Archive for December, 2014

Reading: Fiber: Sculpture 1960 – present

Porter, J. (ed) (2014) Fiber: Sculpture 1960 – present Boston: DelMonico Books Prestel and Institute of Contemporary Art

If you’re a textile student, or you follow this blog and have similar interests to me, don’t waste time reading this post. Just buy the book. Borrowing is good too, but then you’d have to give it back and not be able to refer to it at a moment’s notice. I’m convinced it will become a staple on textile course reading lists.

I’ll admit to a fair amount of bias since this so absolutely answers questions, raises questions, opens vistas, makes connections, provides a framework for my personal interests. I think there is enough meat, enough history, enough future, enough rigour, enough engagement in this book to provide answers/vistas/connections/… for quite a range of people. If you can get to the exhibition in Boston in the next couple of weeks, or Columbus or Iowa in 2015, then go (I envy you) – but read the book first. The exhibition includes around 46 works by 35 artists (the website says 34 artists, but that seems to be regarding Ritzi and Peter Jacobi as a single artist entity). If you’d like to see some photos and read about the exhibition, try Here I’m just going to jot a few points about some of the main themes presented in the book.

* An open, broad, inclusive appreciation of what fibre can be to an artist. “Why not consider fiber as painting and sculpture, drawing and sculpture, installation and painting, and most problematically, art and craft?” (Porter, pp 11 – 12). Fibre, a length of hanging yarn, is immediately three-dimensional – a line, a gesture, a mark, a sculpture.
* The grid, important in a number of modern art movements, is inherent in loom woven textiles. Or is it not a grid, given the dimensionality? A natural form for abstraction. Or something to break away from.
* The fibre movement put in context with art movements generally, sometimes in contrast but often as a part of what was happening in “mainstream” art developments.
* The range of approaches – feminist and transgressive art; fibre’s utility (a ghetto to avoid, an ordinariness to embrace, a heritage to celebrate …); a focus on formal properties (colour, line, structure, pattern, texture); spatial possibilities; response to gravity – a level of unpredictability or serendipity; potential to work with light, shadows, depth, …; recycling and repurposing; open to personal symbolism; organic (or not); craftsmanship – or not; site specific or site responsive; weighting of idea to process to material, or form vs colour, or combination of linearity/tension/space, or scale/orientation/composition or contrasts of plane/line, curve/angle, solid/void, or …
* The movement of tapestry hanging on the wall to autonomous fully three dimensional works on the floor, or suspended in space. There is an essay by Jenelle Porter, “About 10 years: from the new tapestry to fiber art”, which presents the importance and impact of the Lausanne Biennale and a number of individual shows. Excellent context.
* As well as large colour plates of virtually every work in the exhibition, there are many more of other works by the artists included.
* Probably one of the greatest resources are the individual profiles of each artist. Again, they are seen in the context of wider art movements, plus there are often lists of other artists – similar or in contrast – providing fascinating possibilities for the reader to explore independently.

It is so exciting to see fibre treated in this way, with rigour and scholarship and no particular slant I could detect other than that fibre sculpture is serious art business.

Of course there’s no such thing as “the full truth”. This book focuses on the evolution of tapestries hung on walls to three dimensional free-standing sculptures in fibre. Based on the current/end locations 20 of the 46 featured artists are/were based in USA, 12 in Europe (including 1 UK), and just 3 in the rest of the world. The majority are women (27) – I can’t say if that’s a reasonable reflection of actual participation.

For me the material resonates with my study of art history (including final review of “The Stripe” rather than “The Grid”) and my musings about how to approach my textile work from that new foundation of knowledge. Approaches in the book are exciting, stretching, suggesting so many ways to explore using fibre materials and processes. The monumentality of many of the works shown is probably out of scale for what I might want to do, but I may need to find ways of working at a scale that can’t be neatly packaged for assessment – can I turn that into an advantage, not see it as a constraint?

While I suggested this is a book for all textile students, if you love working in stitch to create wallhangings you may be less excited. For someone who still regards herself as a weaver this book is intoxicating. There’s a sentence in Ruth Laskey’s profile, who “continues her longstanding inquiry into the conceptual nature of weaving and its implications for abstract painting and sculpture” (p. 212) – it makes me giddy. All the potential areas for one’s own longstanding inquiry, such vistas ahead of us – we should all be a bit giddy.

