|Reception, April 30, 2023, 12–4pm Basil Kincaid, Brandon Opalka, Coulter Fussell, Daniela Gomez-Paz, Elana Herzog, Ema Shin, Erick Medel, Frances Trombly, Gonzalo Hernandez, Hayley Sheldon, Joseph Awuah Darko, Kerry Phillips, Anya Paintsil, Loraine Lynn, Malaika Temba, Melissa Joseph, Moises Salazar Tlatenchi, Mr. Star City, Nabila Valera, Paolo Arao, Regina Jestrow, Samantha Bittman, Vadis Turner
Forget Me Not, 2021
Vintage chenille bedspread, mixed textiles, embroidery floss and sewing thread
92″ x 82″Many a stranger asked 21-year-old me what kind of art I was studying when I was finishing my BFA. “Are you a painter?” they (mostly) asked. And when I said, “No, I’m studying in the fiber department,” I would inevitably see a particular flicker cross their face, moving from perplexed to an attempt at connection: “Oh like sewing? Do you make clothes?”
That reaction never surprised me, but I always found the work of explaining what the “fiber arts” were (this is 1997) to be strangely difficult. The person waiting on my explanation often jumped into help: “Like quilts?” “Like crochet?” “Did your grandmother teach you?” And I was often answering, “Yes, but…” or “no, but…,” and not exactly failing to explain this form of expression, but usually coming up short. To stick with the mechanics of it (sewing, crochet, knitting, quilting) was to put too much emphasis on the skill of assembly (which is only part of the story), but at the same time, to explain the artform via the types of objects classified as fiber (quilts, tapestries, embroideries) was to shatter the field into too many parts – each deserving of a longer narrative about their histories and methodologies. What was clear however, was that the “idea” of the fiber or textiles arts (choose whatever term you prefer) felt in reach for most people. They had a kind of comfort and familiarity with the “things” that might make up the realm, eager to make connections to their own lives, experiences and families.
As I turned increasingly towards writing about art, I wrestled with the way artforms associated with craft were discussed. When talking about the glass, ceramic or fiber arts, the way something is made and the artist’s relationship to the material (a kind of dance with the elemental as much as a managing of its properties), is as important to the meaning of these objects as any narrative or symbolism they might deploy. Materiality is at the core in a different way in these disciplines, and it is what draws the maker and viewer together. In a recent catalog essay for the exhibition “Weaving Data” at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, I referenced Branden Hookway’s book, Interface when discussing the work of a group of artists – primarily weavers – whose work invoked digital technologies and spaces. Hookway wrote: “what most define the interface are the processes by which it draws together two or more otherwise incompatible entities into a compatibility.” The interface is the threshold between those entities. In this sense, fiber is a kind of magnetic threshold. It is a bit sticky, in that we can feel it in our bodily memory. The quilt, for example, can facilitate a connection between a viewer and maker on a different level – an affective level. We feel the quilt with our bodies, and we know it without rhetoric.—Regina Jestrow
Untitled 2, 2023
Ink, watercolor and acrylic on burnt muslin, second-hand shirting material, muslin, batting
34″ x 31.5″Hand Over Hand: Textiles Today is a glimpse into fiber’s prevalence in contemporary art. Its current visibility is a testament to something the discipline is capable of, that perhaps people are longing for anew: a bodily feeling of the world; an experience of ideas that enters through our skin as much as our eyes (even if, of course, we are only imagining the skin contact from sense memory). The interface we have become so familiar with – the one on our smartphones – only transports us to further disembodiment. The threshold that is cloth, however, situates humans back inside their form. It connects us to the other, through the intelligence of our bodies. Bodies that are hungry for interconnectivity. To be utilized for knowing.
The artists in Hand Over Hand: Textiles Today draw us closer through our memory of touch, the absorbency of cloth and the histories it carries with it. Do you feel the body of a former lover by your side when you see Basil Kincaid’s “Change is in the Air, Spring is on they Lips”? Does a story start to sink into your limbs as you study Erick Medel’s “Helados en la Playa (Ice cream vendor)”? Or maybe a knot of grief known mostly by your guts and little by your brain is roused by “Suspiro de un enredo” by Daniela Gomez-Paz. Try to move through this show with your whole being, reading and feeling in equal measure. What level of intimacy are you capable of having with these objects and ideas? How are you moved on a level that transcends your mind? We are so inundated with images today – moving around and through us at a speed that exceeds comprehension – that to take in an idea at the pace of absorption, is a pleasure that has taken on new significance. Leave the other hand-held interface in your pocket for now, and absorb this work and let it absorb you.
Shannon Stratton is a writer and curator based in Chicago, IL. She is currently the Executive Director at Ox-Bow School of Art in Saugatuck, MI.—Samantha Bittman
Acrylic on hand-woven textile
24″ x 20″