As an undergraduate I focused my art major in fibers, mainly surface design and weaving. Then, as a graduate student, I majored in fibers and textiles. To this day, the loom is the most amazing tool I’ve ever encountered. It’s simply constructed and its parts are obvious, yet it helps us create one of the most complex of man-made materials, cloth. Warping a loom requires extreme attention to detail while weaving can become trance-like; it’s easy to be absent, only able to hear the melody of the shuttle and reed moving in time to your own internal rhythm.
The Wexner press release states “there has long been a bias against compositions involving fiber” – domesticity, gender, and the exhausting polarity of art and craft. To see such works in major exhibition spaces, first at the ICA/Boston and now the Wexner does help validate these artists – mostly women and many non-American.
The exhibition is divided into five sections: Architecture (sculptural or site-specific), The Grid (reference to warp and weft), Gravity (materiality, soft and fluid), Feminism (both in process and context), and Color (with and without). The big names are here: Magdalena Abakanowicz, Sheila Hicks, Lenore Tawney, and the like. My favorite work was one with which I am well familiar and have never experienced: Beryl Korot’s 1970s work Text and Commentary.
Video from Art21’s profile of Beryl Korot because you just have to hear the threads and the loom!
A newer work I really enjoyed was Ernesto Neto’s SoundWay (2012). I wanted to walk through it and hear the sounds of the small bells and seed pods attached to its base. Neto suggests in his statement that he wants viewers “to caress, manipulate, enter, or wear” his work. Yet there was no indication in the Center that this was permissible. Like many museums and galleries, I was confronted by security guards at each turn and heard a few times “please don’t touch the artwork” (directed at others, of course).
Perhaps this is part of why fibers has never become mainstream. Mainstream relies on prominent venues with an old school approach to art appreciation – you learn the piece with only your eyes and perhaps sound. Fibers is tactile, emotive, and performative. You can’t stand and stare at fibers. This is why Korot’s work is still transformative after all these years. She provides the viewer with the process (through patterns, notations, and video) and the product.
The show’s catalogue is really beautiful. It includes even more work than is in the exhibition and profiles both historically significant and contemporary fiber artists. It’s a must-have for an art library collection. Also check out Jeff Regensburger’s review of the show on the Columbus Underground – glad we have a new convert to the world of fibers!