The Textile Arts Center provides artists, working professionals, students, and artisans with the tools for making and sharing fiber art in their work space. It aspires to empower and unify the textile community, and advocate for the handmade.
Before the era of fast fashion and mass production of clothing, mending was a skill and practice men and women participated in on a regular basis. Most people bought fabric and made their own clothing. With a limited number of outfits, our resourceful predecessors spent the time caring for and repairing their clothing or repurposing the fabric to make something entirely new. While mending and darning to make the repair look invisible is common, visible-mending styles such as the traditional Japanese embroidery technique of Sashiko has experienced a resurgence in recent years for those looking to use mending as a form of self-expression and as an antidote to the excesses of the disposable fashion trends of today.
repurposed yarn, respun & made a-new
Make It, Mend It Club meets every third Thursday at Textile Arts Center’s Brooklyn Studio from 6:30-9:30 pm and we are calling all makers, menders, crafters, and creatives to join us in mending their old clothing, starting a new project, or finishing an old one. Tools and materials will be available to all, and bringing something to share with the whole group is encouraged – whether that be a donation, materials, snacks, drinks, or a friend! The next two meetings will be Thurs, May 16th and Thurs, June 20th when we will welcome the author of the Make + Mend book Jessica Marquez as our special guest for the evening.
The co-hosts of Make It, Mend It Club are artists and educators Victoria Manganiello, Jennie Maydew, and Linh My Truong. We caught up with them to discuss their connection to mending and vision for this social gathering of makers & menders.
What is your personal/artistic relationship to mending?
Victoria: I use mending techniques in my work as an artist and for the basic needs of the textiles in my everyday life. I love the “look” of visible mending and have found a lot of inspiration from traditional techniques. I’m an intuitive maker and so while the strict stitches don’t come naturally to me, I find there is a freedom within a framework and I like to take a method as something specific to translate.
Jennie: As a teenager, I taught myself to make clothes by altering thrift store garments. I admired how existing shapes and textures would respond to new alterations. Existing clothing also provided an accessible foundation for a beginner seamstress. Coming of age in my own creations developed my pride in owning one-of-a-kind clothing no one else was going to have. After moving to New York nearly a decade later, I internalized a mindset of easy consumption and easy disposal. City living explicitly encourages this kind of lifestyle. Mending became a mantra for slowing down. It increased my sense of value for resource- and labor-intensive objects. The concept of ‘ritual’ is steadily gaining significance in my practice, but I’ve always had an artist’s intuition to reuse objects after their initial purpose is fulfilled. I am curious how mending can develop into ritual as we extend the lives of our garments and imbue them with value.
Linh: I grew up with parents who sewed professionally. My mother had her own children’s clothing line when I was young, and she gave me a great deal of leeway as a child to choose the color, style, and pattern of what she would make for me. As a result, I was taught very early on to use sewing and mending skills as a means to create custom clothing for myself and assert my personality into what I wear. I learned the value of materials over brand-name and began a vintage clothing obsession that continues today. Mending has become a method of personalization, self-care, and thoughtful adornment.
Sashiko mended jeans
How do you incorporate sustainability into your practice?
Victoria: Whenever possible, I use upcycled materials or if new, sustainable materials that have been produced and sourced ethically. I also try to incorporate the conversation into my work and take any chance I can to share what I have learned about how we can be more responsible consumers. Conceptually, my artwork explores the relationships between natural and synthetic materials and how observing that binary can help us discover what’s possible between two extremes.
Jennie: My formal background is in natural dyes and weaving, and I have always been drawn to using natural materials in both of these processes. My current work utilizes traditional methods such as hand sewing, basketry, and natural dyeing. These skills have existed for millennia because of their sustainability toward communities, resources, and the earth. The continuity of craft depends on how eager people are to support it. Natural dyeing is popular right now because people are interested in learning about it. The practice of mending has experienced a similar resurgence–even to the point where contemporary “mending” can be purely decorative! Not only does Make It, Mend It Club build community, but it invites participation in the continuity of crafts and craftspeople.
Linh: Coming from a fashion background, I quickly became aware of the wasteful and unsustainable practices of the industry. As an artist, I make an effort to be conscious of materials and to use deadstock or sustainable materials as much as possible. As a sewing instructor, I try to share my knowledge of the industry to encourage students to create their own clothing using quality, sustainable materials and mend as much as possible to extend the life cycle of their clothing. Mending is a way of reconnecting with our clothing and valuing the skill and effort that goes into making it.
Yidan Zeng, part of the Make It, Mend It community
How does collaboration and sharing your practice with others aid your creative process?
Victoria: I am an educator. I love sharing what I know because I find it’s a way for me to learn. I want to live in an open source world where the success of one benefits the group and visa-versa. For me, textiles and textile makers might be the place in the art world for this to actually happen. Community and sharing are embedded so deeply into the practice of constructing and manipulating cloth.
Jennie: As a craftsperson and educator, I am uniquely positioned to advocate for skill development. I teach classes from the kindergarten to adult level and am always engaged in a cycle of learning, making, teaching, and re-learning. I am invested in skill sharing because it’s an empowering experience for both the teacher and the learner.
Linh: As an artist, I am often caught in my own bubble of ideas. I mainly work independently on projects and yearn to collaborate with like-minded individuals. Teaching and sharing my practice gives me the ability to connect with others and return to a beginner’s mind, which is the state of greatest creative freedom. The best lessons I learn are often from children as they have the least inhibition to do things the “right” way.
What is driving you to create a social, community event centered around making?
Victoria: My ideal night is one sitting around a table with yarn, snacks, and friends. I’m not into bars and nightlife. I find so much joy in spending time doing something relaxing and also productive. I make things for my job so it’s also nice to take that activity I love and put it towards something that isn’t work. It’s a reminder of why I love what I do.
