Archive for the 'Reading' Category

Cultural Fusion / Appropriation / …

It’s time to get unstuck. I’ve been thinking and reading about cultural fusion / appropriation / influence / … for a few months now and it’s time to stop thinking in the abstract. I’m getting stale, plus the new course will be here Real Soon Now.

A few notes and links as I wind up:

Hemmings, J. (2015) Cultural Threads: Transnational Textiles Today. United Kingdom: Bloomsbury Academic. A range of voices exploring different perspectives – too much to do justice to in a brief review. I’ve read it once and am re-reading, not just the text but following up links to artists mentioned.

Peck, A. (ed.) (2013) Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade 1500-1800. United Kingdom: Thames & Hudson Ltd. I’ve only just started this book, which is the catalogue published with an exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 2013-2014 (see http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2013/interwoven-globe).

Vincent Vulsma – see http://www.frieze.com/issue/review/vincent-vulsma/. Vulsma is mentioned in Cultural Threads. In an exhibition in Amsterdam, http://www.frieze.com/issue/review/vincent-vulsma/, he used jacquard woven hangings and other artefacts in an interesting post-colonial critique. If I want to take this line of research further, perhaps this could suggest the path to work of my own, exploring in my art the shaky ground on which “my” Australia is founded (I almost typed “foundered”, a nice accidental pun).

Dorothy McGuinness (http://dorothymcguinnessbasket.com/ and http://www.worldofthreadsfestival.com/artist_interviews/130-dorothy-mcguinness-14.html). In her World of Threads interview McGuinness mentions Japanese, Maori, Peruvian and Mozamabique sources. Some of these are via books, others via teachers and fellow basketry makers. Is there a fellowship of makers sharing a language of hands and eyes beyond political or economic or other differences? That’s a silly, rhetorical sort of question because of course there is. We enjoy making connections, sharing skills, learning from each other.

Jim Arendt (http://www.worldofthreadsfestival.com/artist_interviews/127-jim-arendt-14.html), also in a World of Thread interview, said “Artists don’t deserve permission to trespass in other people’s stories. Those stories are for other artists to tell. Image making is a form of power exercised on the people depicted. If I’m going to do that to others and make them vulnerable and subject to criticism, I am only going to do it with people I love. I refuse to be a tourist in other people’s lives.”

A good code to end pause on.

Reading: The Gee’s Bend Effect

Cooks, B (2014) “The Gee’s Bend Effect” In Textile: The Journal of Cloth & Culture. (12) 3 pp. 346-363

I’ve written before about concerns with appropriation – see for example 24-Dec-2014 and 12-Dec-2014. Cooks’ article has really challenged and extended my thinking.

The arguments presented and overall flow of the article is complex (to me at least), so I’ll start with an overview:

  • Quilts have come to be seen as a tradition in American culture, although often devalued as domestic, women’s work.
  • Gee’s Bend quilts have received particular attention, with multiple touring exhibitions. “… a popular sensation not only because of their visually stunning designs, but also because the identity of the makers themselves stirred powerful narratives of racial nostalgia” (Cooks, 2014, p 348)
  • The quilts have become even more visible through merchandising (stamps, interior decorations, menus), literature, use in political campaigns…
  • Link to American spirit, endurance through tough times, triumph of values – but without recognition of the failure, horrors, hypocrisy, the exclusion of Black people from freedoms and ongoing discrimination
  • Cook’s three specific lines of inquiry (p 350):
    – “how does the citation of Gee’s Bend quilts inform the interpretation of art made by artists outside of the historical and geographic framework of Gee’s Bend?”
    – “in what ways do references to Gee’s Bend quilts re-entrench traditional exclusionary racial boundaries of the art world?”
    – “how do allusions to a Gee’s Bend aesthetic lend cultural capital, along the lines of economic, racial and gender identity, to work by other artists outside of Gee’s Bend?”
  • On this foundation Cooks discusses the work of specific artists, art historians and critics. A sentence of particular interest to me: “Because of the ubiquity of the quilts in the art world in general, and quilting practices in particular, I am not particularly concerned with whether or not artists consciously intended the references to Gee’s Bend” (Cooks, 2015, p 350).