Joyce Fleming – Cultures Interwoven

I recently expressed disquiet about “Cultural Fusion” being more “Cultural Appropriation” (12-Dec-2014). Joyce Fleming shows another way, with respect, a willingness to learn, a meeting and combining without imposition or loss of identity.

“My work involves bringing together fibre arts from two cultures and by showing the origin of the material in the finished work I honour Māori knowledge and customs. I weave the muka into patterns using bobbin lace techniques from my European heritage. My intention is to create an object that explores the creative potential of using knowledge from two different cultures without submerging the identity of either” (Fleming, 2014).

Fleming was prepared to invest time in learning about the material, the traditional methods used, and its meaning, undertaking three 12-week courses. Part of the leaf remains whole, celebrating the works origins.

The image of Cultures Interwoven 2: Changing Perspectives immediately made me think of Constantin Brancusi’s L’Oiseau dans l’espace [Bird in space] c.1931-36 ( Presumably the scales are quite different. I’m also always very interested in shadows, overlaying patterns, and visual changes as the viewer moves around a work. I would love to see it in person.

See Fleming’s work at

Fleming, J. (2014) “A journey with harakeke…” In Textile Fibre Forum Magazine Issue 116, Summer/December 2014.

Sketchbook – the indeterminate

This week I wanted to explore some ideas following from my last experiment (14-Dec-2014). That involved dropping lengths of string. What else could I drop?

2014121520141215b20141215cMonday. The initial idea was to suspend an “ink-dripping-device” over paper and set it swinging. First up – some handmade paper, slightly less than A4 (I made it in an ATASDA workshop at Primrose Park (29-May-2011). The dripper didn’t drip. A thick cotton cord dipped in ink didn’t drip. A wet brush got caught on the paper and wouldn’t move smoothly. A small plastic bag with a hole in the corner let some colour through, but in random drops rather than leaving a trail as I’d imagined. Some areas on the back are slightly more interesting. I’d included some small pieces torn from a dictionary in the original paper-making, so there are a couple of levels of randomness interacting.
I attempted the same plastic bag delivery over A3 white cartridge paper. Blah bland. I would need an improved delivery system and to experiment with viscosity of my ink/paint to get random but fairly continuous lines.
20141216Tuesday. I coated A3 kraft paper with mod podge, then dropped mixed torn papers – tissue, from books, bits of maps, … I’d shake loose bits off, then re-drop them until everything had stuck. A final brushed coating of mod podge was used to firm things up and integrate the surface.
The result was too mixed. Could it work as a background? Be brought together in some way? I wasn’t keen on brushmarks in the mod podge, but did like the transparency of the tissue, especially with text underneath.
2014121720141217bWednesday. This was very similar to Tuesday’s, but using only tissue paper, a more careful selection of colours, and with A3 white cartridge paper as a base. I also used a single lot of dropping, rather than repeating until everything stuck. I was interested in getting a more transparent effect.
All the way through I couldn’t pin down a connection, then realised it was a variation on the woven tissue I’d done exploring Aztec themes (link). The new version was much more varied, and also had a lot of texture and irregularity of the surface which I like, was well as a rich/jewel/wet/transparent/sea-weedy effect.
I’d like to try this with a tissue base, and then experiment with hand and machine stitch over.
2014121820141218bThursday. Back to dropping thread – rayon machine-embroidery threads, in a similar colour palette to the tissue example, on to A3 white cartridge. I wanted to capture the fall of the threads, undisturbed by tracing or brushing over, so carefully laid plastic cling film on and pressed into the mod podge which had captured the threads.
I pulled out each individual thread to its full length before dropping, but they all sprang back into curls. I didn’t get the coverage or the mixing of colours that I was hoping for. I like the sense of depth and general liveliness of the result. The shine of the cling film is distracting, and possibly unnecessary given the sheen of the threads themselves. I wonder what I could use instead.
2014121920141219c20141219bFriday. A fresh attempt at Monday’s original idea. This time I used acrylic paint, which I could water down to get the right level of runniness. The base is A3 cartridge paper.
The delivery device started life as a small toy plastic rolling pin, included in a container of plasticine. One end already had a hole from its manufacture. I cut off the other end so paint could be inserted, and suspended it all over the paper with string. A real step-up in sophistication from the original plastic bag!
I love the movement and energy, and that even the dotted areas read as lines. I’m quite keen on the colour combination too – in keeping with the feel of freshness and energy.
Leftover paint was used on the large paper I used to protect the work-surface. Being slightly more controlling over the direction of the swinging paint dispenser had quite an impact on the result. Still lively, but much more a sense of purpose, of representing something.
20141220b20141220Saturday. I wondered if Friday’s paint effect would provide the unifying factor that Tuesday’s torn paper needed.
First I experimented on the computer, using gimp to isolate the coloured swirls of paint, and overlaying them on the earlier photo. I tried the orange and blue separately and together, and decided on orange alone.
The second image here shows the actual result of dripping paint on to the page. I think it provides the cohesion needed. It would be a good framing device, but I would want to control it more, to be less central. The swirls also give the eye a path around the page. It’s not clear in the photo, but the watered down paint allows underlying text and images to show through, which is interesting. The paint also has a matte surface, which contrasts with the brushed shine of the mod podge.
Overall I’m pleased with the sequence of experiments. I tried to keep asking “what if…” and “what else…”. There are a number of things in the results which I might use in the future. It also fit well with the working week – in odd moments each day I could think about the previous results and come up with an idea for that night’s experiment.