Jennie: Last year our co-collaborator Victoria developed a series of mending nights that she would host at her studio. Participation in these community-driven events increased the visibility of making and supported accountability in starting and finishing projects. Make It, Mend It Club directly developed from Victoria’s mending series. Textiles are really engaging for people. If you’ve ever knit or crocheted on a crowded subway (or seen someone doing it) you know exactly what I mean. Despite our digitized world, most people still know someone with a textile practice or they themselves own a handmade textile object–maybe a quilt, needlepoint, or hand-sewn Halloween costume. I envision Make It, Mend It Club as a dedicated environment for curiosity, collaboration, visibility, and accountability. People have been gathering to do textile work for thousands of years. It made sense for us to do it together, too.
Linh: There is something really special and wonderful about doing an activity individually but together with a group of people. I love to see what others are working on and being inspired by the different voices around the table. Mending, in particular, is something easy enough for anyone to pick up and add their own spin on it. It also does not take up that much space, so it encourages a physical closeness with the group. Extending the focus of the group to making anything allows for greater flexibility and openness in the projects that come to the table, and the emphasis remains simply on coming together with others to make something with your own two hands.
Florida born, Colorado raised Gabriella Loeb is a New York-based sculptor with a background in fashion from FIT in New York and textiles from Konstfack; Stockholm University of Arts, Craft, and Design. Wilma Tesch met her in her Brooklyn apartment to talk about inspiration, silk satins and smocking among other things.
Imitation of One, toile, resin, & metal, 135 x 212 x 110 cm, 2015
Wilma: What is the biggest driving force in your work?
Gabriella: To take a thought or a glimpse of a vision and make it real. To reinvent myself and the work in the process, and if I’m lucky to exceed my expectations and surprise myself.
What is your biggest source of inspiration?
Lately, I’ve been inspired by things that are overgrown. This summer there were these sunflowers growing on the sidewalk that were 8 feet tall towering over the parked cars on the street. They felt as if they could devour the car. That’s a feeling I’m after in my own work – that indiscriminate appetite that wants to multiply and devour. The point as to where whatever existed before can no longer be recognized.
When did you start to develop the techniques you use now and why are they interesting to you?
I developed a lot of my techniques early on when I was making clothing for myself and then later refined them at FIT and working in the fashion industry. At first, it wasn’t a conscious choice to use what I learned from fashion. I was actually trying to distance myself but, in the end, it stuck with me. The way I work with sculpture is similar to how I make clothing, it’s a very methodical process. My folded textile sculptures were inspired by the smocked dresses I wore as a child. I was always fascinated by them because I could never quite figure out how they were made. Later on, I realized I could use this technique of folding to build structure. I sewed thousands of folds with the use of the grid. The grid is what I use to create movement. I use it many of my sculptures. In the work Sun Queen it creates form by structuring each individual spike.
St. Teresa on Ecstasy, semi-clear silicone, aluminum, 55 x 180 cm, 2014
Is movement a big part of your work?
Yes, it’s a repeating theme. It comes from my desire to make a work that is dynamic. That utilizes light, dark, movement, and texture. But also a certain amount of friction and release. My experience as a dancer has definitely shaped my approach to sculpture. It has given me an understanding of all the components that build a simple posture and how to command space through the body.
What materials do you like using and what drives your choices of them?
I choose materials with ecstatic qualities, defiant metals, and decadent silk satins. Lately, I’ve really been into polyester resin and silk satin. I’m attracted to how they refract light. They both share an incandescent quality, especially in the way the medium absorbs color, it reminds me of Technicolor film.
Quadratura, silk satin, plexiglass, 61 x 66 x 14 cm, 2018
You lived in my hometown Stockholm for almost a decade, what are the biggest differences between Stockholm and New York (apart from the obvious such as range, size, etc) in terms of working as an artist?
Well, I’ve only been here a year but, I would say there is much more access to different types of material. If you can dream of it it’s just a phone call away. It’s nice to have options to get exactly what it is you want.
I read in one of your old interviews that one of the reasons you did IMITATION OF ONE and ONE WHO ONCE WAS was because you were bored with the fashion body – can you explain that?
I got to the point with fashion where I no longer wanted to work within its rigid structure. I wanted to work intuitively, experimenting more with material and developing my own techniques and processes. I became less interested in the fashion body and more interested in building body in the material itself.
Imitation of One (detail), toile, resin, metal, 135 x 212 x 110 cm, 2015
I find that your sculptures have a lot of restrained anger. Your older ones with a bit less polished finish like SUN QUEEN, ONE WHO ONCE WAS and SOWN IN DISHONOR RAISED IN GLORY has a more obvious expression to them but your newer ones, the pieces in silk in the plexiglass are so neat with perfect finish yet it still has a lot of anger to them. I also feel a lot of anger in the combination of silicone, muslin, and metal. What do you think about that? Is that something you´ve done on purpose?
I think that’s an interesting reading considering the way I handle the silk with such care and love. In a way, I’m almost a little intimidated of the material because it’s so precious. I spend so many hours meticulously sewing, delicately shaping, fluffing them up. It’s probably why I want to protect them from greedy little fingers who assume textile is theirs to touch. My decision to use plexiglass was probably the most aggressive choice I could have made. Isolating a material that is made with the warmth of the hand. The colors I chose are also pretty vulgar but, are also a bit of a guilty pleasure and a secret love. The same goes for the bows. I like the fact that I can use what´s typically seen as cute and give it claws. The choice to use metal and silicone was aggressive but, also sexual. I realized in my folded textile works that I wasn’t just folding material but piercing it over and over again. I wanted to magnify that idea by maximizing the fleshiness of silicone against the coldness of steel. At the time I was reading a lot about baroque sculpture, in particular, St. Teresa de Avila’s written account of her ecstatic experience with god.
Sun Queen, polyester, fiberglass, aluminum, & steel, 50 x 150 x 120 cm, 2018
Your silk pieces also make me think about a very well dressed, controlled and proud woman and I see a very strong connection to fashion; what is your inspiration for them?
