Aranda\Lasch and Terrol Dew Johnson, Knot #3, 2016 Aluminum, creosote, yucca, and cedar bark, 68 x 66 x 40 in. Courtesy of the artists Photo Credit: Aranda\Lasch
Aranda\Lasch and Terrol Dew Johnson, Knot #3, 2016
Aluminum, creosote, yucca, and cedar bark, 50 x 42 x 20 in.

Courtesy of the artists
Photo Credit: Aranda\Lasch

Unraveling: Aranda\Lasch + Terrol Dew Johnson

12 June - 26 September 2021

Unraveling presents the collaborative works of New York and Tucson-based design firm Aranda\Lasch and Tohono O’odham artist, educator, and activist Terrol Dew Johnson. While these artists come from seemingly unrelated worlds, Ben Aranda and Chris Lasch from cutting-edge technological design and Johnson from Native American traditions of basket-weaving, they are unified through their shared purpose in honoring and preserving culture through explorations in form and material.
After encountering Johnson’s creations at a basket-weaving exhibition at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York, Aranda and Lasch observed similarities between the techniques they employ in producing computer-generated designs and the rhythmic motions and numerical ciphering of the weavers.
In the baskets of the Tohono O’odham tribe, ritualistic making is embodied by the coil. The act of coiling begins with a central point around which a material is wound, spiraling outward and upward in concentric circles to create a structural surface. Coiling generates form through pattern–an algorithm–building on a set of principles that can be manipulated to generate shape. Coiling is a structural strategy for producing functional objects, but it is also a ritual for connecting the weaver to his or her community, elders, and surrounding desert environment. Ritual material culture and everyday utilitarian culture are inseparable.
Through the making of everyday objects, people reiterate the foundational values of their society. The gathering, preparation, and manipulation of natural materials into a basket guides the weaver toward understanding the world around them and their place within it. As with the O’odham peoples, cosmology is expressed through the very language of basketry. Coiling coalesces the material, spiritual, aesthetic worlds.
This thousand-year-old weaving ritual became the artists’ shared language. Honoring the ancestral heritage of the Tohono O’odham Nation, the sculptures implement natural materials endemic to the Sonoran Desert, such as palm and yucca, contrasted by manufactured elements, including copper and wire. What emanates through these indigenous materials are ethereal abstract forms that unite nature and technology and tradition and transformation.
Aranda\Lasch + Terrol Dew Johnson, Grass Coil 04, 2016, Bear grass, sinew, steel wire, 22 x 26 x 24 in., Courtesy of the artists
Grass Coil 04
2016
Bear grass, sinew, steel wire
65 x 26 x 24 in.

Courtesy of the artists

Aranda\Lasch + Terrol Dew Johnson, Copper Coil 03, 2016, Copper, 23 x 31 x 18 in., Courtesy of the artists
Copper Coil 03
2016
Copper
16 ½ x 23 x 12 in.

Courtesy of the artists

Aranda\Lasch + Terrol Dew Johnson, Inlaid Gourd Basket, 2007, Gourd, bear grass, sinew, 15 x 15 x 18 in., Courtesy of the artists
Inlaid Gourd Basket
2007
Gourd, bear grass, sinew
12 ½ x 16 x 14 in.

Courtesy of the artists

Aranda\Lasch + Terrol Dew Johnson, Grass Coil 01, 2016, Bear grass, sinew, steel wire, 13 x 16 x 16 in., Courtesy of the artists
Grass Coil 01
2016
Bear grass, sinew, steel wire
16 ½ x 20 x 17 in.

Courtesy of the artists

Aranda\Lasch + Terrol Dew Johnson, Horse Hair and Wood 02, 2018, Horse hair, wood, bear grass, sinew, 12 x 12 x 14 in., Courtesy of the artists
Horse Hair and Wood 01
2018
Horse hair, wood, bear grass, sinew
12 x 12 x 12 in.

Courtesy of the artists

Aranda\Lasch + Terrol Dew Johnson, Wood Basket 02, 2016, Wood, yucca, sinew, 18 1/2 x 16 x 16 1/2 in., Courtesy of the artists
Wood Basket 02
2016
Wood, yucca, sinew
18 ½ x 16 x 16 ½ in.

Courtesy of the artists

Aranda\Lasch + Terrol Dew Johnson, Horse Hair Coil 01, 2016, Horsehair, sinew, copper, 16 x 16 x 12 in., Courtesy of the artists
Horse Hair Coil 01
2016
Horsehair, sinew, copper
13 ½ x 16 x 16 in.

Courtesy of the artists

Aranda\Lasch + Terrol Dew Johnson, Form Over Function, 2014, Wood, bear grass, sinew, 18 x 6 x 15 in., Courtesy of Terrol Dew Johnson
Form Over Function
2014
Wood, bear grass, sinew
20 x 18 x 9 in.