  • Artist Jen Pack uses mixed media (chiffon, wood) and techniques to create structures with a translucent, quilt-like covering.
  • Art historian Jane Livingston has compared Gee’s Bend quilts with abstract paintings, thereby suggesting an inappropriate hierarchical relationship.
  • The context of the quilts is changed by hanging them on walls for display, rather than using them on beds. “This recontextualisation devalues their original intention and context of the quilts as it seeks to appreciate them as if they were another form of traditional ‘fine art'” (Cooks, 2014, p 353).
  • Given aesthetic similarities, Pack’s work is an appropriation, a commentary on the Gee’s Bend quilts and their entry into the art world.
  • Pack’s work has been connected by viewers to Ghanaian kente cloth, Korean hanbok dresses and Mexican textiles. She finds these connections made by viewers “pretty fascinating to me even though it isn’t the origin or basis for me creating the work” (Jen Pack, quoted in Cookes, 2014, p 353).
  • As an artist Pack has a privileged position, is given authority to appropriate, to play and invent, to create from aesthetic rather than utilitarian concerns. “The similarity of aesthetic design coupled with the intentional change of materials marks differences in the class and social agency of the artists” (Cooks, 2014, p 354).
  • Cooks finds in Pack’s work references to the labour of textile production and the making of a new whole from scraps. Is there an aestheticization of poverty in her work?
  • “What’s at stake in interpretation is the perpetual repetition of cultural appropriation – the major thematic narrative in the historiograph of Black creativity” (Cooks, 2014, p355). Examples are cited from music, poetry and fine arts.
  • Cooks examines the Foreclosure series of quilts by Kathryn Clark, again finding many connections to Gee’s Bend quilts.
  • The links provide additional depth, strength and credibility to Clark’s work.
  • In the artists’ works poverty becomes stylized, there is a nostalgia for the past, there is a celebration of American spirit – all ignoring “the reality of continued exploitation and structural inequality” (Cooks, 2014, p 359).
  • There is a lot more to think about in the notes to Cooks’ paper, including discussion of a reference to Alice Walker’s story “Everyday Use”. A college-educated Black woman now discounts the values and context of her home, treating the family quilts as objects of (monetary?) value, of nostalgia, to be displayed rather than used.
  • I’ve tried to test some of these points.

  • Changing the context of the quilts, thereby demeaning the intent and value of the women who made them. Is that how the women themselves view what’s happened? I found an article quoting Loretta Pettway in 2006, around the time of an exhibition at the Smithsonian: “Now I see my quilts hanging in a museum. Thank God I see my quilts on the wall. I found my way.” (Pettway quoted in Wallach, 2006). The change of context has given her opportunities, changed her life.
  • Cooks also raised concerns about the change of materials, to chiffon and to specially bought rather than frugal and clever use of the scraps which was all that was available. Wallach notes of one of Pettway’s recent works: “an explosion of red polka dots, zany stripes and crooked frames within frames (a dramatic change from the faded colors and somber patterns of her early work-clothes quilts)”. Another Gee’s Bend quilter, Mary Lee Bendolph, said of an early exhibition it “spunked me to go a little further, to try and make my quilts a little more updated” (Bendolph, quoted in Wallach, 2006).
    The quilters worked with what they had. When circumstances changed, they welcomed the chance to change their work.
  • Do exhibitions of the quilts feed a romantic nostalgia for past days, ignoring cruel, racist, discriminatory treatment of Black people? Again basing my response on Wallach’s article, no. There is a lot of detail, a lot of bad detail, describing the past treatment of the women and their families. The past is not forgotten and it’s not romanticized. The quilters are able to tell their own stories in their own words. They now describe themselves as happy, as enjoying themselves.

    One could argue that these are the voices of only a few, that many still face discrimination and disadvantage. That’s true. That a few are fortunate doesn’t change the situation of many. I’ve never been to the US, but from TV and newspapers the ongoing issues and wrongs are impossible to discount. I don’t see that celebrating a positive for some is equivalent to denying the ongoing different experience of others.