Every time I came across an image of silk on my phone I saved it. There is something so divine about silk, it would have to be one of the most photogenic materials. Especially when its folded, and twisted, manipulated into bows and shirred into ruffles. I looked at a lot of women’s 18th-century rococo clothing, early 19th-century fashion and what John Galliano did for Dior in the early 2000s. I love the way these ornamentations enhance the body and give it power.
What projects are you working on now and where are you heading with them?
I will continue working with my satin reliefs, refining my process and blowing up the proportions. I want to make them even more intricate and difficult for myself. A while back a friend gave me a collection of Russian imperial textile fragments from the winter palace in St. Petersburg. I will use these as a starting point for new work. I’m interested in the origins of the patterns and the meaning behind the religious iconography. The patterns themselves are pretty impressive, they weave in an out of themselves with no beginning or end.
Trigger-Happy (detail), Armani satin, grandmother’s lace, & plexiglass, 61 x 66 x 14 cm, 2018
The way Loeb talks about her work makes me eager to work myself. She has such a strong point of view and a well thought out process that yet has a lot of playfulness to it. Her work is fascinating in many aspects and the way her work has developed over the years is remarkable. In a time of fast industries, she really takes her time to do precise work that never fails to amaze you.
I sat down with artist David B. Smith on a Saturday after his Open Studio hours. While the open chance to come in and speak to Smith had passed, he continued to observe how people passing on the street stopped to look in the window, interacting with his work in a completely different manner.
Smith came to textiles from photography, with an undergrad degree in art history from Oberlin College, and a graduate degree from the International Center of Photography and Bard College partnership. He made the move into textiles about five years ago, inspired by a photo-throw of a friend’s cat and her connection with the image. There is an accessibility to textiles, a comfort and familiarity for the audience. This leads to a higher engagement with the pieces, a breakdown of the boundaries that can be created by other mediums. He works in different forms, from large jacquard woven pieces, to soft sculptures to wearables.
The idea of engagement and social engagement have led Smith to his project while a part of the Work in Progress residency. Titled “Mirror,” there is no specific outcome, only a specific idea. “It’s all about being present and considering all the input that I receive, and seeing what strikes a chord in me. How I can reflect it back most efficiently and that makes the most sense for my subjectivity and interest.” Smith is exploring new techniques and approaches to textiles, inspired by his interactions with others within the studio. Each artist has their own way to approach and explore textiles, and by understanding their approach, it offers an opportunity to try and think about textiles in a different way. This also breaks down to the idea of the artist as a solitary, inaccessible force. Viewers can see Smith’s process through the window and Open Studio, and how it can shift throughout the residency.
There were people within the studio hand weaving on looms, which sparked an interest for Smith. He quickly realized that he was not going to be able to reach the level of imagery that is within his work, instead wanting a digital intervention with the weaving. Space and tools can be limiting in the small 10 x 5 square foot studio, but Smith approached this challenge by exploring techniques he was already familiar with to create something unexpected. Instead of weaving, he is recreating the base pattern of a weave through paint on an existing grid, inspired by weaving pattern books within the studio. It is reflecting the reality of weaving, but warped in execution and exact form. This continues Smith’s exploration in “Mirror,” it “reflects reality, but also warps reality.[...] What I take in will come out completely different, and I’m interested in emphasizing that difference. ”
There is a desire to take a very structured form, like jacquard weaving and then breaking down the structure through traditional hand techniques like embroidery. This intervention breaks down the rigidity of the weave, taking control and shifting the meaning for yourself. This ties back to an idea that Smith has about how by going back to these structured memories, or stories that we tell ourselves, we can slowly gain control over the ones that have control over us. Just like stitching or painting over a jacquard weave, we can gain control over these stories by repeated interventions. This leads to the idea of softness. Smith likes the soft, not just in structure, but “as a sign of strength and flexibility, and adaptation and movement. I’m being soft. I don’t know what I’m doing but that’s the point.”
Concepts of the mind, memory and imagination are addressed in different ways and approaches. Currently Smith is imagining an alternative future and scenarios where biological and technology have merged. Ideas of what our homes will look like, how we will communicate and how art will also change. While Smith has a range of inspiration, a lot comes from his own childhood in the 1980s, playing video games and adjusting from the pre- to post-internet age. During this period, there was a blending of organic and digital space. When Smith was playing Nintendo as a child he realized that he was inhabiting a character in a digital world, and he was holding it in his identity.
The embrace of imagination and a memory of creating a beanbag in Cub Scouts, led to Smith’s workshop “Make Your Own Pet Snake.” Open to all ages, it introduces participants to textiles and Smith’s work through making a small soft sculpture in the form of a snake. Smith uses tubular shapes in his work since it is a form found in biological formations from a root or branch to blood vessels. It is a workshop to explore your imagination and what creature you could create, whether of this world, or a technological and biological future.
“Each artist has their own theories and they’re just saying their theories outloud. But for me, for example, I don’t expect people to adopt my theories, just to test it out, to see what works for you. [...] At the same time recently I’ve been having this idea of each artist having their own dream, like dreaming then so we’re all sharing our dreams with each other. [...] Our dreams are overlapping and I can learn from your dream, you can learn from my dream. And we can see how each of each other are thinking and what our hopes are, what are fears are. And to me, art is the greatest form of communication, the most nuanced form of communication to talk about really subtle things that are hard to talk about. ”
“A drop of dark blue appears, its stain spreading over the surface. Tendrils stretch across, their circuits entwining and dispersing, carving lucid pathways in their wake. The deepest blue requires more than just one application, it is a multitude of layers blended into one another, with slightly different circumstances and results each time, as sapphire streams ebb and flow concurrently. The azure currents of time, energy, and memory upwell and merge in union.”
Trestle Gallery, together with Doppelgänger Projects, presents Lea Thomas: Currents, where the viewers will walk among cerulean channels of nature and human identity, providing a space of reflection amongst the billows of blue.
