Gathering Threads: Contemporary Fiber Art
Our bodies touch fabric almost every hour of every day. Moments after birth we are washed by, and swaddled in, cloth. We sleep on it, dress in it, and decorate with it. It is so familiar that our eyes tell us what its texture will be before we touch it. We use the language of textiles — velvety, silky, cottony, wooly — as descriptors. Weaving, the most basic textile structure, is employed as a metaphor for how we live together. We speak of the “fabric” of our community or of our family.
It is no wonder that artists are drawn to working with textiles, or that we as viewers experience fiber art with our whole body and imagination. Gathering Threads is a survey of artists’ work that pushes the boundaries of traditional textile techniques into innovative, hybrid forms. The exhibit affords you a chance to explore myriad ways in which fiber can be exploited for its vast emotional and symbolic potential. (You are welcome to “feel” through your eyes, but, tempting as it may be, please don’t touch with your hands!)
Embroidery is the art of making decorative patterns with raised thread on a surface, typically a woven fabric. Mike Asente embroiders, onto swaddling cloth, Hummel-like figures of children saying their nightly prayers or repeating parental admonishments. With delicate and unnerving effect, the words underscore the tension between a guiding hand and scolding, encouragement and disappointment, innocence and guilt.
Melissa Zexter and Diane Meyer embellish and distort original and vintage photographs with elaborate embroidery patterns — Zexter using both created and found images, and Meyer raiding the family photo album. Like many contemporary photographers, both are concerned with photographs as material objects. Layering new content over the sitters’ images reanimates them, turning them into something strange and beautiful. Orly Cogan stitches vintage magazine ads with images of well-known characters from children’s literature. The result is a crazy quilt of consumer culture, popular culture, and childhood reimagined.
Matthew Cox adorns x-ray film with detailed headgear from different historical periods. His Warriors Series features military helmets. One is a contemporary GI helmet, the other from a suit of armor. Cox makes use of the same neck/torso x-ray in both pieces, calling attention to the ceaseless nature of warfare, injury, and death.
Clothing is perhaps the most personal, external means we have of conveying identity and image to ourselves and others. Used clothing bears the imprint of the previous wearer’s body and personality. Daria Dorosh recycles clothing into wall hangings. An embroidered neckline hints at an Eastern European origin; color combinations call to mind Africa; a variety of textures show changing seasons; an assortment of patterns chronicles changing tastes and underscores the passage of time.
Jacquard fabric is a loomed textile with a raised, figured pattern woven directly into the cloth. Among the most sumptuous textiles, it is valued by cultures around the globe. Master jacquard weaver Bhakti Ziek created a series of seven monumental wall hangings for this exhibition. Her vocabulary includes basic geometric shapes, alphabets, words, numbers, and scientific signs, symbols, and diagrams. Ziek’s work alludes to the cosmology of our era in much the same way that tapestries of the medieval period distilled the worldview of their makers.
Joan Morris and Michele Ratté work both independently and collaboratively. They jointly hold a patent on the process of applying 23-karat gold to fabric. In their Animation Series, images drawn from the sea float in gold leaf atop handwoven, hand-dyed silk banners. The glint of precious metal contrasts sharply with the rich hues of gossamer silk in these opulent, sensuous objects.
Morris’s solo work celebrates the intricacy of textile techniques, including dyeing, weaving, and stitching. Her abstract pieces are notable for their subtle shifts in color and tone and their dramatic juxtapositions of translucency and opacity. Ratté’s independent work is sculptural in nature, biomorphic and evocative in effect. With fabric forms set on three-dimensional armatures, a work may appear to be the skeletal frame and soft tissue of a mysterious plant or animal. Other associations include molecules or solar systems come to life.
The human body is source material for both Sam Talbot-Kelly and Caroline Lathan-Stiefel. Talbot-Kelly’s animatronic figure is gowned in billowing red fabrics ornamented with schematic representations of the heart and cradling tea cups containing the artist’s mother’s ashes. The piece explores the centrality of the heart as a physical, emotional, and metaphorical life force. Lathan-Stiefel’s inspiration is microscopic, in this instance a single nerve cell. Fashioned by splicing and knotting pedestrian materials such as pipe cleaners, commercial webbing, and rope, the work pulses with both the energy of its making and the vitality of its form.
Collaborators Nora Ligorano/Marshal Reese weave with a very twenty-first century material — fiber optic filament. I AM I, is a portrait made from data that is constantly updating, collected and generated by the activity-tracking program FitBit. Displaying an abstract representation of the sitter’s activities and feelings, based on responses to a self-reporting emotional survey, the portrait exists in near–real time, even sleeping from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. Although the warp and weft threads are static, viewers experience movement. Color, brightness, and tempo alter, sometimes dramatically, as the sitter’s emotions and actions feed into the program. This portrait gives fresh meaning to the expression “the fabric of our lives.”
— Mara Williams, Chief Curator