Reading: Kim Thittichai “Experimental Textiles”

This book is subtitled “A journey through design, interpretation and inspiration” and is named after a college course Kim Thittichai wrote and taught for a number of years. The book aims “to encourage you to stop thinking about it and get on with it” (p. 8).

It quickly touches on a range of basic, necessary skills and gives some starter exercises in creating, developing and recording original ideas and in understanding and using colour. I think its greatest strength is the presentation of a broad range of inspirational works by other artists, each with a brief discussion of design source and process. The book finishes with a few suggestions on how to keep inspired, working and creating long-term.

I can’t say that any of the material appeared really new or original to me. The ambitious scope of the work meant little depth in any one area. Still, reminders or a slightly different perspective can be useful. An exercise on “The Journey” resonated with my Aztec research, and could well have influenced my design development if I had continued that project (I’ve put the Aztec idea to one side to keep it fresh, hoping for a suitable opportunity later in my OCA work). Overall a pleasant read, and probably a book I’ll dip in to over time.

Thittichai, K. (2009) Experimental Textiles: A journey through design, interpretation and inspiration London: Batsford


I’m trying to be more spontaneous and visual, instead of my comfort zone of planning and words. However this experiment did start with words, from my current reading, where Glenn Adamson links Marcel Duchamp’s 3 Standard Stoppages to “the drooping, coiling, spilling, and curling forms of Hesse, Morris, Zeisler, Hicks, and their peers” (Adamson, 2014, p. 148).

That led me to the MOMA website ( and Duchamp’s work exploring gravity and the indeterminate nature of things, including a “fixed” measurement which wasn’t so fixed. He allowed a metre-long thread to fall and captured the resulting “metres” as profiles in wood.

I decided to see what lines I could capture, comparing two different threads and a series of drops, traced in different colours as a time series. The final time was the thread itself, coated in glue and pressed down where it dropped. Both experiments were on A3 cartridge paper, with a thread twice as long as the paper was wide, tracings done in wax pencil.

The first experiment was with a heavy linen rug warp. It had a strong memory from sitting on the cob and was determined to curl – except when covered in glue which relaxed it.
Second time round I used a light cotton warp yarn, suitable for a small, fine tapestry. This was much more draping and produced much more variety and looseness in the line created.

