Archive for August 27th, 2012

Research point: Textile Art part 1

Textile Art is the subject of the research point in Assignment 4. I’m going to start by looking at some works in the 18th Biennale Sydney: all our relations which use textile techniques or materials, but which I think would not be classified as textile art. The photos below were all taken on my phone. You’ll find much better images and additional information on the Biennale website http://bos18.com/artists#

I previously wrote about Nicholas Hlobo here (21-Aug-2012). On the left and above are closeups of Tyaphaka at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). The base is paper, the stitching / lacing / weaving is in ribbon.

On Cockatoo Island is another work by Hlobo, Inkwili. The full work is large – 300 x 1200 x 400 cm. The materials listed are rubber, ribbon, hose pipe and packaging material. It is a site-specific sculpture, located on a slipway carved from the island and is joined by flotsam and jetsam from the harbour tides.

Based on quotes from the artist there are a lot of different metaphors and issues tangled up in this work – gender, ethnicity, ideas submerged and revealed, water as a source of destruction and sustenance; lack of control as people float in and out of our lives; the relationships between materials and between the work and its location…

Maria Laet has works at both MCA and the Art Gallery of NSW (AGNSW). Laet examines encounters, interplay between two parts. On the left is her work Untitled (Attempt to note the limit of the sea). Quoting Laet from the catalogue “In [it] sewing occurs at the limit between sand and sea, but each time another wave stretches itself out leaving a new mark – as if denying the ida of limit. Here, sewing could be the notation of an exchange territory, notes that become traces and eventually disappear.” Gesture is captured, extended, by the sewn line. Another work shows sewing in snow – so delicate.

El Anatsui’s Anonymous Creature is not a textile in material or technique. It is found aluminum (from bottle caps) and wire. His artist statement talks about consumerism, colonialism and relational links. To me the visual suggestion of a patchwork quilt or strip weaving is impossible to ignore. It’s not mentioned in the Biennale information I’ve seen, so I googled for a link between El Anatsui and textiles. In an interview with Alisa LaGamma at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, El Anatsui clearly positions his work as sculpture rather than textile based, but also comments on his early exposure to workers at the National Cultural Center of Ghana, including textile artists, and his attraction “on account of the fact that they were handling very abstract concepts” leading him to try to “replicate the motions of artists who created these forms or signs”.

Phaptawan Suwannakudt has a full room at the MCA displaying Not for sure. Neither in the artist’s statement at the gallery nor in the catalogue is fabric listed as a component of the work. The focus is on the use of text, overlapping and not able to be decoded, and the way humans connect through text. A quick search, and I discovered Suwannakudt learnt to weave in Thailand, and weaving has been a major part of her previous work (John Young Zerunge 2010; Traces of Asia catalogue).

I don’t know if the artist wove this fabric herself, and I also understand that in a room with perhaps a dozen components you can’t write about everything. Still, in the context of writing about Textile Art, it could be meaningful.

The canvas and text above are part of Nadia Myre’s The Scar Project. There were walls covered and tables stacked with canvases, each with an identifying number on the frame which matched to a page of text by the individual contributor to this interactive art installation. Participants write about their scars – physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual – and stitch them onto the canvas.

At one level this can be seen as a study of symbology – for example, Myre has identified some of the most common motifs and used them in further work. At a more fundamental level, as Myre has explained “as a vehicle for people to anonymously share their personal narratives and traumas with others, the project creates a space that is simultaneously contemplative and  transformative” (Nadia Myer website).

Viewing this work, seeing emotion described with needle, fibres, scissors on canvas, was moving and challenging. Myre has produced a book dedicated “to those who sewed and scribed their wounds … sharing something human with us all”, which is available and part viewable on blurb (http://www.blurb.com/books/1193143).

It feels flippant and inadequate to mention it, but given this is my student learning log I’ll just record the obvious – the depth and reality here exposes the triviality of my responses to early project work expressing emotion in drawing and stitch.

This installation by Ria Verhaeghe is titled Living with cuddles”. Verhaeghe creates links, narratives, between images found in magazines and newspapers. Her created threads provide continuity and create links.

I don’t have a photo of Gao Rong’s The static eternity at AGNSW. For a start her embroidery is a very detailed trompe l’oeil, and a photo of fine satin stitch on a fabric window would look like a photo of flaking paint on a window sill. In addition this large, ambitious project is incomplete – the matching windowsill on the other side of the entrance is just fabric, unstitched. Last year I saw her work Level 1/2, Unit 8, Building 5, Hua Jiadi, North Village at the White Rabbit Gallery which was much more complete and in my opinion much more wonderful and satisfying. Gao Rong uses embroidery as a language, redefining it in a contemporary light. Gao Rong pays quiet tribute to home and family, especially her mother and grandmother who made beautiful embroidery.

Lee Mingwei’s The Mending Project is a participatory event. Anyone can bring an item requiring mending. There is a connection made between artist or assistant and the participant, through conversation as the artist mends in bright colours, celebrating the repair. The mended items remain connected to the threads for the duration of the exhibition.

