Archive for the 'Reading' Category

(Metaphorical) gluttony and indigestion

Apparently it’s now called Freshwater, but when I was a child we would sometimes drive in summer heat to Harbord Beach. A heavy red and white umbrella. Zinc cream. Burning feet trudging through the sand. Staying between the flags, jumping into waves, attempting to body surf.

And some days the waves, churning sand, would catch you up, tumble you around, water up your nose, struggling – which way is the surface? And you’d stagger out, legs trembling, eyes stinging, swimmers dragging down from the weight of sand in the pants, hair drying crunchy with salt. Exhausted. Wanting more.

So I’m mixing metaphors between title and intro, but that’s just how it is right now and we’ll all just have to make do. Because over the last five weeks I’ve been tumbled, and gobbling, and racing back for more.

The blog’s never going to catch up, so a sprint through. Visual focus remains un-balance.
Joel Crosswell in Dirty Paper at Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery

Bad reflections in the photo. Lots of flickering movement.

Toby Ziegler Your Shadow Rising at MONA

Toby Ziegler
Empty Pond

A grid rather than balance.
Layers, accepting chance, multiple approaches (film, installation, …).

ZERO at Mona
Much more time and need for thought and research on Zero and Nul movement(s).


Stripes rather than balance. Amazing what clever placement of some nails can do.

There were multiple examples of the revealed depth of Fontana. Plus movement, vibration, balance by Bernard Aubertin, Jesús Rafael Soto, Jean Tinguely…

Riitta Ikonen and Karoline Hjorth Eyes as big as plates at Salamanca Arts Centre

Hjorth and Ikonen
Eyes as big as plates
Salme


A wonderful, calming, enriching experience. I chatted for a long time with the two artists, who were incredibly welcoming, forthcoming, encouraging, generous… See more of their project at https://eyesasbigasplates.com/.

Intensive Creative Research with Ruth Hadlow. The first of our group sessions was held over three days in Hobart. “Intense” doesn’t cover it. Work flowing on from it includes my Energizing Objects and Glossary investigations.

Battery Point, Hobart
I walked the harbourside sculpture trail, but found myself more drawn by views of boatsheds, cottage gardens, inventive weather vanes and tardis side gates.

Janet Laurence After Nature MCA Sydney
This major survey shows the depth and wide ranging approach of Janet Laurence. Concentric rings of layered and image-printed fabrics combine with light and film to immerse the viewer in trees, within a tree, in the history of our relationship with trees. Modern and ancient knowledge and technologies are brought together. All our senses are engaged.

A huge tree, killed by drought, has been pieced together in one of the galleries. It is bandaged, glass tubing suggesting life support, or perhaps an exchange between tree and environment of fluid or air. Engraved markings in the bark, and the insects who made them, are celebrated. Is salt rock a blossoming new growth, or the death of salinity? Eyes on balance, I was impressed by the few supports needed to stabilise the tree in the space. A slight discontinuity in deep fissures in the tree showed the small adjustments made to adapt it to its new life.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

John Chester Jervis, National Library of Australia
A trip to Canberra with my mother was focused on the photograph albums of a 19th century ancestor – my great great great uncle. The albums were recently donated by a distant English cousin.

Mum with John Chester Jervis photo album


Mourning locket for Louisa, briefly reunited with photograph of her sister Ellen and brother John

Mum has researched the Australian period of John Chester’s life, from the 1840s to 1871 – https://megshistory.wordpress.com/john-chester-jervis/.

While in Canberra we also visited the National Gallery of Australia, in particular Love & Desire: Pre-Raphaelite Masterpieces from the Tate. There were many familiar works included, but there’s nothing like a bit of parochialism.

Ford Maddox Brown
The seeds and fruits of English poetry

The central section of The seeds and fruits of English poetry by Ford Maddox Brown is a study for an enormous painting, Chaucer at the court of Edward III in the AGNSW collection. It’s one of mum’s absolute favourite works, and whenever we have a few minutes spare at the gallery you’ll find us visiting it.

Māori Markings: Tā Moko was fascinating.There has been a contemporary resurgence of this practice, which is of major cultural significance.