Courtesy of Terrol Dew Johnson

Aranda\Lasch + Terrol Dew Johnson, Wire Coil 03, 2016, Steel wire & nylon, 24 x 26 x 24 in.,Courtesy of the artists
Wire Coil 03 2016
Steel wire & nylon
24 x 26 x 24 in.

Courtesy of the artists

Magellanic Clouds
2020
Steel wire, yucca, palm
14 x 10 x 10 ft.

Courtesy of the artists

Aranda\Lasch + Terrol Dew Johnson, Grass Coil 02, 2016, Bear grass, sinew, steel wire, 24 x 24 x 21 in., Courtesy of the artists
Grass Coil 02
2016
Bear grass, sinew, steel wire
20 ¾ x 23 ½ x 23 ½ in.

Courtesy of the artists

Aranda\Lasch + Terrol Dew Johnson, Corrugated Vase, 2018, Wood, bear grass, sinew, 14 x 14 x 16 in., Courtesy of the artists
Corrugated Vase
2018
Wood, bear grass, sinew
14 ¾ x 12 ½ x 12 ½ in.

Courtesy of the artists

Aranda\Lasch + Terrol Dew Johnson, Wire Coil 01, 2016, Steel wire & nylon, 26 x 18 x 20 in.,Courtesy of the artists
Wire Coil 01
2016
Steel wire & nylon
18 x 28 ½ x 20 in.

Courtesy of the artists

Aranda\Lasch + Terrol Dew Johnson, Horse Hair and Wood 02, 2018, Horse hair, wood, bear grass, sinew, 16 x 16 x 16 in., Courtesy of the artists
Horse Hair and Wood 02
2018
Horse hair, wood, bear grass, sinew
13 ½ x 16 x 16 in.

Courtesy of the artists

Aranda\Lasch + Terrol Dew Johnson, Knot #3, 2016, Aluminum, creosote, yucca, cedar bark, 3’4 x 5’6 x 5’8 in., Courtesy of the artists
Aranda\Lasch + Terrol Dew JohnsonKnot #3
2016
Aluminum, creosote, yucca, cedar bark
50 x 42 x 20 in.

Courtesy of the artists

Aranda\Lasch + Terrol Dew Johnson, Wire Coil 06 w/ Yucca, 2018, Steel wire, nylon, yucca, 38 x 22 x 22 in., Courtesy of the artists
Wire Coil 06 w/ Yucca
2018
Steel wire, nylon, yucca
21 ½ x 35 x 21 in.

Courtesy of the artists

Aranda\Lasch + Terrol Dew Johnson, Wire Coil 05 w/ Yucca, 2016, Steel wire, nylon, yucca, paper, 24 x 26 x 24 in., Courtesy of the artists
Wire Coil 05 w/ Yucca
2016
Steel wire, nylon, yucca, paper
72 x 24 x 20 in.

Courtesy of the artists

Aranda\Lasch + Terrol Dew Johnson, Horse Hair Coil 02, 2016, Horse hair, sinew, copper, 13 x 20 x 48 in., Courtesy of the artists
Horse Hair Coil 02
2016
Horse hair, sinew, copper
13 x 20 x 48 in.

Courtesy of the artists

Baskets
c. 1880s-1940s
Raffia, spruce root, Devil’s Claw, and other natural fibers
Dimensions variable
Collection of Mary Ann and John Meyer

The baskets presented here span various designs, materials, and techniques, yet are all rooted in the traditions of basket weaving that bridge various cultures.

The assortment of design approaches evident in the baskets speaks to the distinctive traditions of indigenous cultures, but also the freedom each artist possessed to create a unique piece.

Grounded in Tohono O’odham weaving tradition, many elements in Aranda\Lasch and Terrol Dew Johnson’s collaborative works will be recognizable in the baskets, such as the coil technique and organic materials from the Sonoran Desert region. Yet much like the centuries of indigenous basket weavers that preceded them, Aranda\Lasch and Terrol Dew Johnson express their individual creativity by morphing cultural customs with contemporary design language.

Johnson notes the significance of the exhibition title, Unraveling, and its relationship to the rite of artistic freedom:

Unraveling is my take on the whole show because it’s not traditional, but the idea of it being a basket and my interpretation of the basket is what the show is about. The baskets are unraveling and becoming a totally different thing. For instance, with [these] baskets, what if we unraveled them and there was a copper rod in there, but if you don’t see it, you don’t know.

Basket
14 ½ x 12 in.
Collection of Mary Ann and John Meyer

This basket features black fibers called Devil’s Claw. Although this basket was not created by a Tohono O’odham artist, Devil’s Claw, a root (proboscidea parviflora), is special to the Tohono O’odham Nation and grows throughout the Sonoran Desert where they live.

According to their origin story, I’itoi, the Great Spirit, gave each tribe a basket on the third day. I’itoi gave each tribe ‘ihuk, or Devil’s Claw, and showed them how to weave the material to create unique basket designs, which became the tribes’ signature designs.

