Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Reading, writing and thinking are part of our weaving practice too

Heads-up: Wordy post ahead with not much eye candy. If I know anything about tapestry weavers, it's that when we're not weaving, many of us are reading!  If you're looking for your next good book to curl up with, maybe something here will help.  

Lately I've been having to cut down on my weaving time, alas, because my shoulder is complaining. I know better than to weave for 2 hours without a break, but I get into the zone and then my body reminds me later, in a most unpleasant tone of voice.  Rebecca Mezoff reminds me that above all, I need to stop and take a break every 25 minutes. The link on Rebecca's name takes you to her  review of a book called Wellness for Makers.  Now I'm setting the alarm on my phone for 25 minutes every time I start to weave.  And forcing myself to obey!

Here are the two projects that have been mostly stalled for a few weeks as I recover.

This tapestry will be layered on top of the larger, previously woven piece.  Working title:  The Wreck.  Warp: 12/6 cotton seine twine; wefts: plastic, silk, wool, cotton, paper.   

A pulled warp canoe.  Working title: Bivium.  Warp: 12/6 cotton seine twine; wefts linen, plastic, paper, wire.

The upside of this down time is I have time to play/work/write in my sketchbook and especially time to read the art books I received over Christmas. This has been really good as it allows me time to think about where am I going in my work, and why? What am I trying to say?  And what's the best way to say it?  Does every idea I have need to be woven by hand, or are there pre-existing woven grids I can use as I continue to explore 3D options? Cheesecloth? Hardware cloth? Experiments await. . . 


Two fiber books I've really enjoyed recently.  The top one is the catalog for the current exhibit (closing 1/21) of the same name at LACMA in Los Angeles.  This book was named the "one of the best art books of the year" by the New York Times!  The second book is a fun look at loopy open mesh constructions being used in all sorts of non-traditional ways. 

These are the browngrotta gallery catalogs I've been enjoying.  There are way too many to choose from!

 I've been swooning over the elegant, finely crafted work in the catalogs from browngrotta gallery in Connecticut, a home for fine craft for the past several decades, and publishers of dozens of gorgeous catalogs.  I know that for me it's important to make work that is as visually attractive and finely crafted as possible. And like the work browngrotta features, my scale is small to medium.  It is made entirely by me (not a workshop of artisans) and it's destined for the home rather than the massive public installation. 

As I read, I'm mulling over what exactly I want to say in my work. Just calling viewers' attention to the climate crisis is no longer enough. How do we respond? Where do we go from here? How do we manage our grief and despair? I dislike work that preaches at me overtly, no matter how much I appreciate the sentiment, and that work is not mine to make. I've read or am reading a couple books on this subject recently that have enriched my thinking: Solastalgia: an Anthology of Emotion in a Disappearing World, edited by Paul Bogard,  and We Survived the End of the World: Lessons from Native America on Apocalypse and Hope by Steven Charleston.  I recommend both if this is a topic that interests you.

As I think about the enduring appeal and importance of fine craft, I realize that hard-won human craftsmanship, in weaving or any other medium, craftsmanship honed by instruction, practice, and time, is actually a hopeful thing that points toward our own abilities to find creative and beautiful solutions to problems. And the same symmetry, pattern, color and textures that I love in fine weaving are an imitation of these same qualities in the natural world, qualities that inspire many of the weavings we make. It's a beautiful feedback loop: nature-->craft-->nature. And it has been going on for as long as humans have been making art. 

I've just started reading a book adjacent to this subject by Adam Gopnik, The Real Work:  On the Mystery of Mastery.  Gopik takes on the subject of mastery, how is it achieved, what is the "real work" involved, in all sorts of fields, not just art (he discusses magic and magicians at great length).  And the chapter on how this modern art critic decided to take drawing lessons from a traditional realistic painter is fascinating.

It's clear that climate change is happening with devastating effect, everywhere. The best we can do now is try to slow it down and to ameliorate its effects. We need to cultivate every ounce of resilience in ourselves, in our communities and in our global community to meet the challenges head-on. 

I do believe, outlandish as it may sound, that our creative practices and even our tapestry weaving, allow us to hone our own resilience. We are constantly problem-solving as we weave, looking at the problem from various perspectives, crowd-sourcing solutions from the hive mind, doing our very best to do our best work. This is the creative persistence and cooperation we need everywhere. 

I'll close with my favorite line from the apocalyptic novel I read during the pandemic, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. In it a traveling troupe of players makes their way through the landscape of a ruined society, struggling to survive and offering performances for the ragtag communities they encounter. Painted on the side of their wagon of instruments and supplies is this: "Survival is insufficient." Humans need art, and always have.