Je bâtis a roches mon langage
Perforated tarp, printed mesh, artificial and real plants, two paintings
Courtesy of the gallery
This solo exhibition is Dominican-born, New York-based artist Firelei Báez’s debut with James Cohan Gallery. For this immersive installation, Báez has created a cocooned space with a hand-perforated blue tarp, while overhead is a geo-specific map of the stars as they appeared in the night sky at the onset of the Haitian Revolution. Inside are two imaginative portraits of empowered, black female protagonists, where the viewer is confronted by their mutual gaze. With Je bâtis a roches mon langage, Báez creates sites of connectivity, where overlapping histories and modes of understanding can coexist through reexamination and excavation. Through the run of the exhibition, she will organize readings and programs within the space, inviting the viewer to enrich and activate the installation with their own narratives and experiences.
Chang Yuchen and Brain Rush
Courtesy of the artist
“Originally people did not wear clothes, for they did not know how to weave. The first weaver was a girl named Hambrumai, who was taught the art by the god Matai. She sat by the river and watched the waves and ripples on its surface and imitated them in her designs. She lay in the forest looking up at the patterns woven by the branches of trees, the leaves of bamboo; she saw ferns and plants and flowers, and from these things learned other designs.” – Legend of Kaman Mishmis
In Loom, Lyeberry HQ presents a site-specific installation by Chang Yuchen (AIR 9), who perceives embroidery as drawing, weaving as writing, and clothes as portable theater, and Brian Rush, who uses reclaimed materials, traditional printmaking, and cast objects. Loom is a conversation between solid and versatile materials, between shape and space.
Erma Martin Yost
Hand-felted, resist-dyed construction
16 “x 16” x 2.5”
Courtesy of the gallery
In Seasons, a solo show of Erma Martin Yost’s felt constructions, she pulls from the legacy of domestic arts and crafts to express a response to the cycles in nature. Assembling bits and pieces of felt, vintage tatting, and embroidery within these expressions, she incorporates them with fabric-printing and dyeing experiments made over the past several decades. This reaches back into her earlier practices to create new works speak of the cycles she aims to evoke, of the season, plants, sun, moon, and life. These pieces are her own personal worlds that express her sense of place, solitude, and contemplation.
Fibers and video
60” x 96” x 8″
Courtesy of the artist
Women’s Work presents the work of five global artists-activists: Sama Alshaibi, María Magdalena Campos-Pons, Miora Rajaonary, Suchitra Mattai, and Ming Smith. Taking Oxford Dictionary’s definition of women’s work, “traditionally and historically undertaken by women, especially tasks of a domestic nature such as cooking, needlework, and child-rearing,” as anti-departure, the exhibition challenges the outdatedness of this belief through these five artists’ works. Grounded in the belief that all women’s work is valuable, the exhibition aims to expand beyond Oxford Dictionary’s definition and expose the complex, nuanced, and ever-evolving nature of “women’s work.”
If British artist Lucy Sparrow could get her way, the entire world would be made out of felt. In the summer of 2014, she made her wish a reality by filling an abandoned neighborhood store in East London with goods made entirely from stitched felt.
In this book, her engaging, exuberant, and though-provoking felt art objects are brought together for the first time, showing the power of an artist who’s taken her love for sewing to new levels.
In Red, White, and Black Make Blue, Andrea Feeser tells the stories of all the peoples who made indigo a key part of the colonial South Carolina experience as she explores indigo’s relationships to land use, slave labor, textile production, and use, sartorial expression, and fortune building.
The popularity of the color blue among the upper and lower classes ensured high demand for indigo, and the cheap labor by slaves—both black and Native American—made commoditization possible. In this book, Feeser paints a fraught and compelling history of both exploitation and empowerment, revealing the legacy of a modest plant with an outsized impact.
It was almost fate that brought Oakland’s Dance Doyle to the medium of tapestry weaving from ceramics in college. Originally a theatre major, she realized it was not what she was meant to do after a teacher told the class “if you can imagine yourself doing anything else in this world and enjoying it … do it.”
Since every other studio class was filled when she went to enroll, this left only textiles, which actually held a large portion of the fine arts building at San Francisco State. There were dye labs, indigo vats, looms and more. That is where Dance began to weave and learned how to set up a loom for tapestry.
“Then we got to tapestry and that is where I stayed. I was like, this is what I’m doing, I don’t know what it is about this.”
Dance’s tapestries are based on drawings, but she does not use cartoons. Instead, she uses her drawing as a guide so she can make changes and different choices as she moves through the slow weaving process. Each element is carefully chosen, down to the perfect color of hand-dyed merino wools and silks. The work acts as a journal, allowing her to get out what she needs to at that time.
The themes addressed in her work reflect this, well, reflection. They revolve around ideas of tragedy, violence, redemption, and trauma. Currently, she is working on a series about addiction, inspired by her own history. Dance has been sober for 10 years now and says that “I feel like this is paying tribute to every person who helped me, and the miracle that I’m still here and still alive and how it’s dealt with in society and the whole idea of mental health and addiction.”
“I went through a really sick period of my life, especially when I was out there and I remember when I couldn’t find any reason to get help or ask for help or get better. I always thought, “I was really good at tapestry, it would have been nice to have tried harder.” I started doing that and it was a reason to get sober in the end. In a lot of ways, I think it saved my life. It kept me busy, it was rewarding, it was fun, it was challenging and I could record my thoughts.
“I really needed to do that; it was like an old friend that I got to see every day.”
In terms of her art, Dance sees the pieces not just as fiber art, but as contemporary art. Any connection with a medium connected to women’s work and the feminine tends to come not only with a pay cut but also exhibition limitations. She desire is to be in shows that are diverse, not just solely tapestry. Not that there’s anything wrong with those shows, of course. “I respect craft, and I respect the word craft, but I do know that when it is put with a form of women’s work there’s a pay-cut and that’s not okay. That’s like paying teachers nothing because it’s traditionally a woman’s job. As a teacher and an artist in fiber, it means a great deal to me.”