Erin Manning presented Stitching Time: A Collective Fashioning in a huge room, the entire top floor, of a building on Cockatoo Island. These photos really only hint at the scale of the installation. Everywhere are pieces of fabric, hanging from a web on the ceiling or piled in hanging baskets. They are sorted by colour, and each is actually the shape of a dressmaking pattern piece, with lots of buttons, button holes and magnets in apparently random places.

From the exhibition Guide: “Stitching Time is a relational architecture, a textile proposition, a sewing circle, a tea party, an environment for emergent collectivity. Join us to design a garment, craft an environment, take a nap, sew a button, have a conversation. Come make time with Erin Manning and her collaborators.”

From the perspective of this Research Point, this is the most fascinating of the works I’ve selected. It seems so deeply rooted in traditional female textile concerns – working with pattern pieces, making clothes or your environment, sewing together, adapting by adding a button where needed, even the paraphernalia for sharing a cup of tea on the long worktable. That may be a part, but Manning crosses through multiple disciplines – dancer, painter, philosophical practice. She holds a University Research Chair in Relational Art and Philosophy in the Faculty of Fine Arts at Concordia University (Montreal). Manning has a list of publications as long as your arm (assuming you have long arms!), including an essay “The Art of Time” in the Biennale exhibition catalogue. In it she writes of “Art as the intuitive process for activating the relational composition that is life-living, for creating a memory of the future that evades, that complicates form. The art of time: making felt the rhythm of the differential, the quality of relation” (Manning, 2012). Out of context, which makes something difficult even more difficult to understand, but unlike some artist statements that seem to me more a conglomeration of catch-phrases (and one at least I saw I am absolutely certain was an intentional joke) this seems to me to have real fundamental meaning in both art and human terms. I only catch glimmers, but I find them enticing. There’s a much more approachable video of the artist speaking at http://bos18.com/artist?id=92

There were so many more works that used textile techniques and / or materials, and sometimes actual textiles (for example Jin Nü, who uses twenty silk children’s dresses in Exuviate II:Where Have All teh Children Gone?). There is no doubt in my mind that textile techniques and materials are entirely acceptable as part of an artist’s practice. At this point of my research I’m not sure about “textile art” as a term. As I was searching on the internet for more information about the artists shown above I found references to “visual artist” or “multi-disciplinary artist”, but not “textile artist”. Instead I found a fairly recent article by Jessica Hemmings discussing the work of Nicholas Hlobo and El Anatsui among others, in which she commented on the discomfort some of the artists felt about the term textile art as a discipline and continues “this may be fair, particularly in light of the undervalued position textiles tend to experience, both in academic and commercial contexts…” (Hemmings, 2010).

There’s also a question mark over the ability of artists who come from a textile making (rather than fine arts) background to move into showing their work in a fine arts environment. This is one of the issues discussed by Elissa Auther (see my post of 26-May-2012), considering the different treatment of apparently visually similar works, based on the background and “credentials” of the maker. Of the artists listed above, the two who seem to me most textile-oriented in the exhibited work, Gao Rong and Erin Manning, both have formal academic training in fine arts.

I will be returning to some of these questions and to a discussion of the work of some specific textile artists in later posts, interleaved with some of the more practical course work.

Auther, E. (2009) String Felt Thread: The hierarchy of art and craft in American art, Minneapolis & London: University of Minnesota Press

Hemmings, J. “Material meaning” in Wasafiri Vol. 25, No. 3 September 2010 (http://www.nnennaokore.com/IMAGES/Wasafiri.pdf Accessed 27 August 2012)

LaGamma, A. “Interview with El Anatsui”, http://www.metmuseum.org/metmedia/audio/collections/022-interview-with-el-anatsui Accessed 25 August 2012

Manning, E. “The Art of Time”, in de Zegher, C. and McMaster, G. (ed.) (2012) all our relations: 18th biennale of Sydney 2012, Sydney: Biennale of Sydney Ltd.

http://www.erinmovement.com/erin_manning.html Accessed 27 August 2012

Myre, N. “The Scar Project” http://www.nadiamyre.com/Nadia_Myre/portfolio/Pages/The_Scar_Project.html Accessed 27 August 2012

Myre, N. (2010) The Scar Project, blurb.com (http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/1193143 Accessed 27 August 2012)

Sambrani, C. “Phaptawan Suwannakudt” in Nakamura, F. (ed.) (2010) Ephemeral but Eternal Words: Traces of Asia, http://hrc.anu.edu.au/sites/hrc.anu.edu.au/files/docs/2010/TracesofAsiacatalogue.pdf Accessed 25 August 2012

Young, J. (2010) “Phaptawan Suwannakudt: Wakeful Moment Catching the Moment: Each Step is the Past”, http://www.johnyoungstudio.com/cms/resources/wakeful-moment.pdf Accessed 25 August 2012


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