  • Further to that, the general tone, the reference to the Alice Walker story, leads me to ask – what does Cooks see as a good outcome for the many? If education or success or a little extra money lead to a change or evolution in values, is that bad? Are new ideas and ways of doing things so dangerous? If in the past necessity led to making quilts from scraps for warmth, and now one can choose whether to make a quilt for the bed or the wall, or whether to buy blankets, or fabrics for a different sort of quilt – have people lost something critical in having and making those choices? Perhaps “yes” if it also means turning their backs on others who don’t yet have choices, but is that inevitable?
  • Turning now to the question of appropriation by the artists: Cooks is not concerned about any actual conscious connection to Gee’s Bend by the artist – if a work’s appearance is similar it must be influenced, and if it doesn’t look similar it lacks “mnemonic power” (Cooks, p 354). Ellen Caldwell, the curator of the group exhibition “Recrafting History: History, Nostalgia and Craft in the American Memory” which is referenced by Cooks, has written of Pack’s works “They speak to history, using craft as both the medium and subject. Her colorful patchwork aesthetic conjures conflicting memories of familiar cloth from many different places and cultures: patchwork quilts, Ghanaian kente cloth, Korean hanbock dresses, Mexican blankets etc. As such, she plays with the fluidity of cultural or national identity in addition to memory.” (Caldwell, 2011b). In conversation with Calwell Pack has said “I love learning this about kente cloth! I think all cultures are continually appropriating and fusing aspects from different cultures, it is inevitable and hybridization occurs everywhere we turn at this point. It is something that interests me to no end because of my own heritage (Korean Caucasian) and what I think of as my own subtle version of ‘in-betweenness’ when it comes to expressing gender norms. I think of the work as collages rather than creations, because the fabric is already speaking while I’m using it, it already has a voice I’m just letting it sing.” (Caldwell, 2011a). There is mention of multiple cultures – including Pack’s personal experience – and of appropriation. Like any artwork, Pack’s is open to interpretation and connections made by viewers, including Cooks. This feels to me like a theory looking for affirmation.

    And if there is a connection to Gee’s Bend, and kente cloth, and Mexico, and Korean hanbok (although the work reminds me more of pojagi) – should the artist be expected to deeply research them all and more?

    I’m not convinced by Cooks’ argument, which seems to include some finessing of logic. And yet, and yet… there is an emotion, an anger, a sense of cultural loss and ongoing damage, which I cannot answer. I think of my own country, of my research on proppaNOW (see 5-Jan-2014 and https://proppanow.wordpress.com/), and that same anger and sense of ongoing loss is expressed by Indigenous people here. I compare that to the lilting excitement and fun of Austin Kleon in Steal like an artist (15-Jan-2015). I look at various posts on the OCA college blog – “Whos afraid of appropriation?” and “Stealing from the unknown” and even “So what is research?”. “Stealing” from people who are playing the same artworld / academic game – fine. Where does it become an abuse of power, theft from someone who feels that so much has already been taken?

    The only answer I can find – “it depends”.

    References

    Caldwell, E. C. (2011a) ‘Fabrications with Jen Pack (NAP #73) | New American Paintings/Blog on WordPress.com’. New American Paintings/Blog. Available at: https://newamericanpaintings.wordpress.com/2011/09/07/fabrications-with-jen-pack-nap-73/ (Accessed: 27 February 2015).

    Caldwell, E. (2011b) ‘Crafting & Curating: “Recrafting History” at Taylor De Cordoba | New American Paintings/Blog on WordPress.com’, New American Paintings/Blog. New American Paintings/Blog. Available at: https://newamericanpaintings.wordpress.com/2011/12/15/crafting-curating-recrafting-history-at-taylor-de-cordoba/ (Accessed: 1 March 2015).

    Cooks, B (2014) “The Gee’s Bend Effect” In Textile: The Journal of Cloth & Culture. (12) 3 pp. 346-363

    Wallach, A. (2006) Fabric of Their Lives, Smithsonian.com. Available at: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/fabric-of-their-lives-132757004/ (Accessed: 28 February 2015).

    Reading: Bauhaus weaving theory

    Smith, T. (2014) Bauhaus weaving theory: From feminine craft to mode of design. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

    I found this a difficult book to read. It’s academic writing, with lots of references to ideas and philosophies and people and work that I don’t know, using words that I don’t know or know only in a more general sense, not the precise-in-this-field sense.

    It was also difficult because of my expectations, my desires. I want to find a compelling reason for hand weaving today. Not a joy of craft or handmade functional/wearable item way, but an expressive or conceptual way in which weaving provides unique perspective or insight. That may seem narrow, or a backwards approach, it may combine with other things or develop or change out of all recognition as I progress in my studies, but to me today “weave” seems to contain more, to offer more, to have more in processes and materials and metaphors and allusions and human history, than any half lifetime could explore. So a “weaving theory” – what answers would I find in weaving theory? None really for my personal quest, not in Bauhaus weaving theory. After reading this book I have more questions – which in the long run is probably more valuable.