Yayoi Kusama
The spirit of the pumpkins descended into the heavens

The bright yellow room presented by Yayoi Kusama is billed as an experience of both claustrophobic and infinite space. I’m sure we weren’t the first to find it puzzling. I’ve been vaguely aware of Kusama’s work in the past, and find the obsessive character of it disturbing and in some sense empty.

We also found our way down to Bodies of art: Human form from the national collection. There we found Number 24, Harry Boyd, by Harry Klippel.

Robert Klippel
Number 24, Harry Boyd

Robert Klippel
small polychromed tin sculptures

It’s hard to believe this massive piece of sandstone was carved by the same man who made the multitude of inventive wire and tin forms which I most recently saw in Mosman as part of Destination Sydney. (I think they’re actually part of the AGNSW collection).

Hossein Valamanesh
Falling

Robert Klippel is definitely one of the artists on my list the research further for un-balance.

Part of the interest of un-balance is the constant potential for complete loss of balance – for falling.

On the information plaque Hossein Valamanesh is quoted: “Leaving aside narratives the work stands for itself and is about falling with grace.” The long bamboo shivered just slightly in the gallery’s currents of air. The work is beautiful and elegant, but I struggle that it seems to be set at the moment of impact, where grace can no longer hold. The ground is so solid and hard. I’d like to see it Falling on a plinth, white or even perspex, curving to swoop joyfully upwards.

No photos, but I’ll briefly mention Hassall Collection at Drill Hall Gallery. No photos – we happened to arrive at the same time as a very large group of people from Canberra and Sydney, and it was hard to get viewing space.

In the last few days I’ve been on another interstate trip – this time to the National Gallery of Victoria, and focused on the opening events of Alexander Calder: Radical Inventor. An amazing experience, needing its own post. While there I took a couple of hours to roam NGV galleries, looking for anything that spoke to me of un-balance.

Francesco Clemente
The Midnight Sun XII

I have no idea what to make of this painting, but I stayed with it for a long time. There are scales. There is a balance achieved in the composition in a way I don’t understand. Research needed.

Paul Cezanne
The Uphill Road


The geometry here is amazing. The roof and tree line, with the path at the bottom, struggle to balance that steep, sliding slope.

Then in the bottom right corner, and possibly among the last brush strokes on the canvas, is the slightest hint of a straggle of weeds. And I think that braces, props up, the entire thing.

Currently hanging next to the Cezanne is The bridge on the Seine at Chatou by Maurice de Vlaminck.

Maurice de Vlaminck
The bridge on the Seine at Chatou


Full of energy and zest, and I don’t think the artist cares one whit that the bridge and the entire village on the right bank is about to slide under the waters of the Seine.

Mari Funaki
Container

A dreadful photo, lots of reflections and blurry focus, but I want to remember the works of Mari Funaki. A much better photo is on the gallery website here. A beautifully balanced insect of a thing which could leap across the room in an instant. That leftmost leg is wide but thin – the whole thing looks like it could tip backwards, at the same time as it seems perfectly in control.

Just minutes later I was looking at this jar – Predynastic Period, Naqada II 3500 BCE-3200 BCE. EGYPT, Diospolis Parva

Jar

Maybe looking at Funaki’s work I should have been thinking of birds rather than insects. And these lines actually would make a good segue to Alexander Calder and his zoo drawings. But not today.

Instead I’m going to finish where I intended to start – at the pile of books that have accumulated over the same five weeks. In no particular order:

Hassall Collection: A masterpiece Collection of Australian Art. Exhibition catalogue.
John Berger. A Painter of Our Time
Dora Garcia I see words, I hear voices
Alexander Calder: Radical Inventor. Exhibition catalogue.
Landscapes: John Berger on Art
Richard Serra, Hal Foster Conversations about Sculpture
Alexander Calder & Fischli/Weiss
Sol LeWitt: Between the Lines
William Kentridge Six Drawing Lessons
Joy Kenward The Joy of Mindful writing: Notes to inspire creative awareness
Ruth Hadlow Granite
Nancy Spector and Nat Trotman Peter Fischli David Weiss: How to Work Better
Joan Pachner David Smith
Anne Carson Float
Lynne Cooke, Karen Kelly and Barbara Schroder (eds) Agnes Martin
Eyes as big as plates. Exhibition catalogue
Sarah Edelman Change your thinking: positive and practical ways to overcome stress, negative emotions and self-defeating behaviour using CBT (Lent to me by a work colleague who thought I was stressed. Can’t imagine where he got that idea!)

