This week I explored the role of fiber in feminist art. It's a small digression from tapestry weaving, but I think it's important to spend time thinking about the more recent role of fiber in art in order to orient my work.
Louise Bourgeois was the mother of confessional art. She worked in many mediums including marble, bronze, paint, installation, and fabric synthesizing memory, sexuality, and sensation into powerful imagery.
These pieces are from a series Femme Maison that examines the relationship between the female body and domesticity.
Many of Bourgeois's soft sculptures — or fabric drawings as she called them —— are sewn from her own clothing. "For her, sewing was an act of healing or reparation, linked to memories of her mother who ‘would sit out in the sun and repair a tapestry or a petit point’, an image of calm amid more distressing family dynamics." (Art Blart via Heide Museum of Modern Art).
Many young women learn skills in sewing or some form of textile making, which can feel divorced from a formal art practice, being either too utilitarian or decorative. However, the process
is also intimate, meditative, and expressive. I come across a lot of stories about women finding mindfulness or a form of healing by returning to these techniques.
Seven in Bed, 2001
Louise Bourgeois considers sewing as a defense, stating "I am so afraid of the things I might do. The defense is to do the opposite of what you want to do." Women are continuously taught to internalize their emotions, while men are taught to externalize them. Women are taught to partake in these quiet, domestic activities, which it why it's disruptive when those activities produce perverse or subversive objects.
Bourgeois often used images of spiders as a representation of her mother.
The Spider is an ode to my mother. She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver. My family was in the business of tapestry restoration, and my mother was in charge of the workshop. Like spiders, my mother was very clever. (Louise Bourgeois, Tate.org.uk)
In my own work I have adopted the wasp as a similarly protective, motherly creature. She constructs her home from chewing wood fibers into pulp and sculpting individual cells for each egg she lays.
Elaine Reichek's early fiber work plays with ideas of structure and scale using knitting patterns. She draws out knitting patterns and places the beside knitted objects and hand-colored images of man-made structures.
Temple of Heaven, 1982
In her Dwellings series she creates a compelling narrative about fragility, and the preservation of culture. She gives a new life to these photos by coloring on them. They are unfamiliar, but are somehow still recognizable as homes. The knitted objects hang on the wall next to the photos like pelts of skinned animals.
East Africa, 1985
I find her use of fiber compelling because it challenges assumptions about materiality and structure. I wouldn't immediately classify this work as feminist, but I love her use of fiber for social commentary.
Tracey Emin is another notable figure in the confessional art movement. Her work Everyone I Have Slept With 1963-1995 was under extensive scrutiny even after it was lost to a fire in 2004. The work was a tent hand-appliquéd with the names of everyone she had shared a bed with from 1963 to 1995.
Of her work, I am most drawn to her quilts. She sews typographic quilts that feel like personal, stream of consciousness diary entries. The words seem to be a combination of the negative messages that many women receive, as well as a monument to her own raw emotions.
It Always Hurts, 2005
Just Like Nothing, 2009
Emin is a storyteller whose subject matter comes from Emin’s own rich life. Through the poetry of her honest retelling of unique and intimate life-events Emin establishes a generous dialogue between the viewer and the artist. (Saatchi Gallery)
Her work addresses female body image, abortion, and rape in a way that feels honest and emotionally vulnerable. Though the work feels obsessively labored over, there are spelling and grammatical errors. Though the imperfectness and the fragility of her medium, her work is quite sharp.
While Messager does not consider herself a feminist, she speaks very profoundly of feminist issues and "women's work". In an interview with Bernard Marcade for Bomb Magazine she says, "I’ve always been interested in devalued arts. As a woman, I was already a devalued artist. Being a member of a minority, it is in the order of things that I should be attracted to so called marginal objects". She later says, "I think minorities become strong precisely because they take advantage of their own strengths, and not because they try to imitate those of the majority . . ."(Bombmagazine.org)
Le Repos des Pensionnaires (The Sleeping Boarders), 1971
For Le Repos des Pensionnaires, Messager collected taxidermy sparrows and knit them all sweaters. In an article from the LA Times, she is quoted "I'm attracted to repetition and collecting as a way of defying death--a collection is never finished because there's always something to add. I like there to be too much in my work and I need excess." Her use of craft highlights the idea of preciousness. Each bird has been loved, and each bird is important.
I found this essay Michelle Gauthier wrote and embroidered for a a Feminist Fiber Art exhibition. I think it helps define the movement and place it in history. She says, "..craft is no longer a submissive, feminine practice; it is a High Art form capable of great impact on its viewers".
I think it is important to distinguish that not all craft is art, but craft can be art, and should not be dismissed.
Kjersti Faret is a feminist craftivist in New York City. I thought is was appropriate to include her work because she is uses imagery from mythology and religion to talk about femininity.
Adapt or Surrender
A Self Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman
Inventing My Own False Mythology
I have recently been thinking a lot about how textiles can tell stories. My idea for false mythology is a story about tapestries taking on a life of their own. They bond with the people around them, and they transform over time taking on characteristics of their surroundings. They absorb other particles, fibers, and stains, and patches when they are mended.
I would really like to make tapestries that have presence. I want them to feel alive and interact with the world. I have always had a strong connection to textiles. Certain fabrics can bring back memories or give comfort to me. It is not unusual for young children to bond with a baby blanket, even name it. I would like to tell the stories of these fibers in a whimsical way that highlights the very real significance of textiles in society.
This is something I made during an exercise in class. We were given 30 minutes to make an advertisement for our topics. I thought about how I could talk about the relationship between computing and weaving using only a few words. I started to think of them as two entities with a long, intertwined history.
While researching over the past several weeks I have been trying to parse the relationship between weaving and computing. I wasn't able to find a single answer, but rather a glimpse at a complicated relationship. I am still navigating my way through their histories, trying to find a cohesive narrative to share.
I chose a love story, because it's a format people relate to. Weaving and textiles are conventionally thought of as feminine, while computer science is a predominantly male field. I could see this poster feeling somewhat hermaphroditic, and thus complicated to dissect. The use of "love story" sets the expectation of drama and mystery.
My big question now is what is this an ad for? I had originally imagined it as a poster for an exhibit, but it could easily be a movie poster or a book cover.
It felt really refreshing to get back into design. I would definitely try an exercise like this again.