Olivia Robinson is a multimedia artist whose work spans performance, installation, research, and community engagement. Robinson’s diverse body of work, which ranges in scale from hand-built textile circuits to architectural-scale inflatable structures, investigates issues of justice, identity, community, and transformation.
Olivia received her BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), where she majored in Fiber Art with a focus on inflatable sculpture, experimental costuming, and performance. She co-founded the performance troupe Little Big Bang which performed at the American Visionary Art Museum, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Mermaid Parade, and the WPA/Corcoran Museum. She also worked in the MICA’s Community Arts Partnerships office during its first four years. Robinson holds an MFA in Electronic Art from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where she integrated electronics into sculptural objects and materials. From 2011 to 2017, Olivia was a founding member of Luminous Intervention, an arts and activism collective based in Baltimore.
Olivia has received awards and honors from the Rubys Award, National Endowment for the Arts, Maryland State Arts Council, New York State Council on the Arts, Franklin Furnace Fund, Harpo Foundation, New York Foundation for the Arts, Sculpture Space, and Center for Land Use Interpretation. Her work has been recognized in books, journals, and CD/DVD releases, and has been presented at internationally recognized venues.
Olivia is an Associate Teaching Professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA, where she founded a new Robotics minor, Soft Technologies. Within the minor, students explore the unique qualities of soft materials and matter: responsiveness, adaptivity, sensitivity, morphing, biomimicry, and forms of intelligence.
Men in the 19th century British armies wore richly dyed woolen coats off to war across the world. The coats, made to fit precisely and mold their soft bodies into fighting forms, were stitched from patterns with frugal seam allowances smaller than a grain of rice. The soldier-tailors created perfect regimental garments that seemed held together with discipline and magic. Only their trained fingers could bind the wool’s felt edges with no thread apparent by coaxing the fabric’s nap to bury the stitches.
The finely-dressed, terrified men of the battalions were sent abroad to loot and massacre for land and, almost ironically, textile riches. Between sharp moments of horror and killing, sprawled boundless idle time. The resourceful tailors saved every scrap of combat wool, off and also on the field. They fended off boredom’s mean disintegration, and war’s remembered atrocities, by carefully constructing geometric fields of order in the form of inlaid quilts.
I am practicing the stitches of a wartime intarsia quilt. I dyed my quilt’s wool with plant matter, as was done a hundred and fifty years ago: madder, quebracho moreno, logwood, weld, and indigo. I tacked my felt piecework to my bedroom wall as I worked and wondered about why I might be making it. I am practicing taming the habitual hurling winds that create elaborate confusion within my mind. Stitches and prayers for transformation and liberation for us all: May we transform our harms into kindness, our unrest into ease, and our grasping into letting things be.