For the exhibition The Fabric of Felicity Ilmira Bolotyan, editor of Garage Library catalogue, has prepared an overview of publications on the use of clothes, textiles, and embroidery in art.
Moda i iskusstvo [Art and Fashion]
New Literary Observer, 2015
Featuring contributions from Nancy Troy, Valerie Steele, and Diana Crane, this collection of writings by artists, scholars, and fashion theorists looks at the complex relationship between art and the fashion industry, and can be treated as a manual for the analysis of various “intermediate forms” created by artists and designers. Such “intermediate forms” include Ives Saint-Laurent’s dresses inspired by Piet Mondrian; Andy Warhol’s illustrations for fashion magazines, or his Souper Dress collection of paper mini dresses; Cindy Sherman’s fashion series in which she wears dresses by Jean-Paul Gautier, Issy Miyake, and Jean-Charles de Castelbajac; Juergen Teller’s fashion shoots, and other phenomena that can be considered art of fashion depending on the context.
Topics include the evolution of beauty ideals and aesthetics; conceptualism in fashion; the way clothes can shape our perception of the body; and curatorial strategies in exhibiting fashion (All of those subjects are also explored in other publications from the NLO’s Teoriya mody Library series, most of which are available at Garage Library).
Although none of the texts in this collection are specifically devoted to the relationship between art, fashion, and politics, many of them touch on the ways art and fashion make use of each other, as well as the definition of art, and the extent to which it has being affected by the consumer culture.
Julia Bryan-Wilson. Fray: Art and Textile Politics
University of Chicago Press, 2017
UC Berkeley professor Julia Bryan-Wilson studies textiles not only as an artistic medium, but also as an object that can tell us about materiality, gender, and racial issues in times of economic perturbations.
In Fray: Art and Textile Politics, she looks into the 1970s’ trend that saw major US artists turn to sewing, weaving, and quilting as part of their practice—a trend that coincided in time with a boom in global production. This was also the time when textiles became a common tool in political actions. For example, in 1974, a feminist consciousness-raising group in Eugene, Oregon, formed an organization called Ladies Sewing Circle and Terrorist Society. To the group, putting their logo on t-shirts was a type of collective practice that could also potentially become a threat to the political regime.
With chapters like Queer Handmaking, Threads of Protest and Remains of the AIDS Quilt, the book not only explores the use of textiles in 1970s’ art, but also its presence in the political struggle of the time: protests, strikes, and activism. Indeed, hardly concerned with the lower status of sewing in contemporary art, activists valued textiles for their low cost, direct association with manual labour, and versatility.
Fray looks at the ad hoc costumes used in the performances of the American avant-garde theater group The Cockettes; explains what Harmony Hammond's “weave paintings” had to do with the queer aesthetics and how they made it to big museums; explores the reflection on gender inequality and environmental issues in Cecilia Vicuña’s woven sculpture; and shows how quilts became a tool for raising awareness of the AIDS epidemics in the United States.
Although her analysis is focused on avant-garde projects, Bryan-Wilson does point out that textiles can also be a medium for very different social and political interests and ideas, and the mere fact of their use does not necessarily make the art project critical or contemporary.
«TEXTUS. Вишивка. Текстиль. Фемiнiзм» [TEXTUS. Embroidery. Textile. Feminism]
Feminist art has been reclaiming the status of art for traditional women’s crafts since its early days and the catalogue for the group exhibition TEXTUS. Embroidery. Textile. Feminism, which took place at Visual Culture Research Center in Kyiv in 2017, shows that this strategy still has a place in contemporary art today—and especially so in the post-soviet space, where patriarchal views and stereotypes remain strong.
According to the exhibition’s curator Oksana Bryukhovetskaya, “the culture we live in has developed in such a way that the weaving of texts has become the prerogative of men… whereas the weaving of threads has been reserved for women and downgraded to the level of a craft, which cannot compare to the intellectual work of word-weavers.”
Despite being technically more difficult, embroidery, sewing, and weaving were, for a long time, regarded as applied art practices inferior to such art forms as painting. A similar attitude, argues the curator, still persists in relation to women’s labor in general. So what was the textus, or narrative, offered by the artists featured in the exhibition?
Defying public morals and convention, Anna Shcherbina used bright ribbons to add a rude message to a cross-stitch embroidery. Valentina Petrova slowly destroyed her own large self-portrait she had previously embroidered, unraveling it thread by thread. Alina Kopitsa rethought male identity in a series of witty surrealist embroideries of costume and body.
The exhibition as a whole testified to the fact that any traditional technique can become contemporary when re-animated by a political and/or personal agenda (“The personal is political,”’ as Carol Hanisch pointed out in 1970) that does not limit itself to commenting on the medium itself.
Джоан Тёрни. Культура вязания [The Culture of Knitting: Joanne Turney]
Challenging the stereotype of knitting as a safe and comfortable pastime, Joanne Turney shows that what was once considered a routine for housewives and elderly people has now become an incredibly popular practice. The lack of cultural acknowledgement of knitting has to do with the popular belief in its unchanging tradition that seems to offer no space for change. To prove this belief wrong, Turney embarks on an analysis of ample materials and studies on knitting from the past four decades.
In the chapter Knit Power—The Politics of Knitting, Turney discusses knitting as a contemporary strategy of resistance to industrial production, mass culture or world capitalism in general. Knitting can be a form of rebellion and this has been proven by political knitting groups (Revolutionary Knitting Circles; MicroRevolt), hippie communes and families that chose to be self-sustainable; feminist and other activist groups—and artists who chose knitting as their medium.
For example, Kimberley Elderton makes knitted installations that explore the confusion between real and created needs in consumer societies. For one of her projects she decided to knit all the things she wanted to have, such as a PlayStation console. However, she soon realized that the practice of knitting could help her control the need to have things by making her aware of their real cost. Most of her portfolio is made up by unfinished pieces, as her desire to have most objects faded as the effort that she needed to invest into work increased.
Knitting can also be used as a medium for communication, be it in a mass performance (public knitting), social action or peaceful protest (for example, Danish artist Marianne Jørgensen has knit a series of pink tank blankets of 4,000 squares sent by various people in protest against the war in Iraq).
Rethinking knitting as an activity that can have a variety of meanings, goals, and tasks, Joanne Turney has laid the path for further research into this common practice.
Hans Eijkelboom. People of the Twenty-First Century
Hans Eijkelboom started his now famous project of photographing similarly dressed people in different countries in 1992, and today it remains as meaningful as ever.
Eijkelboom’s work consists in studying crowds by shopping malls or in busy streets to seek out people who are dressed in a similar way. In the first minutes after choosing a spot, he looks at what people in the area are wearing and tries to notice any recurrent outfits. Any detail or accessory can capture his attention: from fur-trimmed hoods, American flag prints, stripes, polka dot or other patterns—to oversize necklaces, keffiyeh or tartan scarves.
Not interested in fashion, Eijkelboom explores contemporary identities and the contradictory desires of individuals to blend in and stand out—and, as his works show, the latter proves to be quite a difficult task. Indeed, what his photographs seem to capture is the fact that people no longer feel the need to express their character through their outfits and choose comfort and standard models developed by anonymous designers instead.