  • The linen thread in particular was tricky because it insisted on introducing a third dimension – it was very springy and didn’t fall flat on the page.
  • The linen’s tendency to coil created more compact forms, and more similarity between drops.
  • Tracing a thread without moving it is difficult.
  • This would be a good way to create a meandering line, say to stitch along. You wouldn’t have to use the same thread in both dropping and stitching, so could pre-determine the nature of the line to an extent by your choice of drop-thread.
  • Isolated areas of the tracings could provide interesting shapes.
  • I’d like to try dropping other things. Paint, ink from a dripper. Now it’s sounding a bit Jackson Pollock, which I think is quite counter to Adamson’s discussion about gravity and allowing something to move as it pleases.
  • I’ve enjoyed the experiment, but I don’t think I’m ready to move too far from words.

    Adamson, G. (2014) “Soft Power” in Porter, J. (ed.) Fiber: Sculpture 1960 – Present DelMonico Prestel

    T1-E1:P1-p1 Taking a step back

    I started drafting this post a couple of weeks ago. There were a a couple of things about this assignment that bothered me, that I wanted to think through. In the last week there’s been a major twist, which I’ll get to at the end.

    Fusion or Appropriation?
    The project topic is Cultural Fusion. How close is that to Cultural Appropriation?

    Given Australia’s history I try to be aware of damage already done by people from another culture sweeping in and taking over. I wouldn’t dream of using Australian aboriginal sources, as I think it has been made clear by members of the indigenous community that this would not be welcome.

    The Art history course had plenty of examples of the influences of other cultures – Japanese prints in the late nineteenth century, or African masks and Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. On the textile side, in around 1919 the Brooklyn Museum established a study room, for the specific purpose of allowing designers access to the ethnographic collection as a source of inspiration, and held an exhibition within the collection halls showing products and the museum objects which inspired them (see Whitley, 1998). More recently Margarete Ordon (2008) examined the way a clothing company “self-consciously markets the ways their products distort the textile designs, objects, and cultures of a colonized region that they also claim to celebrate and keep alive”.

    Teotihuacán mask Maker unknown, 900 - 1521 Greenstone with obsidian eyes

    Teotihuacán mask
    Maker unknown, 900 – 1521
    Greenstone with obsidian eyes

    The Aztec themselves used images and ideas from earlier cultures for their own purposes, including as a source of authority and legitimacy (see discussion of the Emperors’ cloak, 17-Nov-2014). Even more relevant: “Whether through tribute, looting, or the collection of heirlooms, the Aztecs were the recipients of many works of art that they studied, cherished, buried again, or incorporated into their own visual imagery” (Miller, 1986, p. 210). Unfortunately I suspect it’s faulty logic to say that because something was OK in their culture it’s OK for me to do it to them.

    My tentative idea was to learn what I could of the Aztecs, and try to find connections to my present – perhaps see my world a little differently, or new parts of it. That feels more like fusion – being open to change oneself, rather than say taking a motif and producing it in different materials. I feel I’m splitting hairs, but I’m definitely uncomfortable and somehow I have to manage this.

    Products and colour trends
    I’m sure the OCA website used to include use of colour forecasts in its high level list of degree outcomes. Happily it appears to have vanished. When re-checking my goals before re-enrolling, this most strongly made me hesitate.

    Codex Vaticanus 3738 58r (detail) with colour picks

    Codex Vaticanus 3738 58r (detail)
    with colour picks

    For this current project I might want to use colours taken from an image, such as the palette I’ve developed on the right. Or I might want to use colours important to the Aztec, such as turquoise, scorpion (a gray orange) and tawny, as explored clumsily in my sketchbook (18-Nov), or colours suggested by emotions – or almost anything other than what some stranger thinks is going to be exciting in New York fashion week spring 2015.

    I work very slowly. I make a reasonable living in a quite different field, which allows me to indulge myself in my passion. I have no desire to make or design products for market. Which is a requirement for a part of this project.

    From recent discussion on the OCA student forum I now accept that for others fashion colours and market trends are not just a necessity but really interesting.

    It’s just not for me. One of the advantages of doing a course is being taken to places you thought you didn’t want to go, and finding out you were wrong. I’ve been wrong before, I’ll no doubt be wrong again – but I’d be amazed if this was one of those times. For whatever reason, colour forecasts make me retch.

    At the start of the course (6 Nov-2014) my goals were:

  • I want to make the course my own – interpret briefs and make selections that reflect me and my interests.
  • I want to take risks and challenge myself.
  • I want to surprise myself.
  • I was trusting the course to give “the opportunity to build on previous learning and to gain valuable knowledge and skills.”

