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 http://www.icaboston.org/exhibitions/exhibit/fiber/. 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.

6 Responses to “Reading: Fiber: Sculpture 1960 – present”


  1. 1 Jane B (epocktextiles) December 27, 2014 at 8:15 am

    well, even as an embroiderer, i’m looking forward to looking at this book, and I did read the blog! fiber within the larger context of the art world

  2. 2 fibresofbeing December 27, 2014 at 9:31 am

    Thanks Jane. It’s funny the labels we put on ourselves – generally just a handy approximation. I found it a slow read, so much to think about, so many things and people I had to look up, but (obviously) very rewarding. I’d love to hear your views when you’ve had a chance to look at it.

  3. 3 fibresofbeing December 27, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    It’s not that I think that embroiderers aren’t interested in the larger context of the art world. Just that the book is very fibre and textile construction focused – particularly weave, but also various forms of knotting.


  1. 1 Reading: Sheila Hicks: Weaving as metaphor | Fibres of Being Trackback on January 8, 2015 at 1:15 pm
  2. 2 Exhibition: Pop to Popism | Fibres of Being Trackback on February 7, 2015 at 6:09 pm
  3. 3 T1-MMT-P2 Joining and Wrapping – Sorting | Fibres of Being Trackback on August 2, 2015 at 10:09 pm

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In Basketry NSW Transformation exhibition Sunday 2 July. More info fibresofbeing.wordpress.com

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