    Smith’s book begins with the original manifesto for the Bauhaus published by founder Walter Gropius – an art-craft unity, joining “practical and scientific areas of work” (p. xiv). Weaving was there at the start, and continued throughout the Bauhaus history. And the weavers wrote about their work. “Through texts that explored weaving’s material elements, loom practice, and functional applications, a Bauhaus theory of weaving emerged” (p xv).

    Their early weavings were “pictures made of wool” – not taking advantage of weaving’s specific nature, but translating other media, in particular painting. Later Anni Albers “argued that weaving’s processes, structures, and materials are best explored through direct experimentation on a loom” (p xvii). New fabrics were created from experiment, using advantage of what the medium weaving could offer.

    The book explores the changing goals of Bauhaus, driven by individuals, politics and economics. Gender issues are explored. In 1922 weaving generated significant revenue, more than any other workshop at Bauhaus. However its status was low – “As the social and economic history of textiles haunted the Bauhaus weaving work, the textile medium, it seems, was dismissed as mere labor, as ornamental form without ‘intuition’, whose ‘inner sound’ could only ever ‘simulate internal necessity'” (p 32).

    As time passed the Bauhaus developed a functionalist rather than expressionist approach. The weaving workshop responded. “At once modernist, or insistent on the distinctness of this thing and its space of practice, and acknowledging a specifically modern civic identity … early weaving theory joined together the rhetoric of functionalism, modern marketing, and the new women’s movement” (p 44). “Color and form as an abstract, autonomous terrain of inquiry remain integral to the object, even as it shifts toward use. Utility and formal concerns occupy the same matrix” (p 67).

    By 1931 Gunta Stölzl in her writing “declares that there is a rhetorical cleavage between … the development of textiles for use in interiors (prototypes for industry) and speculative experimentation with materials, form, and color,” she also insists that any ‘cleavage’ between utility and experimentation is also bound within the very structure of the woven prototypes” (p 67). [By this stage the theory is definitely moving away from my own agenda – but I wonder, what is the modern day’s art rhetoric?].

    The third chapter of the book, “The haptics of optics: weaving and photography” struck some resonances for me, beginning with “tactility”, which for me is one of the great strengths and interests of textiles generally. “The Bauhaus weaving workshop explored the possibilities of color and formal composition through the interlacing of threads, tacitly placing it in comparison to painterly composition and architectural function. Yet the specific palpability of threads and cloth surfaces required a new set of terms” (p.79). Photography, able to show the “intimacy”, the textured detail, the tactile nature of a fabric, provided a new language.

    Previously I thought “haptic” was to touch as “optic” is to sight, but here I learnt it is more. Otti Berger “through a subtle and perhaps counterintuitive response to photography, … insisted on the tactility of different materials (the smoothness of silk or the roughness of jute, for instance) as well as the fabric’s contact with the kinesthetic movements of the body within architectural space (with curtains or upholstery fabric)” (p 81). Berger “queried the limits of the visual as modernism’s prized term of formal inquiry” (p 84). There is space and movement within haptic – is this part of the unique perspective or insight I am seeking? Moving beyond the visual to incorporate other senses? (I’m reminded of Hiromi Tango – see 30-Oct-2014).

    Smith continues to examine Berger’s work in the next chapter Weaving as invention: Patenting authorship. In a traditionally anonymous field, Berger sought acknowledged authorship of her textile designs. Her initials appeared on sample books. She took out patents on innovative work. “Berger was not the typically creative author-artist – at least insofar as that would have signaled the deep recesses of her inner life, the projection of her soul onto her work. But neither was she the anonymous factory laborer” (p 111). Berger was an inventor. Smith explores ideas around the inventor as author, the anonymity of textiles, a link back to gender.