All this added to the metres of unread and part-read books already piled up on the shelves.

Five weeks, four capital cities, sixteen books. Good days.

Book: Anni Albers

Anni Albers, edited by Ann Coxon, Briony Fer and Maria Müller–Schareck, has been published by Tate Publishing on the occasion of the current Anni Albers exhibition at Tate Modern.

All the reviews I’ve read of the exhibition are glowing. The book is much more than a catalogue, with a series of strong essays delving into different aspects of Albers and her work. I found each of the essays fascinating, enlightening, thought provoking.

dimensional weave sample 20160708

Brenda Danilowitz writes of the paradox of the linear grid of weaving and Alber’s non-linear surfaces. “Her work captures her determination … to undermine the grid, to make it virtually disappear by twisting and looping its threads.” (p 87) Different, but this resonated with my past explorations of the grid, depth in weaving and the orthogonal (gathered together in the page orthogonal).

When discussing Albers as a collector, Jennifer Reynolds-Kaye concludes “When considering the objects she collected alongside the art that she produced, the distinctions between ancient and modern, thread and clay, art and artefact, are productively dismantled.” (p. 109) That breadth of interest and vision, the ability not just to find connections but to take ideas from one domain to another and enrich all, seems very important to me.

Previously I only knew of Albers in the context of weaving. Nicholas Fox Weber’s essay introduced me to the printmaking Albers did later in life. “Albers was perpetually on the watch for processes she did not yet know, for unprecendented ways of utilising known techniques for new purposes.” (p. 153) The words Process, Transformation, Universal, Timeless, vibrate. Albers had a love of making, and I’d add a curiosity, that led to remarkable innovation and achievement. Ann Coxon provided the final essay, discussing Alber’s artistic legacy, and quotes Albers’ own words: “Experimental – that is, searching for new ways of conveying meaning – these attempts to conquer new territory even trespass at times into that of sculpture.” (p. 167) A path I would love to follow.

For me this book, Albers’ work, is exciting, inspiring, invigorating. It’s not that I wasn’t aware of her in the past.

Only last month I had the chance to examine two of her free-hanging room dividers in the MoMA at NGV exhibition (15-Sep-2018). I didn’t include my blurry photos then, but now I am emboldened by seeing what appear to be the same two works pictured in the new book (p.39) – my brush with fame! Innovative materials, a twist on familiar weave structures.

lace & finger manipulated sampler

My own student sample of spanish lace from ten years ago (24-Aug-2008) has none of Albers’ grace and precision, but in combination has me hankering to experiment in wire.

An aside: I do love having this blog to refer back to. While writing this post I’ve gone back to a previous book review – Bauhaus weaving theory: From feminine craft to mode of design by T’ai Smith (31-Jan-2015). I obviously had a struggle back then, but I’ve just got the book out and hope to give it another go. Smith also has a contribution in the new book.

I posted about Albers’ own book On Weaving 13-October-2012. (That book too is now in the pile on my work table). “Excited” is one of my favourite words (and sensations), and clearly I felt it then. I like my venture into unconventional “drawing media”!

One major impact of the new book is from the comprehensive, high-quality photographs. Smith’s book has some small colour plates, the copy I have of Albers’ book has a decent page size, a few colour plates, but most of the photos are in black and white on rather soft, fuzzy paper. The new book shows some of the same works, and many more, in photographs that are larger, crisper, and all colour. They are thrilling. I had no idea the range and inventiveness of her work.

I’ve already begun some new experiments – still working with components, still in my current palette of materials – inspired by this book. Albers work of course is key, but it’s an extension of that and a real pleasure to have such interesting writing to accompany it.

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.


    Calendar of Posts

    December 2019
    M T W T F S S
    « Nov    
     1
    2345678
    9101112131415
    16171819202122
    23242526272829
    3031  

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

    Archives

    Categories