This post has been sitting in draft form for over a month. It started as part of the Assignment 4 Research Point, which is investigation into the work of the textile artist. The idea was that having discussed Craft in earlier research points (blog posts 18-Aug-2012 and 20-Aug-2012), I could consider textiles in Art as distinct from Textile Art (blog post 27-Aug-2012) and then examine the work of designers and designer/makers (that was going to be this post). This would allow me to establish my overall concept that while depending on context all these descriptors can refer to different things, a particular individual will operate in multiple modes – craft, art, textile art, design, then add in teacher, author, sales person… I don’t think this follows a linear developmental progression – start in mode 1, then learn and progress to mode 2 etc. Individuals and their work are more complex, they do what could be categorized as mode 2, and then a bit of mode 1, and sometimes both at the same time, and very often after a time one can see that what appeared to be one thing should be reassessed. Categories and labels are useful to help us organise and extend our thinking, but we shouldn’t confuse them with reality or necessity.
After all that I was going to take a deep breath, then write about two multivalent* individuals who include Textile Art in their practice.
However before progressing with The Plan, I want to write about two exhibitions I visited this weekend just past.
Eugène Atget: Old Paris is on at the Art Gallery NSW and includes over 200 original prints by Atget (1857-1927), who is considered the founder of documentary photography.
I did have two images, believing them to be from a source which allowed this use, but have removed them due to copyright concerns raised since. The first image was The Bievre, Ruelle des Gobelins, May 1900. There is beautiful textural detail, shadows and reflection of light, an incredible sense of space and depth to the image. It appears to be empty of people, or perhaps there are a couple of wraith-like images in the distance, where people were moving during the long exposure.
The second image was Rue de Seine and Rue de l’Echaude, c. 1900. The same comments apply. Being able to see Atget’s original prints up close was amazing. None are in fact black and white – the tones are sepia. Large areas of the photographs are very crisp and detailed. I don’t know photographic technique, but he used light-sensitive paper in contact with the glass negative, and never enlarged his images.
Coming back to the subject of this post, in the little brochure that is provided when you enter the exhibition there is the paragraph:
“In the 1980s Atget’s photographs at Carnavalet, which had previously been classified thematically, were given an inventory number and received special conservation treatment. In the process, these photographs, acquired as simple documents, attained the status of works of art.”(1)
Treating the photographs individually, doing conservation and inventory work – these processes can confer Art status. I find that thought confronting.
This led me to reassess an information panel in the exhibition about Atget not wanting attribution for his photos when published by Man Ray because they were “just documents”. I thought he meant that the reproduced image in a book or magazine was only a shadow of the actual print he had made. A quick internet search just now found confirmation that Atget did see his work as documents – only documents – so he chose anonymity. (2)
The second exhibition was Dani Marti, Mariposa (Butterfly), at Breenspace. I’ve written briefly about Marti, or at least my attempt to see his work (blogged 25-Nov-2011), and his work on the facade of a shopping centre in Sydney (blogged 25-Mar-2011). The photos are of the facade, since I don’t have any of his gallery work.
Mariposa (Butterfly) was a very different experience. It felt intimate and personal. The gallery is basically one large room on the third floor of a small office block in a maze of lanes in a once-seedy part of town. Marti’s work is a video – an interview of sorts – and accompanying woven wall pieces, portraits of ‘Mark’. The video was on a loop of around 16 minutes, projected on a full wall of the gallery. For most of the time I sat alone in a darkened room, my vision filled with ‘Mark’ almost naked, whirling white squares of cloth around his body in a trance-like dance. He was absorbed, ecstatic, lost in the sensuality and physicality of his dance. His eyes were closed or unfocused, except once or twice when he paused in his dance and looked directly at the camera, when he was suddenly present and conscious of himself and the viewer, and it seemed to me accepting of himself and his choices. He had made choices which allowed him to dance with joy and freedom and completely in the moment. At the same time I was aware of the cost of those choices (although perhaps I shouldn’t write “cost” – just more choices). According to the exhibition notes (3) Mark is a meth addict and drifter. The video was filmed in sessions six weeks apart, and in the later sequences Mark had one eye swollen shut, cuts and grazes across one side of his head – perhaps he had been bashed. He’d lost weight, and I was more conscious of the physical effort of his dance.