    It was in the final chapter, Conclusion: On weaving, on writing that I lost my tenuous grip on Smith’s arguments. “Recall that the Bauhaus weavers, in their practice and in their essays on their craft, absorbed the languages of other media. In their wall hangings, for example, the weavers adopted the formal principles of expressionist painting; in their workshop’s prototypes for architectural textiles, they assumed the functionalist vocabulary of the Neues Bauen; for their fabrics found in Neue Sachlichkeit photographs and glossy magazines, they considered the limits of optical and tactile perceptions; and within patent documents, one weaver sought intellectual property protection for her textile inventions” (p 141), seems a good summary of earlier chapters. Much that followed was beyond my grasp. The subtleties of “media” or “mediums” are clearly important, but I don’t have the background knowledge to appreciate them. “Weaving is not just a set of processes: it is also, as I’ve indicated, a certain mediation of the semiautonomous zones of form and history” (p 172) I want to understand, I suspect is relevant to my own inquiries. The following sentence, “Textiles are so overtly bound up in the modes of production that define precapitalist and capitalist societies, and the gendered problematics that circumscribe labor, that they are rarely called ‘art'”, seems to point to areas I have been keen to avoid in my thinking, that I want to move beyond.

    So yes, a difficult book. It began as a doctoral dissertation, and it shows. There is nothing wrong with either of those things. I’ve learnt from this book and I’m convinced there is much, much more I could learn. I just need to work up to it.

    Reading: Steal like an artist

    Kleon, A. (2012) Steal like an artist: 10 things nobody told you about being creative. New York: Workman publishing company

    This book is on the reading list for my next course, Mixed Media for Textiles, so I’m getting a headstart while waiting for the course’s release. You can get a good idea of the contents from the author’s blog, http://austinkleon.com/.

    The book is a fun, quick, entertaining read. There are cute little drawings and quirky hand-written headings and catchy, brisk nuggets of information. I chuckled and nodded in agreement or raised my eyebrows and thought “this one’s not for me”. It would perhaps be easy to skim through in a couple of hours and move on little changed. Or perhaps not. I can see a few changes in myself, and I think if over time I flip through the book now and then I’ll see a few more.

    For example a logbook (see http://austinkleon.com/2015/01/12/six-years-of-logbooks/). I have this blog, and various record books of dye mixes, workshop notes, sketchbooks… I’ve started a logbook along Kleon’s suggested line and after 10 days’ experience feel really positive about it. It’s quick and easy, has become quite natural and – I’ll have to see how it develops but it’s already been useful when the short-term memory blanks.

    The whole idea of “stealing” – that’s what we do. Keep collecting new ideas, lots of them, copy other people’s work, let them influence you. “You don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes” (p. 36). Where your copies are different, where you’ve added something yourself, is where you’ll find your own work.

    A new approach to time – “Creative people need time to just sit around and do nothing” (p. 67). Who’d think that being bored is valuable. But for me it pinpoints a danger with part-time college work. Rush and push and set a deadline and tick boxes … and the quality of work suffers and the joy suffers. At times I need to push, but at times I need to step away and mess around and give the back of my brain and my eyes and hands a chance to mull.

    That’s three things from this round of reading the book. That’s plenty to be going on with.

    Reading: Sheila Hicks: Weaving as metaphor

    Stritzler-Levine, E. (Ed.) (2006) Sheila Hicks: Weaving as Metaphor New Haven: Yale University Press http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/book.asp?isbn=9780300116854

    I first saw this book during Liz Williamson’s class at Sturt almost 3 years ago (see 24-June-2012). At that time it cost an appalling amount of money. I now have a fourth edition copy for a mere large amount. It is indeed a beautiful book.

    In my post linked above I wrote about the importance of scale. The works in Weaving as Metaphor are quite small – many around 23 x 12 cm. The variety and complexity achieved is eye-opening.

    There are a number of interesting essays. Arthur Danto explores instances where weaving has been used as metaphor, particularly in political analysis. Joan Simon gives an overview of Hicks’s career and in particularly her longterm use of a small fixed frame to create these miniature works. My jotted notes:

  • Wide variety of materials and found objects
  • “evoke evidence of place” (p. 50)
  • “emphasis on different ways of revealing and enhancing the warp threads” (p. 51)
  • ways “to break through the visual plane” (p.51)
  • “integral cohesive forms that stand at the size they need to be as works in their own right” (p. 58), although discoveries inform larger works
  • “the number one decision is color, and that determines what happens” (Hicks quoted p. 58)
  • the readability of the mark – a brushstroke, a sweeping gesture (p. 59)
  • Nina Stritzler-Levine discusses these miniature works in the context of Hicks’s design work. More jottings:

  • “[MoMA’s] concerns about identity at a time when definitions of design and craft were in flux..” (p. 349). I ask when are they ever not, in modern times?
  • “Hicks’s insistence on not giving credence to terminology may derive from her desire for multiple readings of her art.” (p.349)
  • “Pure expression and the utilitarian often join in the most surprising moment.” (Hicks quoted p. 350) “she actually solves problems by integrating art, design, and craft and placing all three disciplines at the service of industry” (p. 351)
  • Painter Piero Dorazio – “She thought the fields of color and the patterns of vertical and horizontal lines in Dorazio’s abstract paintings had a strong textile sensibility” (p. 363). I did an internet search on his images – exciting colours and interactions.
  • Working with a business in India: “they patiently corrupted the things they knew how to do expertly” (quoting Hicks, p. 365).
  • Sensitivity responding to indigenous cultural traditions (p. 377)
  • Of course there’s a lot more – the above is just a sampling of things that touch on some of my current preoccupations.
    The Notes to the text are also rich in information particularly:
    “[Hicks has] offered a taxonomy of her different explorations within ‘four categories’: ‘closed compositions,’ where ‘nothing can be added or taken away’ (her miniatures are included in this category); ‘open compositions,’ which comprise ‘modular elements’; ‘blocked compositions,’ which are ‘made up of similar elements multiplied but limited by the dimension of the surface to be treated’ (architectural commissions), and ‘ephemeral compositions,’ which are ‘acts, manifestations; short-lived, symbolic.'” (p. 385). An interesting way to categorise work, particularly given the emphasis elsewhere on the “autonomous” painting or work of art. I think it could also offer an approach to submitting assignment work – perhaps send a single “modular element”, together with documentation / photos / video of an installation of multiple elements.

    There are also photographs of some of Hicks’s journals. It’s interesting to see the mix of notes, images and just a couple of sketched details of structures and designs.

    All very interesting, and generously illustrated with documentary photographs and images of works. However finally I get to the meat – the catalogue of the exhibition. Perhaps 150 miniatures pictured, each given a page and the facing page giving details of title, date, materials, dimensions, and sometimes some brief comments by Hicks. Measuring one photo chosen at random, it shows the work at 70% the size of the original. You can see so much. There is such an amazing wealth of inventiveness, so much to learn from (I’ve also been reading “Steal like an artist” by Austin Kleon – more on that another day). This book has been my evening reading/looking for a couple of months, and while I’ve spent time with every page I don’t suppose I’ve absorbed half a percent of what I could gain.

    Of course having such detail just leaves one wanting more. Dimensionality is lost, colours are presumably shifted, textures and sheen lost or diminished, colour interaction – what happens when you tilt your head or move around or back or forward – all is lost. This book was originally the catalogue of an exhibition, and just as with Fiber: Sculpture 1960 – present (26-Dec-2014)) an excellent catalogue has left me hungry.

    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.

    Reading: Abstraction and its Processes

    Wendy Kelly Oblique 2

    Wendy Kelly
    Oblique 2
    Full view and detail
    Mixed technique on canvas
    Note: photographs taken at an angle to reduce reflections. Canvases are rectangular

    I recently mentioned Wendy Kelly’s work, seen in the exhibition Grid Line Pattern: a serial approach (see 4-Oct-2014). I have now read Kelly’s book Abstraction and its Processes: An historical and practical investigation into abstract visual language.

    I believe the book is basically Kelly’s PhD thesis, combined with a body of artwork that came from her studio research.

    Wendy Kelly Undercurrent

    Wendy Kelly
    Undercurrent


    kelly_04That body of work included a number of the exhibited pieces I saw, and it has been fascinating to read Kelly’s comments and the way in which she positions the works in her research and interests. For example of Undercurrent (shown above and detail right) she wrote it “was a development on the theme of the pattern of text, in this case without the use of collage. A large work deeply red over green work, the horizontal rhythms are cut into columns, much as text is printed in columns. The vertical rhythms are more even, the aim being to unify the composition and create movement across the surface. It also provides a contrast to the first layer, and thus engages with the effect of the changes of light. The palette is limited, and the surface altered by the removal of the top layer of threads to expose a subtle change in tone” (Kelly, 2011, p. 165).

    I have been so excited reading and thinking about this book, I find it difficult to know what to write here. For a start there’s the overall academic approach. Kelly begins with a detailed presentation on relevant art history to put her work in context. She brings it up to contemporary work by (many!) artists, and shows how her process, materials and motivation relate. I think that approach is one of the things OCA is trying to develop in us, and it’s something I’m really interested in – not just the work, but the intent/concept behind it, the connection to one’s other work, and connections to the wider world of art making.