Dance previously taught at Studio One Arts Center in Oakland, California. She had a history there, it was actually where she had her first introduction to textiles. When she was in sixth grade at an arts magnet school she won the prize of a summer at the studio. There they had looms, and she made this grandmother doll with actual sheets wool for hair, glasses and even details down to lace underwear. Later when she became a teacher, she brought the doll with her, even though the stuffing had gone from her neck.
The community at TAC has been freeing, and while Dance enjoys quiet studio work, the benefit of support and feedback often outweighs the solitude. The chance to learn new techniques is built into the program, but warp-painting has become an unexpected surprise. Instead of essentially painting with thread on a warp, she is literally applying paint to the warp and then weaving over. Compared to the lengthiness of tapestry weaving, the speed of warp painting is exciting. These new ways of weaving allow Dance to still maintain her figurative work but create a large piece quickly.
“There are so many people with so much knowledge about different methods and different fiber art ideas that it’s brought me out of tapestry world.”
Dance moved to New York for this residency but isn’t about to leave so quickly after arriving. She plans to stay here for the near future, grow in the arts community here and hopefully take part in more residencies. Some exploration outside of textiles and tapestry weaving are planned for as well. Having created installations in the past, she wants to explore site-specific ones, and also collaborate with artists outside of textiles. Ceramics are still a love, and while she may look at ways to combine it with her textile work, just getting back to working in the medium is exciting. Speaking about this new phase of her life:
Clandestine information practices and forms of resistance through textiles have a long, shared history. Taking advantage of society’s attitude that women’s work is “low” or “unintellectual,” the wielders of needle and thread have been masters of steganography, or the practice of concealing messages in plain sight. The reach of textiles even stretches into the very information systems we are currently embedded in, with the first computer utilizing a mechanism, the punch card, taken from the Jacquard loom. By acknowledging and owning the roles that textiles, and thus women, have played on the development of our digital world, how can we reclaim, subvert, and decentralize these information structures for collective liberation? As we look at those making work at the digital fringes, it turns out that cyberspace isn’t so untouchable after all.
In her article The Weavers and Their Information Webs: Steganography in the Textile Arts that inspired this post, Susan Kuchera writes, “Information can be used to code textile production, but textiles can also be used to encode information.” A notable and highly contested example, Underground Railroad quilts were thought to have contained specific patterns, like log cabins, monkey wrenches, and wagon wheels, that served as mnemonic and visual maps for escaping slaves. Other patterns were believed to signal “safe houses” along the route. Similarly, knitting, with its purl and knit stitches, lends itself easily to encoding. The Belgian Resistance during WW II recruited old women who had windows overlooking the railroad lines, noting the types of passing German trains by a purl or dropped stitch. Other spies translated patterns into morse code, either presented visually or hidden until the piece is unraveled. During WW II, the Office of Censorship even banned the mailing of knitting patterns overseas, revealing the powerful potential of “women’s work” based languages.
Subtle Distress, Kristen Haring
The ribs represent the SOS patterns of dots and dashes in Morse Code. Courtesy of the artist
Following along this history, Ebru Kurback, in collaboration with Irene Posch, created The Knitted Radio, a sweater that itself is a transmitter of information, namely FM radio waves. Dedicated to the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Taksim Square, The Knitted Radio is intended to “inspire local, free communication structures” through the individual’s personalization of electronic space. The sweater can connect to an audio source or microphone, and can be heard by anyone tuning to the right radio frequency within a 6 meter radius. As part of their ongoing investigation of using traditional textile techniques to create electronic components from scratch, this sweater is knitted from wool, insulated copper wire, and core-spun yarn with resistive stainless steel. They are all readily available, off-the-shelf materials, making this piece accessible to anyone with the pattern. In this light, knitting itself is 3D printing, and patterns are code.
Through their joint reimagining of electronics through textile techniques, Kurback and Posch ask, “What if craftspeople created the electronics we know? Who becomes more powerful? What materials become important, and who is able to fix them?” These inquiries reveal how inherently malleable information systems are, for materials lie at the origins of how we interface and store the “formless” digital world. Additionally, by recognizing the hierarchy of labor and knowledge tied to the maintenance of our information systems, this awareness offers a space for challenge. We do not have to be reliant on the existing systems for disseminating and receiving information. Rather, we can create our own.
In the context of protest and public dissent, this sweater is inconspicuously mundane, and once the transistor, battery, and audio source are detached, it becomes electronically undetectable. The patterns themselves function as camouflage of the everyday, mimicking streetwear that could very well come from retailers like H&M, Gap, Banana Republic, etc. It resides in this liminal space of branded identity, where patterns are chosen solely for decoration, and encoded identity, where patterns reveal complex layers of information about the wearer, but only to those with the decryption codes.
But what if the decryptors have now become non-human? In our current time of hyper surveillance, our identities are now being parsed, decoded, and traded by machines, with black and brown bodies especially captured within the digital gaze. Arising from the political climate of 2017, the all-female Hyphen-Lab’s NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism (NSAF) project tackled security, visibility, and privacy as relating to black women and black communities, utilizing technological applications within product design, virtual reality, and social-psychological/cognitive impact/biometric/fMRI research. The counter-surveillance pattern, HyperFace, emerged as a resulting collaboration between Hyphen Labs members and artist Adam Harvey within NSAF.
The HyperFace print range features patterns suggesting eyes,
noses and mouths to confuse facial recognition algorithms. BBC
Taking advantage of the machinic gaze, this textile, when worn, overwhelms facial recognition software by providing about 1,200 possible “faces.” Inspired by false coloration in the animal kingdom, Harvey reimagines camouflage not to obscure personal visibility, but rather “to reduce the confidence score of a true face, by introducing a background comprising false faces.” Through this instance, HyperFace recognizes what the computer vision algorithms want (faces), and by exploiting that desire, renders the algorithm itself useless. As such, this textile pattern bridges the existence of our physical bodies with our virtual simulacra, reasserting the agency we hold over our own identities.
