A FELTED METAVERSE: MICHAELA YOUNGE SLOWLY BUILDS VISUAL DELIRIUM WITH WOOL

CONTEMPORARY SOUTH AFRICAN ARTIST  |  ARTIST WRITE-UP  |  TEXTILE  |  FELT

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“MY WORK IS SOMEWHERE BETWEEN AN OBJECT AND A FLAT THING" - MICHAELA YOUNGE

Michaela Younge (b. 1993) lives and works in Cape Town. She is known for her felted artworks in merino wool depicting figurative narratives, whimsical and strange. She graduated from the Michaelis School of Fine Art in 2015 and has since featured in several exhibitions both locally and internationally. In 2020 Younge presented a solo exhibition at SMAC Gallery following ‘Nothing Bad’ at Smith Gallery in 2019 as well as a solo presentation titled ‘Its Low Tide and I’m Scraping the Rocks’ at 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London. Younge’s absurdist imagery carries a dark humour and subtle commentary on South Africa, somehow softened by the colourful and wispy fibres she works with.
Michaela Younge (b. 1993) lives and works in Cape Town. She is known for her felted artworks in merino wool depicting figurative narratives, whimsical and strange. She graduated from the Michaelis School of Fine Art in 2015 and has since featured in several exhibitions both locally and internationally. In 2020 Younge presented a solo exhibition at SMAC Gallery following ‘Nothing Bad’ at Smith Gallery in 2019 as well as a solo presentation titled ‘Its Low Tide and I’m Scraping the Rocks’ at 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London. Younge’s absurdist imagery carries a dark humour and subtle commentary on South Africa, somehow softened by the colourful and wispy fibres she works with.

BY OLIVIA BARRELL

Michaela Younge | ‘Apple juice, blanchisseuse, chicken mousse, mother goose, drug abuse, flag of truce’ | 2020 | merino wool

Michaela Younge lives in a world of her own – and from it, she closely observes what is happening around her.
Rubbish on the floor.
A tilted painting on the wall.
Rabbits on the lawn.
Brightly coloured labels in the supermarket.
Many of these assorted details, once observed by the artist, edge into her felt scenes. Younge describes her work as “somewhere between an object and a flat thing.” As an artist, Younge herself sits between definitions. “I don’t call myself a textile artist. I like the idea that you could stuff my work into a bag. I use felt as a way of putting something in rather than putting something on,” offers Younge. Her artworks have previously been described as ‘wool tableaux’ or ‘felt tapestries’ but the artist prefers to call each of her creations ‘scenes’ – the latter, defined as ‘the place where an incident in real life or fiction occurs’, aptly capturing the essence of Younge’s work. The artist uses pure merino wool to recreate her own contained universes, deliriously populated with detail that is both imagined and observed. 

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Michaela Younge | ‘Rex would often walk Mr Brown around the block’ | 2020 | merino wool

Younge grew up on the campus of the Michaelis School of Fine Art, where her father was a lecturer in the Sculpture Department – sculptor Gavin Younge. “I ended up studying in the Printmaking Department but funnily enough by my fourth year, I wasn’t actually making prints but sculptural works – I was already starting to use felt and textiles. This led me to wanting to make my own textile works,” offers Younge, who started to experiment with a variety of different wools after that, establishing her artistic relationship with felt. “In the beginning, I used caracal wool but it is much coarser, harder to dye and work with. I also found that the overall look and feel was a lot scruffier than I wanted – when I found pure merino wool, I loved its softness and malleability.” Younge meticulously overlaps panels of felt to build up her scenes, purposely pulled tighter or made puffier to add dynamism and depth to the compositions. The artist’s early felt reveries – the latter resonating as ‘a state of being pleasantly lost in one’s thoughts’ – developed from late 2016. Since then, experimentations with technique and wool have led to a greater sense of three-dimensionality and perspective within Younge’s artworks. The felted shading in the scenes has become masterfully diffused and the delineations of woolly colour more complex – the building blocks for each wild metaverse. 

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Michaela Younge | ‘Trying to stay in disguise is hard when playing strip poker’ | 2018 | merino wool

There is a strange harmony in Younge’s work between chaos and structure. The artist contains the madness of her scenes within structured backgrounds – the architectural lines of bridges, doorways, stone pillars, and tiled flooring harbouring the frenzied unfolding of detail. Perhaps, it is this very notion of duality that captures the spirit of Younge’s practice. Duality seen in the details themselves – born from both reality and dream. Not unlike Michaela Younge as an artist, her felted universes sit in between.
Between structure and chaos.
Existing and imagined.
Even arguably, between two- and three-dimensionality.

Younge is one of the few contemporary South African artists using this particular process of felting. “It’s a repetitive motion of working my hand up and down. I was always that kid who coloured within the lines very strictly.’’ Despite the colourful mania of detail initially noticed, the scenes have been painstakingly felted with meticulous patience by the artist. Whimsical, yet perfectionistic in her practice and working laboriously on her artworks until she can see when they are finally “baked.” 

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Michaela Younge | ‘D is for duck, so feathery white, the one in the sink will be slaughtered tonight’ | 2020 | merino wool

Younge’s fastidious way of working means that she builds onto the same piece for multiple weeks at a time: “with my scenes, there are bits and pieces that I know will be there, a departure point, but the rest fills itself in. I didn’t know the postman would be in the scene. Then he was.” Local events and strange reportings featured in the news often seep into the artist’s felt depictions – as seen with a recent work titled ‘Crocodiles loose in Bonnivale!’. Younge elaborates that “the crocodiles escaping at Bonnievale have haunted my dreams and I am absolutely obsessed with them.” Not only marked by happenings in the news, Younge observes the world around her and often takes to writing down conversations that she might overhear.

“I feel like everything in life is funny. I feel that South Africans have a sense of humour about the way they look at the world – I like that.’’

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Michaela Younge | Crocodiles loose in Bonnievale!’ | 2021 | merino wool

There is an edgy playfulness to Younge’s work. Perhaps due to the wispy nature of the medium and its soft childhood-evoking quality – “I like the puffiness of the felt,” says Younge. Yet, there are darker undertones to the scenes. “For a long time, my work had quite violent imagery. But sometimes I just suggest in the work that something violent might happen. The feeling of descending into chaos and madness is important for me.” The frequent depiction of blood within the felted scenes is contrastingly visceral, almost playful. These elements highlight an additional duality that exists within Michaela Younge’s work – the strength of which lies in the artist’s creation of absurdist imagery anchored in a world that is part imagined, part observed, and undeniably part South African. 

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