    Kelly places her work within what she terms the fourth generation of Abstraction. The first was at the beginning of the 20th century in Europe, there was often a spiritual/religious element of a striving towards purity. The second generation was in America roughly 1930 to mid 50s and culminated in the Abstract Expressionist movement, with huge gestures, autonomy, and a modernist/formalist theoretical rhetoric. The third generation refers to the period of Minimalism and Conceptualism, seeking “a purity of means through both methods and concepts” (Kelly, p. 8), leading to a declared “death of painting” and a reset in Post-Modernism. Kelly’s fourth generation is now, impure rather than pure, removed from formalist interpretations, marginalised in current art thinking, and encompassing multiple different approaches.

    In my final written review for Understanding Western Art I struggled with all the different ideas behind abstract art. I thought I’d chosen a reasonably sized topic with “The Stripe”, but it exploded on me – much, much more than I could deal with in the timeframe and word count. Reading Kelly’s book has given me a little context and flow for the different approaches. A fellow Australian, Kelly spends time on some issues specific to Australia’s development which really resonated with me. She included lots of examples of Australian artists, so I’m likely to be able to see a range of work in person. Kelly also spends quite a bit of time on Agnes Martin, who I included in my Review and whose work fascinates me. I’d love to see it in person (sadly a quick search didn’t find any examples in Sydney, and none held by the National Gallery are currently on display).

    Kelly gives a lot of detail about her own work, which “falls into the two streams of the exploration of abstraction and of material process; the first being ‘almost monochrome’ reductive linear thread works and the second being collage works” (Kelly, p. 144). Kelly is drawn to geometric rather than figurative abstraction. There are so many links with textile work.

    Wendy Kelly Feather

    Wendy Kelly
    Feather

    Kelly writes “A variation of the process of weaving, albeit in a non-literal sense, is a key to my chosen method of working” and “[weaving] is grid based and can produce intricate patterns and designs” (Kelly, p. 128). Kelly uses thread – ordinary sewing thread – in weaverly patterning to make marks and create texture. When I saw the works in person I thought she stitched the threads through the canvas, but I gather she actually cuts short threads and gessos them individually in place on a prepared stretched canvas. Layers of colour are applied and scrubbed back – she uses oil paint which gives her “the ability of stain, glaze, scumble, drag impasto, scrub back and use inert pigments on the surface” (Kelly, p. 129). Kelly may then rip some of the threads off the canvas, leaving traces in colour and texture.

    Feather (detail)

    Feather (detail)

    Some of this reminds me of shibori – stitching and compressing fabric before dyeing to create resists and patterning in colour. Her reductive processes could correspond to discharge and overdyeing. I think felting, including nuno felting, can provide complex colour layering and of course also supports slashing and other “wounding” of the surface.

    However Kelly remains firmly in the realm of the painter. She works on the two dimensional surface of a stretched canvas. She experimented with commercial enamel paint and synthetic paint before moving to oil paint. She references Robert Hunter, Paul Partos, Marcel Duchamp, Eva Hesse and Sandra Selig when discussing the use of thread as a mark making tool by painters and sculptors.

    Kelly has developed a visual language which allows her to share a quiet but positive response to the world – “my work aspires to offering the counterbalancing world of gentle and harmonious feeling to still the drama of turbulent times. It is the aesthetic concept of exploring the more positive, quiet and sincere emotions…” (Kelly, p. 147). She is gentle, non-demanding to her viewer – “My interest is in works that are slow to enter, yet are meant to be revisited, again and again, in different lights, and at different times or lengths of times, at the viewer’s convenience” (Kelly, p.127). So refreshing, on many levels.

    I raced through this book, gobbling it up. It seems so very close to my own interests. It’s no doubt my weaverly orientation, but I think abstract work is particularly appropriate for textile work. So many of Kelly’s considerations could be introduced just as usefully in a textile-based approach. I suspect – hope – that I will be returning to this book, these thoughts, many times.

    More of Wendy Kelly’s work can be seen at http://www.wendykelly.com.au/.

    Reference
    Kelly, W. (2011) Abstraction and its Processes: An historical and practical investigation into abstract visual language Saarbrücken: LAP Lambert Academic Publishing (print on demand – October 2014)


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

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