    When I started drafting this post I wanted to put myself on the spot – figure out what was bothering me and find a way to make it work, to meet my goals and the course requirements. I think I could do that – say do some colour trend research then show it wasn’t relevant for my chosen product, which could be perhaps a concertina book of a journey with stickers for children to move around and all the imagery based on textile work – or something else quite different.

    The twist is that I won’t be doing that. OCA has just announced a new level 1 course for textiles, and has agreed to allow me to transfer. I think it will take me even further out of my comfort zone. I suppose I’ve achieved one of my goals – I’ve totally surprised myself.

    Miller, M.E. (1986) The art of Mesoamerica from Olmec to Aztec London: Thames and Hudson

    Ordon, M. (2008) ” ‘I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas, anymore:’ Cross-Cultural Design in Peruvian Connection’s Textiles” In Textile Society of America Symposium Proceedings. Paper 277 [online] Available from (Accessed 7-Nov-2014).

    Whitley, L.D. (998) “Morris De Camp Crawford and the ‘Designed in America’ Campaign, 1916 – 1922” In Textile Society of America Symposium Proceedings. Paper 215 [online] Available from (Accessed 7-Nov-2014).

    T1-E1:P1-p1 Taking a step back
    Textiles 1 – Exploring Ideas
    Part 1: Cultural fusions
    Project 1: Interpreting cultural sources
    Taking a step back

    T1-E1:P1-p1-s2 Developing source material – themes

    Stage 2 is around development – identifying interesting aspects of my source material, inserting some of my own ideas.

    I started, as suggested, with a brainstorm and mind map. The little sketches and changes of colour are part of trying to put myself off balance, to move away from words a bit.
    Three potential themes particularly attract me.

    Duality vessel Matlatzinca, 1250-1521 Fired clay, pigment Aztec exhibition, Australian Museum

    Duality vessel
    Matlatzinca, 1250-1521
    Fired clay, pigment
    Aztec exhibition, Australian Museum

    Duality was a key element in Aztec thought. This vessel shows a warrior, healthy and sick, alive and dead, possibly a victim of sacrifice.
    Most of the Aztec gods had both male and female forms. The bones of death were the seeds of life. There was light and dark, order and chaos, dry and wet, active and passive… They divide, complement, complete. They are parts of the same process, a cycle. I think it’s more complex than black and white – there is ambiguity.
    sketch_20141205cExperimentation in my sketchbook was based on a mask held at the British Museum. Creating one mask left remnants that suggested another – the complement. More detail is on the research page (click here).
    A Journey
    A number of the codices follow the journey of the Aztec people, including the Codex Azcatitlan.

    I love the symbolic elements, the presentation of movement in space and time, in the case of the Codex Azcatitlan that there is already a kind of cultural fusion in the sporadic use of western conventions such as aerial perspective. I’ve found myself thinking about what journey I could present, of formats such as a bound book or a long concertina fold (elements of connections through space, folding of time and place???).

    During Stage 1 I didn’t have time to write about Federico Navarrete’s 2004 paper The hidden codes of the Codex Azcatitlan, but that’s relevant. I’ve tripped over some other sources of ideas recently too:

  • the Bayeaux Tapestry
  • Grayson Perry’s All in the best possible taste (for example, see
    , which could be seen as a journey through the class structure of Britain – an overview, or an individual’s path
  • An exercise in a book I’m currently reading, Kim Thittichai’s Experimental textiles
  • A possible use of techniques from the class with Alex Falkiner (see 21-Nov-2014)
  • I especially like the footprints, and I know I’ve got some photographs stashed of tracks and footprints in different places.

    This is more a grab-bag of ideas.