Having traced the lineage of textile and technological steganography, we see that much of their histories are jointly embedded within the cultural and virtual spaces we inhabit. With this knowledge, how then can textiles be recognized not just for its influence on our digital systems, but itself as a tool to reclaim the power of information? I hope this is just another beginning for collective reimagining and making towards the decentralized and equitable systems we want, one stitch, purl, knot, and thread at a time.
A solo exhibition by artist David B. Smith, Cloudminers, is “an externalization of personal and collective daydreams.” Smith sources his textile-based sculptures and pieces from collective digital memories: video game screengrabs, Youtube videos, and personal images from social media. After altering them in Photoshop, they are Jacquard woven and then further altered by the hand through embroidery, piecing, and appliqué. In blending accessible digital production tools with traditional handmade craft techniques, Smith constructs parallel realities of individual and communal agency to envision and create the future.
Cotton, wool, linen and ink
43” x 30”
Courtesy of the gallery
Her first solo exhibition with the gallery, Christina Forrer’s tapestries and works on paper display turbulent compositions of psychological spaces, inhabited by clashing and embracing stylized figures. Who is attacking and who is attacked? On the occasion of the exhibition, the gallery will also publish an artist’s book by Forrer. Twenty copies of the book will each include a unique drawing by the artist.
Sabre Drink Test Kit, 2018
Thread on aida cloth
9” x 9”
Courtesy of the gallery
Narrative Threads is a group exhibition of work by Aimee Gilmore, Katrina Majkut, Julie Marie Seibert, fayemi shakur, Sara Jimenez, and Sophia Wallace. This exhibition is a culmination of work created by the artists during their residency at the annual Feminist Incubator. Sharing the idea of connectivity through reconstructed (or newly constructed) narratives, each of these six cultural practitioners use their own unique disciplines, poetry, textile/thread based work, performance, book arts, and interactive installation, to name a few, to reclaim autonomy, agency, and ownership through storytelling. Every project within this exhibition is built on the voices of many contributors, whether through active collaborations, paying homage to contemporary Women of Color making dynamic socio-political shifts, or invitation for self-generated narratives.
Space Poetry Embroidery II, 2017
From the series Inner Telescope
Thread on linen
8 ⅝” x 12 ½”
Courtesy of the gallery
Eduardo Kac’s first solo exhibition in the gallery, this exhibition features artworks conceived specifically for zero gravity and realized in outer space with the cooperation of French astronaut Thomas Pesquet. Stemming from Kac’s career-long exploration of visual poetry, his new genre, termed Space Poetry, investigates the elimination of gravity to see how feelings of weightlessness affect human experience and language. In the series, Inner Telescope, Kac presents “a liberating act that would behave according to a different set of mechanics” through much research and work in overcoming gravity’s pull.
This beautifully photographed and illustrated book is all about the achievable ways to care for the planet through making choices towards simpler living, especially regarding cloth and clothing. As a heartfelt and practical guide, this book looks at consumption effects on ecology, what textiles are made from, and mending, maintaining, and repurposing clothing. A “gallery” chapter showcases the works of designers and artists who base their practice on salvaged materials: Natalie Chanin (Alabama), Jude Hill (Long Island), Christine Mauersberger (Cleveland), and Dorothy Caldwell (Hastings, Ontario).
Invite the rhythms of nature into your craft, from rust dyeing to found and scavenged items. This is the first book dedicated to using natural processes in textile artwork, and includes advice and techniques on working creatively with what’s close at hand. From how-to projects to examples from contemporary artists, this book invites a cultivation of a practice based on respect for the environment, bringing about a strong sense of place, calmness, and contentment.
This classic book was one of the first to re-evaluate the relationship between women and embroidery, bringing stitchery out from female domesticity into the world of fine arts. In the 2010 edition, the updated introduction revitalizes Parker’s words with the exploration of the stitched art of Louise Bourgeois and Tracey Emin, as well as works of numerous young female and male embroiders. Lastly, this book also discusses the contradictory nature of women’s experience of embroidery: how it had instilled female subservience while also providing a creative and social bond between female embroiders.
It is hard to describe the enjoyment and immediate kinship you find when a Texan meets another Texan, especially when it is unexpected. Kendall Schauder is a Houston, Texas native, now living and working in Chicago. She moved to attend The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2017.
In a class, she was given leftover indigo seedlings, which then flourished in her apartment. From this, she was able to harvest her own indigo seeds. Indigo quickly brings denim to mind, creating the base for Kendall’s current project, How to Grow Denim.
Cotton fields dot the trip down the coast from Houston to Corpus Christi, Texas, where Kendall’s brother lives. He had been telling her to come down there, that cotton from the fields blow across the road. But then Hurricane Harvey hit the coast of Texas at the end of August, 2017. This is cotton harvesting and gin time in Texas, and while many were able to harvest their cotton before the storm, this was not the case for all farmers. Even if it was harvested, many had not made it to the gin, and the gins had not finished processing all of the recently delivered cotton. This left cotton out in the fields, covered with tarps. Kendall read an article about one of the gins between Houston and Corpus Christi and how a lot of their cotton was unsalvageable from the rainwater and flooding. When she went home for Thanksgiving that fall she gave them a call and asked if they still had the cotton they can’t use, could she have some. They said yes, in fact, they still have tons sitting in their field.
“So I drove, stayed with my brother for a night, borrowed my dad’s pickup truck and went to the cotton gin. There were just piles. All of the fields were just covered with damp piles of cotton, taller than my head. I can’t even fathom this much material and they were just going to have to throw it away. They didn’t know what to do with it at that point. They just had it sitting there. They went through it to see what they might be able to salvage so they took what they could, but then there’s just piles of what was not possible.”