The Devil’s Claw was used by the artist to add decorative elements to the basket – one of which being the spinning wheel. The spinning wheel, also referred to as the swastika (deriving from the Sanksrit svastika that means “conducive to well-being”), dates back to the Neolithic period. The symbol can represent different ideas based on its cultural context. Despite its grotesque appropriation by the Nazis, the symbol has characterized unity and togetherness for many cultures over the span of millennia. For the Tohono O’odham Nation, the spinning wheel symbolizes friendship, represented by the four arms of the design that come together in the center.

Johnson noted:
I love these [types of] baskets…because of the amount of work
that went into them. Again, it would have been used to hold grains
or food or things like that…The work that goes into these baskets
is very time-consuming and labor-intensive. It’s amazing how these
baskets withstand the test of time and are still with us. I always feel
and was taught that when we weave baskets, a part of our spirits
go into the baskets.

Baskets, c. 1880s-1940s, Raffia, spruce root, devil’s claw, and other natural fibers, Dimensions variable, Collection of Mary Ann and John Meyer
Baskets, c. 1880s-1940s, Raffia, spruce root, devil’s claw, and other natural fibers, Dimensions variable, Collection of Mary Ann and John Meyer

Basket
2 x 7 ½ in.
Collection of Mary Ann and John Meyer

This basket was woven with raffia, a fiber produced from palm frond leaves. The artist has dyed pieces of raffia black to create the concentric ring design and red and orange to form a diamond-shaped pattern. In Tohono O’odham tradition, this shape (one bottom stitch, one long stitch, and one top stitch) represents a coyote’s paw.
According to Johnson:
I think this was made for some sort of use. Again, just because, baskets were made to be used and then discarded when they were done or falling apart. Sometimes a basket weaver would actually go and repair some of the stitching or put together things. Because of the use, things fall apart…you see the rim there, it would have been stacked on something else and moved around. The edge tends to go first. This basket would have been used for carrying or holding things. All the baskets were done like that – they were made for a purpose.

Basket
8 x 20 in.
Collection of Mary Ann and John Meyer

While baskets used within indigenous cultures are designed
for functional use, basket weavers also design more decorative
objects for Anglo tourism. This practice began at the end of
the 18th century when the prevalence of European immigrants
and traders in North America increased. European influence
is reflected in non-native basket forms, materials, and designs.
Native American basket weaving practice traditionally prioritized
abstract and geometric decoration. With European influence,
new pictorial symbols were adopted by basket weavers to cater
to the emerging market of new buyers.

The use of human depictions, seen here, was a stylistic development that flourished within the Anglo tourism market (c. 1900).

Baskets, c. 1880s-1940s, Raffia, spruce root, devil’s claw, and other natural fibers, Dimensions variable, Collection of Mary Ann and John Meyer
Baskets, c. 1880s-1940s, Raffia, spruce root, devil’s claw, and other natural fibers, Dimensions variable, Collection of Mary Ann and John Meyer

Basket
5 x 12 in.
Collection of Mary Ann and John Meyer

Here, the image of a water bird, perhaps a duck, provides another example of pictorial symbols developed and used for Anglo tourist trade. The weaving technique is another element that was altered by native artists to serve a more decorative function for a commercial product. It is visible that the more refined part of the woven design is on the interior of the basket. This is contrary to tradition, where the basket was woven from the outside in, leaving the less refined elements on the interior of the basket, but because baskets are customarily used for utilitarian use, it is more sensible to have the refined weave exposed on the outside. This basket was woven from the inside out, so it can be surmised this basket was created for aesthetics, rather than function.

Basket
6 x 7 ½ in.
Collection of Mary Ann and John Meyer

This basket would have been used to cook acorn mush, a staple food for native nations in California. It was woven with roots from a spruce tree. The basket would have first been soaked, causing the roots that form the basket to expand, preventing any acorn mush from seeping out of the basket. Lava rocks would have then been added and stirred consistently to heat the acorn mush.

Johnson reflected:
I’ve always loved these types of baskets, seeing how the women
would work and just twine and twist and re-stitch. It’s just amazing.
I would go to basket gatherings in California and the weavers
would either be working on hats or these things. A lot of the weavers
were older, and they were concerned that the young people
weren’t really interested in doing this stuff. I don’t know what it
is right now. I do hope that young people do carry and pick this
up, but these baskets are just amazing. The work that the women
put into it, the pride they do it with… the patterns, also, would
represent families. The women would continue to weave a
particular pattern that represented their family or clan.
That would always amaze me. The patterns in these baskets
probably represented someone’s family or clan.

Baskets, c. 1880s-1940s, Raffia, spruce root, devil’s claw, and other natural fibers, Dimensions variable, Collection of Mary Ann and John Meyer
Basket, c. 1880s-1940s, Raffia, 2 1/4 x 10 3/4 in. Private Collection
Basket c. 1880s-1940s
Raffia
2 1/4 x 10 3/4 in.

Private Collection