The video was filmed in New York and the dance genre is “flagging” which originated in gay clubs. Almost everything about Mark and his choices is foreign and unfamiliar to me. But I sat there in the dark and watched his dance and thought about choices – Mark’s, Marti’s in what he chose to see and present (apparently he had much more confronting and gritty material), my own choices – and I thought about living in joy with the positives, at least for some moments, and accepting the negatives. And about accepting ourselves with our choices and their consequences.
Filled with those thoughts, in fact with a new perspective on something that’s been causing some pain in my own life, it was strange to stand up and walk to the woven pieces on the walls behind me. Trap 1-3 consists of three pieces, each a deep, square frame of powder coated aluminium, the front and back enclosed with wide-set strips of leather in plain weave. Armour I is an even larger frame, woven through with nylon, polyester, polypropylene and leather, some a few centimetres in diameter, coiled around and creating a dense, defensive, spikey shield. It made me think of scar tissue or a hedge of thorns. Not at all my reading of the video – but then people are much more complex and changing than can be expressed in any static portrayal (and in this I regard the video as static, being frozen in time).
There are some images and other perspectives of the work at these links: http://danimarti.com/exhibitions/mariposa-butterfly/, http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/making-art-from-the-damage-done-20121005-273bo.html.
Clearly this is art. It is also at some level documentary, so a strange contrast to Atget’s work – although both are carefully setup and arranged. Both also skirt or cross the line to exploitation of their subjects – Atget photographed prostitutes and ‘zoniers’ – people living in abject poverty in shanty towns outside Paris city walls; Marti’s subjects are often the vulnerable and marginalized (some of his work I would find very difficult to watch).
For this Research Point the thing that really grabbed my attention was not Marti’s work as such, but the language used in a recently published monograph. “Dani Marti’s paintings are physical distillations of human encounters” Colin Perry begins in his essay Bound and unbound desire: Dani Marti’s paintings (4). Perry contends that these woven or stitched works “clearly relate to painting as a medium and lie within its historical trajectory” (page 16). Historical influences are cited, abstraction, art as anti-art, modernism, minimalism, Pattern and Design. Perry introduces the term “materialist portraiture” to describe Marti’s woven works. What I find significant is that Perry doesn’t deny or diminish the media and techniques used – rope, threads and weaving, among rubber, barbed wire and material assemblage. Marti’s cv includes studies in tapestry technique, and he does the majority of the weaving. In my reading so far about textiles and art I haven’t seen such a bald and bold statement, asserting the place of a textile work in Art’s development.
As a weaver I’ve sometimes felt at a disadvantage in the world of textile art, working in grids and stripes, all the structural constraints. Was tapestry the only option? Yes, I’ve looked at the work of Anni Albers, Sheila Hicks and more, but I’ve never before felt such an impact from work – not just emotional, but seeing and maybe just a very little knowing more of a person and world so remote from me, and finding it so relevant to my own life. I don’t know how I can do it – create work of impact and intensity – but I’m hoping I can find my way.
On which lofty note I will end. My exploration of the work of the Designer and Designer/Maker will progress another day.
* Multivalent – adjective. “having or susceptible of many applications, interpretations, meanings, or values: visually complex and multivalent work. Definition from http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/multivalent, accessed 21-Oct-2012
(1) Art Gallery of New South Wales (2012), Eugène Atget: Old Paris, brochure. All texts in the brochure are based on those written by Françoise Reynaud and Jean-Baptiste Woloch (intern: Emmanuelle Day)
(2) Fuller, J. “Atget and Man Ray in the Context of Surrealism” in Art Journal Vol. 36, No. 2 (Winter, 1976-1977), pp. 130-138 Published by: College Art Association Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/776161 Accessed 21-October-2012
(3) Katsof, A. (2012) Mariposa (Butterfly): Dani Marti, exhibition leaflet
(4) Perry, C., (2012). Bound and unbound desire: Dani Marti’s paintings. In: M. Price, ed. Dani Marti. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz Verlag, pp. 14-27.