Wednesday, October 25, 2017

"The Box Project" at the Textile Museum, Washington DC

In my last post I described one of two exhibits I recently had the chance to see at George Washington University's Textile Museum in Washington, DC.  The other show is "The Box Project," which has also been on view at the Fowler Museum at UCLA and at the Racine Art Museum in Wisconsin.  The exhibit runs through January 29, 2018 in Washington, and a catalog is available by calling the museum shop at 202-833-1285.

The premise of the exhibit will be familiar to anyone who has belonged to a fiber guild:  the "challenge project" inviting members to work within a particular set of parameters.  In guilds this may take the form of using a specific fabric, yarn, palette, technique or theme to make a piece.  These challenges offer a way for guild members to stretch their skills and to see how different makers may interpret the same assignment. Sometimes there are prizes to provide a little extra motivation!

In the case of the Box Project, textiles collector Lloyd Cotsen invited 36 artists to make fiber work specifically to fit inside a box that measured 14" x 14" x 3" or 14" x 23" x 3".  In effect, he was challenging artists to think "outside the box" by working inside it.  The term fiber was loosely defined and ultimately included materials such as plastic tubing, copper wire, paper, buttons, beads, and spools of thread.

The exhibit offers a fascinating peek inside the artists' creative process.  Correspondence between artists and Cotsen or his textiles curator, Mary Hunt Kahlenberg (d. 2011), is on display, along with small samples and sketches that show the artists' developing ideas for the project.  Many of the artists are represented not only by their box pieces but also by several larger works more typical of their usual practice.  It was interesting to see how artists adapted their usual style of working to the new smaller format.

Here are a few images from the show that captured my attention.

Helena Hernmarck, Color Triptyk, 2005
for The Box Project

Helena Hernmarck, Homage to Mary Kahlenberg, 2012.
wool and flax woven with strips from sequin manufacturing

Shibori artist Ana Lisa Hedstrom had this insight:

Making a piece to fit inside the box was harder than it should have been.  . . .When something is very large, there is a certain impact, which is why so many fibers artists work in a huge scale.  There is a certain "wow" factor.  . . .The miniature has to encourage the viewer to spend some time with it.  It can't be too complex; the statement you are making is like a haiku: it has brevity but it has to come together.  But it can't be so simple that it's like you shrugged your shoulders.

Ana Lisa Hedstrom, Fissures, 2005.
hand-pleated shibori-dyed silk

Embroidery artist Mary Bero, whose embroidered faces are typically quite small, chose to subdivide the box even further to make a collection or "compendium" representing the whole range of her artistic production over the years.

Mary Bero, Compendium, 2012-13
cotton cloth, linen cord, paper, silk and cotton thread, spools, metal wire,
pins and embroidery mounted in a wood box painted with acrylic paint

Like Hedstrom, John Garrett found the constraints of the small format difficult, saying "When I have a larger format to work with, there is more room to make something compelling."  It seems to me he succeeded in making visually exciting work on both scales.

John Garrett, Untitled, The Box Project
woven copper wire mesh with plastic, shells, buttons, beads, bells
and metal washers attached with waxed linen cord

John Garrett, no info available (apologies)

Virginia Davis did not feel constrained by the box format, saying:

I'm very much into reflections and images that bounce back and forth.  So the title of this piece is Bounded by a Nutshell, that is from Hamlet:  'I could be bounded by a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space.' The whole piece is reflecting back and forth yet you're bound in a box, though it's not restricting you.  When you're in a box, you're bounded by a nutshell.
Virginia Davis, Bounded by a Nutshell, 2004
linen painted with acrylic pigment and woven in double ikat;
holographic and handmade paper; handmade clamshell box

As for me, I enjoy giving myself certain limits or parameters to start with when I begin a project. What about you?  Would you find working within a small box format limiting, or freeing? 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Fiber art at the Textile Museum in DC

I was in Washington, DC last weekend and had the chance to visit what I think of as one of the shrines of my people:  the Textile Museum, now housed at George Washington University. The museum relocated a few years back from a lovely but cramped location in Northwest Washington, and I was excited to finally see the new digs.  I was not disappointed.  And it is an easy walk from the Foggy Bottom Metro stop! Yay!

The new space has three floors of exhibit space and also connects to the historic Woodhull House, which contains a collection related to the history of Washington, DC.  Artwork owned by the university is also on exhibit, but I have to confess only had eyes for two fiber shows that I had read about in various publications.

"Scraps:  Fashion, Textile, and Creative Reuse" spotlights the work of three designers to reduce and re-purpose the staggering amount of textile waste that the clothing industry generates every year.  Wall text in the exhibit states that apparel and textiles is the second-most polluting industry in the world, after oil!  Wow. 

Luisa Cevese founded Riedizioni ("re-editions") in Milan, Italy to produce new products using the selvedges cut from the edges of industrially woven sari silk.  She embeds these fragments in polyurethane to make colorful and eye-catching new products.  I loved the idea and the look of the tote bag pictured below:  so fun!  But when I examined one of the bags up close in the museum gift shop, I wasn't crazy about the heavy plastic feel, nor the $450 price tag. I wonder how ecologically friendly the production of polyurethane is and what the byproducts of that process are.  And how can enough people afford a $450 tote bag to make the process feasible, long-term? 

Luisa Cevese, silk selvedge waste (foreground),
Spread Textile, 8 Hours Bag, and Large Basket Bag

Reiko Sudo, with the Japanese textile design firm NUNO, also works with silk waste. She uses the outer covering of the silk cocoon that previously was discarded,  making it into yarn that can be woven on industrial looms.  She has also re-purposed the residue from the spinning process to make a kind of patchwork cloth-paper.  Her fabrics have a subtle, textured beauty.

Reiko Sudo, silk cocoon waste (foreground) and various products
I really fell in love, though, with the work of Christina Kim, the designer behind the Los Angeles brand dosa.  Her practice is based in reverence for handwork and a goal of zero-waste in the re-use of very fine cotton sari fabric.  She works with Indian craftspeople to piece scraps from sari production (first generation) into new cloth, embellishing it with embroidery and applique, and creating new clothing (second generation).  Scraps from this process are also collected and become small applique  circles on pieced yardage (third generation).  Even the small scraps from this process are collected and made into tiny amulets (fourth generation).  Some scraps are overdyed to unify them visually  before being constructed into garments.

Christina Kim, First-generation garments:
 Choga, Rabari jacket; and Recycled Jamdari Panel 
Here's a detail of the panel above:

Christina Kim, detail, Recycled Jamdari Panel 
I love the layers of translucent fabric and intricate stitching. 

Christina Kim, Second-generation garments: 
Fraulein dress, Eungie Skirt;
Third-generation garment:  Eungie Skirt (over-dyed)
Here's a close-up on one of the skirts:

Christina Kim, detail, Eungie Skirt

Christina Kim, Amulets,
hand-embroidered and containing a folded Hindu prayer
This was my favorite piece of all though:

Christina Kim, Tikdis Shawl
Over 600 small scrap "dots" are hand-appliqued to each shawl.
It is encouraging and exciting to see up close the work of pioneering textile designers to change the way we produce and use fabric.  They may even change our notion of what is beautiful clothing, widening it to include pieces with a frankly scrappy look.  I hope that as these efforts become more common, the processes become scalable so that the products can reach wider and broader markets.

This show is on view at the Textile Museum through January 7, 2018. 

Next time, I'll share my impressions of the larger show on view at the museum, The Box Project:  Uncommon Threads.  It was really wonderful!