Kendall filled the pickup from the bed to the front seat full trash bags of cotton, assisted by a couple of men from the mill. She has six of the bags with her here at TAC, and another 16 back in her parents’ garage. Eventually, it will be turned into a 40 yard bolt of denim, woven during a sculptural installation that is still being realized. Currently, Kendall plans on creating a vertical wall mounted loom that is warp weighted that she will interact with and weave on. The denim will become the tensioner on the ground, pooling at the bottom of the loom.
During her residency at TAC, Kendall is spinning the fiber she’s carding from the salvaged cotton. She hasn’t spun before and is experimenting with both a drop spindle and spinning wheel. Instead of reading books on spinning, Kendall is learning with her hands. Art school opened up the ability to learn by doing, to try out different paths, to follow where her interests took her. Diagnosed with dyslexia, school was difficult to the point where Kendall would hide in her room to avoid going, worried that she was not good enough to participate in class.
“Basically how I see that in my work now is me trying to find what I wanted as a child. That kind of way of learning that is just following a natural curiosity. In this project, I’ve never spun cotton before, I’ve never made my own indigo vat but it’s just through wanting to do something. I’m having to take pieces of it and not necessarily read a whole book on how to spin yarn. I’m interacting with the material that I have here and trying to make it do something that I want it to do. Figuring out my own way of learning and what is productive for me. It’s something that I wish I could’ve had more in education. To just know it’s not the fact that I don’t want to retain information, just the way it is received is different.”
Working in the window at the TAC Manhattan studio has proved to be serendipitous. One day a woman walked by, did a double take and then came in. She nannies in the area and saw Kendall spinning in the window. She was surprised to see someone spinning yarn and came in to chat. She had grown up spinning with her mother in Tibet and was able to show Kendall a softer way to hold the spindle so that her hand would not cramp. This completely changed the experience of spinning, and would not have happened without this very specific workspace. It is a sort of performance in both ways. People are participating in Kendall’s practice, and she is participating in their lives as well. She likes the idea of people seeing it at different stages, showing the slow development of her work. On the other side, Kendall loves seeing the small progression in people’s lives as they walk by every day.
The moment with the woman is reminiscent of a scene from an audiobook Kendall is listening to right now- Cræft: An Inquiry Into the Origins and True Meaning of Traditional Crafts by Alexander Langlands. In the introduction, Langlands has difficulty with his mechanical strimmer so decides to use a scythe that he had purchased years earlier. An older man driving by stopped, and while laughing, came to show him how to use the scythe. He sharpened the edge and demonstrated the proper technique. It only took a little longer to cut it by hand than it would have with his strimmer. He continued to use the scythe throughout the summer, enjoying how it physically changed the shape of his garden and being able to hear birds while working. “As autumn reached for her golden grown, I realised that I’d taken a traditional way of doing something and found that, on my terms, it was just as effective as the mechanically charged, petrol-powered methods of today.” (pg.5)
In spinning, Kendall is finding another similar relationship to Langland’s experiences. While she assumed she would primarily use a spinning wheel, she now prefers using a drop spindle. The spinning wheel has its own rhythm and even though this is set by the spinner, there is a limit to how slow it will go. It pulls back, forcing you to go with it as it takes the yarn. The spindle is just as quick as the spinning wheel and offers a sense of full control. Now that she has learned the proper technique from the woman walking down, Kendall’s hand does not cramp while spinning with the drop spindle for a long time.
Later this month Kendall will be holding a sold-out workshop for youth where she will be teaching the cotton cleaning through spinning process. The spindles will the DIY, out of found objects like CDs and pencils and can be taken home after the workshop. She will also be holding open studio every Saturday this month from 2pm-5pm at the Manhattan studio.
“I think especially really realizing how much I like drop spindle spinning now, I am even more excited to teach the workshop. Teach them how to use it and how the spin is actually the thing that’s creating the yarn. They can also take it home with them and experiment and figure out how they want to do it, find their own speed with it, as fast or slow that they need.”
Presenting the works of Hannelore Baron, Mary Bauermeister, Lee Bontecou, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Claire Falkenstein, Nancy Grossman, Louise Nevelson, and Betye Saar, Art of Defiance: Radical Materials showcases their groundbreaking use of materials. Blurring the boundaries of two- and three-dimensions, they each have carved their own spaces beyond the constraints of traditional, male-dominated narratives in art history.
Life/ Death/ Life, 2019 and Roy, 2018
Courtesy of the artist
Shrine and Sargent’s Daughters
Curated by Brooke Wise
Independent curator Brooke Wise presents A Cat’s Meow, a group exhibition featuring work by Anja Salonen, Misha Kahn, Sam Crow, Thomas Barger and Ana Kraš. The exhibition explores the dichotomy of the interior versus the exterior, the domestic versus the wild, the archetype versus the atypical.
Held within the framework of the Cathedral, this multidisciplinary exhibition explores questions of sanctuary through the works of Alexandra Bell, Louise Bourgeois, Nicholas Galanin, Kiki Smith, Sister Corita Kent, Juliana Huxtable, Eiko Otake, Hank Willis Thomas, among many others. The Preamble to the Constitution of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, chartered in 1873 as the church of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, describes the Cathedral as a “house of prayer for the use of all people.” With the current political discourse around national borders and identity, these works continue to drive at the many questions of our notions of community, inclusion, and sanctuary: What does it mean to be a house of welcome and of refuge, to offer sanctuary to those in need? What are the threads connecting us, as individuals and as communities? And where do we draw the line?
Of This World Rather
Courtesy of Deli Gallery
“I was watching television the other evening, and there was a point where the villain spoke about how he had no remorse over his actions. He equated guilt with societal control, a means to teach each individual the weight of being wrong. Guilt is invisible. I find that guilt is a concept that is very pervasive: was that not one of the many points of Adam and Eve? She brought on human’s demise, was to be punished for the rest of eternity because her actions disobeyed authority. In Adam’s dying words, he curses Eve, even though he succumbed by his own volition.”