  • The emperors’ cloak (see 17-Nov-2014). This could be the textile itself, or the way we display status using clothing.
  • Cloth as a form of currency (see 25-Nov-2014). It was so valuable, required as tribute, gifted as reward (and to confirm allegiance), requiring the industry of many women… There could be an interesting contrast to our modern culture, where clothes are cheap, fashions change, discarded clothing is shipped around the world. It could go even further into our footprint on the world – see for example Martin Medina’s 2014 article The Aztecs of Mexico: a zero waste society. However I think this idea would suit a written assignment better.
  • Spinning and weaving as an activity for everyone. This one’s a bit fuzzy, but for a “product” I’d love to come up with some kind of kit that could bring creating textiles into anyone’s life. It doesn’t really fit the brief, but I find it wonderful to think of a society where spinners and weavers are accorded such status.
  • Codex Mendoza Folio 61 r (detail)

    Codex Mendoza
    Folio 61 r (detail)

    The mat of power. Often a person of authority is shown sitting on a woven mat. They speak, command – others listen. Again, I haven’t thought this through, but it feels as if it could go somewhere interesting.
  • I haven’t included any idea based on the bright colours and jazzy lines that I associate with “aztec” design. I just haven’t found them in my source material, or only in limited and muted ways which seem common to many other cultures as well. Even so, I think my next step will be to explore the fabric stash, grabbing out anything which catches my eye as having potential.

    Codex Azcatítlan (1501 – 1600) [online] Available from (Accessed 19-Nov-2014)

    Codex Mendoza (1541 – 1542 ?) [online] Available from

    Maffie, J. ([n.d.]) Aztec Philosophy Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy [online] Available from (Accessed 6-Dec-2014)

    Medina, M. (2014) “The Aztecs of Mexico: a zero waste society” In Our World web magazine United Nations University [online] Available from (Accessed 6-Nov-2014)

    Navarrete, F. (2004) “The hidden codes of the Codex Azcatitlan” In Anthropology and Aesthetics, No. 45 (Spring, 2004)[online] Available from (Accessed 15-11-2014)

    Thittichai, K. (2009) Experimental textiles London: Batsford

    T1-E1:P1-p1-s2 Developing source material – themes
    Textiles 1 – Exploring Ideas
    Part 1: Cultural fusions
    Project 1: Interpreting cultural sources
    Stage 2: Developing your source material
    Developing source material – themes

    T1-E1:P1-p1-s1 Research – Aztec design influence

    I’m at the end of the time I’d allocated for this Stage. There’s more I wanted to write about, but for now I’ll finish with a visual roundup showing some art and design with Aztec influence.

    Textiles and fashion
    aztec_fashion Sources:
    Vasare Nar
    Charlotte Nash
    Various images
    Huipil attributed to Malinche
    Codex Ixtlilxochitl
    Background – my sketchbook

    aztec_pattern Sources:
    Elementary students in Lower School Kincaid
    Sophie Gray
    Vasare Nar
    San Miguel Zinacantepec Mantle
    Huipil attributed to Malinche
    Patterns based on image in Codex Magliabechiano
    Various photographs I took at the Aztec exhibition at the Australian Museum (some photos later manipulated in the computer). Artifacts include fired clay stamps (1250 – 1521), section of a warrior brazier (fired clay, pigment, about 1500), mural fragment (wall, Teotihuacan, 200 – 900, clay, stucco, pigment), sculpture of Yapatecuchtli (1200 – 1521, fired clay), concrete wall tiles from Pyrmont incinerator Sydney (1934, designed by Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin).

    Art influenced by Aztec design and culture
    The works I have found generally link back to the Aztecs as a source of legitimacy, pride and revolutionary statement.
    David Alfaro Siquerios Proletarian mother (1929)
    Diego Rivera Murals in the Palacio Nacional de Mexico. Details of stairway (1929-30) and corridor (1945). Photographs by Mary Ann Sullivan
    Papercut, 1980s © Trustees of the British Museum
    José Clemente Orozco The Epic of American Civilization mural at Dartmouth (1932 – 34)
    Xavier Viramontes Boycott Grapes, silk screen poster, 1973

    All websites accessed November 2014

    T1-E1:P1-p1-s1 Research – Aztec design influence
    Textiles 1 – Exploring Ideas
    Part 1: Cultural fusions
    Project 1: Interpreting cultural sources
    Stage 1: Researching source material
    Research – Aztec design influence


    No Instagram images were found.

    Calendar of Posts

    December 2014
    M T W T F S S

    Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.