The Binary Beauty Of Weaving Through The Lens Of Tiffany Loy

Meet Tiffany Loy, an artist and designer who challenges the boundaries of textile weaving, and recently collaborated with The Macallan to create a silk and wool mural for The Macallan House

Everything is built up by lines. If you break down weaving into its base level, every surface is filled up by lines. When you weave, you’re not just making cloth, you’re building something from the ground up. 

An architect’s medium is volume and space. For someone who weaves, the elements and medium are lines and surfaces, which are empowering because technically anything pliable can be woven. It feels like you’re making your own material, so if what you want to create doesn’t exist, you have the control to just make it.

My training was actually in industrial design, and after practising for some time, I encountered textiles in a project when I was practising as a designer. I was obsessed almost from the start, because of the contradictory nature of weaving looms, which require a high level of precision, and yet the end result can never be precise, because of the fluid nature of threads. That sense of extremity was refreshing for me, and eventually I decided that if I were to pursue this, I had to learn how to weave. So I went to Kyoto to train, and after that I went to London to further my studies in art. Since coming back to Singapore, I would say that I identify myself more as an artist. Living in London has shown me that there are certain types of art that may be less visible and supported here. The art scene is much more mature in London, as compared to Singapore, which led me down this path.

My approach is rather logical, and not so much about the storytelling or narrative; it’s more about the logic and how the loom works, and about the tension in the fabric. What you see may look three-dimensional and multi-faceted, but the fabric itself is inherently flat. So it’s not three-dimensional in the way a sculpture is, but it’s collapsible and only three-dimensional because of the differences in the tension and the threads. This isn’t something I intentionally seek to create, but a byproduct of the creative process. 

Weaving is inherently based on an X and Y axis, which is two-dimensional, but through that process, a Z axis appears as a result. I find that incredibly fascinating, because it’s about materiality and not something that you can draw on a computer—it has a complete mind of its own. 

I’m a bit of a purist in the way that I tend to believe that if there’s some logic, then it will be beautiful. We are so used to seeing things that are naturally formed. When there’s some logic behind it, it should feel familiar and nice, whereas things that are artificially controlled look contrived. A good example of this is the curve that I’ve created for The Macallan House, Singapore. I didn’t want to make a fixed frame to upholster it, because I feel that there’s no point in using textile; you can carve it with wood instead. The piece right now is held up by a flexible material at the top and bottom with five points. The curve is a byproduct of how the textile balances from the attached points. This is what textiles is about—specifying a few points and the rest will eventually find its own way.

Photo: Courtesy of Macallan

Weaving isn’t just about the act of weaving threads. It’s a way of computing things. If you think about it, it’s basically a binary of zeroes and ones. So the loom is the precursor of the computer—it was punch cards first, then came the computer, which gives me immense pride as a weaver. It’s a kind of computational thinking, like how a computer programmer would think. So if one thinks of weaving in that way, you’re able to apply that sort of systems thinking to a lot of other things in life. Even if a project in the end doesn’t involve woven work, one could still apply weaving skills and that way of thinking. I may be biased because it’s my field of work, but at the end of the day the skill is transferral and universal. I think it’s because of how elemental weaving is, you’re just using lines to create a surface—it can be transplanted to so many other things.

I once saw an exhibition by a sculptor who uses magnets extensively in his works, and we all know how magnets function. There’s no surprise when we see magnets being suspended because they repel each other, but for some strange reason, when people were looking at it, there was a sense of awe. That made me think about the power of art—you can present something in a way that makes it completely new to everyone. I thought to myself that it’d be interesting if I could present textiles to people in a way that people have never seen before. I think that is incredibly powerful because you can refresh someone’s perspective on something that’s ought to be familiar and get reacquainted with it. When I create something, I hope that’s the impression it gives to others.