In Riis’ tapestry the background is in a different weaving style from the portraits—a chaotic tangle of lines and occasional arrows, being a diagrammatic view of connections, a net, a map of digital pathways, and beautiful feathers, a persistent motif in many of Riis’ tapestries. There is an aura of ‘survival of the fittest’ in these faces like Anthropology studies, island-like entities surrounded by a sea of connections. Does the self(ie) that is the Darwinian fittest remain in the forefront of people’s FaceBook pages, erasing past selves?


Concerning my work, especially the Ancestor’s Tapestry.  The background represents many intersecting branches of the family tree uniting the various portraits of different races and genders. The small applied elements are not feathers but leaves.  —JER 

jr2 (1)

Jon Eric Riis, First Ancestor Pearl and Tapestry Coat, 35 in. x 66 in. x 4 in., 2015 *

                                                                        Tapestry portraits representing various ages and age groups. I wanted each image to reflect a treasured family photograph within a gold frame—all united within the framework of the outer coat. The interior of the coat represents our first ancestor.    —JER

I did wonder about the two ways of seeing these tapestries either on a computer screen as I have seen them, or face to face, in the thread. A discussion with Margaret Sunday about the visual effect of the tapestries revealed another layer. The metallic threads woven through the faces give the effect of a hologram.

“i recall actually having difficulty ‘seeing’ the material objects/ cameos. I was checking my glasses and looking from various angles. They reminded me of those old fashioned postcards, which are made by layering printed plastic films, and when you tilt them in the light the image changes slightly.  i think they’re called holograms?? As in hallucinate? And halo? Like the 3-D laser projections. In photographs, the cameos look like chiaroscuro lithographic drawings, soft and modeled, but in the light of the gallery, they have a reflective quality (silver threads?) that causes them to appear to have physical depth, like an image made with light in a screen or a hologram. Hence the likeness to an old b/w tv screen image.”

S e l f i e s,  a v a t a r s  reveal themselves on the screen. A very different perception is received when meeting a person face to face with the digital layers and filters removed.        — february 2016     https://dorothyclewstapestryartist.wordpress.com/



Jon Eric Riis, First Ancestor Pearl and Tapestry Coat, detail

* cotton warp; tapestry in black and white metallic thread; couched gold glass beads and black freshwater pearls on a leather substructure; each tapestry portrait is padded with polyfill.

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