In this solo exhibition, Sarah Zapata examines the barred image, one that has been “used both to designate and protect.” From its denouncement in the Old Testament text, “striped cloth was seen as untrustworthy.” And from the Medieval period on, striped clothing has been used to mark the poor, prostitutes, rebels, and other outcasts of society.
In celebration of Women’s History Month, cozy up with these books!
Twenty thousand years ago, women were making and wearing the first clothing created from spun fibers. Right up to the Industrial Revolution, the fiber arts were an enormous economic force, belonging primarily to women.
Drawing from data gathered by the most sophisticated new archaeological methods, Elizabeth Wayland Barber bridges the gaps in prehistoric and early historic cultures to show the hugely influential role women had through textiles on their own societies.
In 1974, women in a feminist consciousness-raising group in Eugene, Oregon, formed a mock organization called the Ladies Sewing Circle and Terrorist Society. In addition to this example as a prehistory to the more recent phenomenon of “craftivism,” Julia Bryan-Wilson also closely examines how amateurs and fine artists in the United States and Chile turned to sewing, braiding, knotting, and quilting amid the rise of global manufacturing. Her investigations show how the malleability of cloth and fiber means that textiles can be activated, or stretched, in many ideological directions.
The first contemporary art history book to discuss both fine art and amateur registers of hand-making at such an expansive scale, Fray unveils crucial insights into how textiles inhabit the broad space between artistic and political poles—high and low, untrained and highly skilled, conformist and disobedient, craft and art.
The day was cold and icy, but it was normal for Ýr Jóhannsdóttir, also known as Ýrúrarí, an Icelandic artist who works with knits. Ýr learned how to hand knit as a child in Iceland, stopped as a teenager, (as teenagers tend to do) but picked it back up in 2012. She was participating in an artistic summer job program in Iceland for young people to explore their creative projects. This was where the first monster sweater was created. Ýr went on to finish a two year textile program in Iceland and then completed her B.A. at the Glasgow School of Art.
When she was younger she thought fashion design might be the right path, but quickly found that it was definitely not and she doesn’t care for the industry’s ethos as a whole.The quick turn of the cycle did not sit well with Ýr, with the designer having to produce new items only for them to be out of fashion just a year later. Even now, as her work continues to grow in popularity, she does not have a desire to start her own brand. A machine or factory would not be able to replicate the 3D effects knitted in her sweaters, and they wouldn’t be knit on secondhand pieces. Each piece Ýr makes is individual, something that would be lost during the manufacturing process. Instead she is creating a pattern book with a friend who is a graphic designer so that people can create their own personalized versions. They’re basic stitches, opening up the ability for even those with limited or new to knitting to test it out.
The decorations Ýr knits into her pieces are an exploration in space and the body. By growing out of the knit the sweaters take up more unexpected physical space, breaking up the room. Other pieces hide and transform the body, like a piece when pulled up over the head and arms pull in form a cactus. “On the sweaters it always ends up being body parts, or how you can become invisible, like the cactus sweater. I’ve also made sweaters where you can turn into a rock or disappear into the environment. That’s one thing, and the other thing ideas of dimensions and portals. It is a similar theme with the machine knit, wanting to make a 3D shape with the knits and the way it breaks up the room.”
The mouths and tongues Ýr is becoming known for were created for an exhibition but she found herself continuing on with them after. They are not the main focus of her personal artistic practice, but have continued out of the practicality of being a working and living artist. A selfie with a sleeve in progress was reposted by a fiber page on Instagram, and from there her profile quickly grew from 3000 followers to 13,000. People immediately reached out trying to purchase her sweaters. Erykah Badu has purchased many and Miley Cyrus also owns one. The sweaters are giving Yr the needed funds to support her art, from renting a studio when she returns to Iceland to paying her father back for the new knitting machine she is still waiting for. Ýr plans to continue with the knitted sweaters, now that she is being fairly compensated for her time, and is planning an exhibition at the end of March for her machine knitted pieces.
Photo courtesy of Ýr Jóhannsdóttir
The residencies Ýr has participated in recently all have been fairly remote- one in a small idyllic village in Germany, and two in Northern Iceland. During her Work in Progress residence at TAC, her studio is in the window of the Manhattan location, visible all day and night. Working in a community and in such an open space is a change from these other residencies, but not Ýr’s first time almost being a piece of art herself. Back home in Iceland she’s a part of a performance group, formed with three friends that she met back at that summer program years ago. The group is diverse, one is a sociologist, two theatre artists, one who does improv and Ýr, a textile artist. Their first show was a live knit radio performance drama piece, experimenting with textiles, sociology and theatre.“Because I am always knitting alone, it is very precious to me to have this interaction with all and brainstorming together. It gets kind of lonely sometimes. It is also why it’s fun to be in the window, and I mostly watch strange people walking by.”
Another way Ýr breaks the solitude is through listening to podcast and audio books. Current favorites include Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert, The Good Place: The Podcast as well as current issues within Iceland. Audiobooks take a more serious tone, with a focus on homo sapiens and the human experience. The Good Place is one of her favorite shows because of the risks and humor that it brings to the human existence. Humor and fun and play are all parts of Ýr’s practice but with a similar serious edge.
“I’m alone, in the cold in the summer and listening to how the world is dying or how we’re killing it and there’s nothing we can, or we can, but me as one person cannot do that much. So I’m also trying to find more fun. I really like play and fun and humor. And I am also very interested in serious things. I think art is there to soothe you in a way also, and I like that idea. I’m kind of doing it to soothe myself. “
The conversation grew from work to pop culture, growing out of a conversation about Abbi Jacobson, of Broad City fame. She is a dream client, and Ýr would love to give her the last of her monster sweaters that she has in Manhattan with her. Drag Queens and RuPaul’s Drag Race is another interest, which also represents another form of transition, creation and utilizing space. Sasha Velour is her favorite, but for All Stars 4, Naomi Smalls is queen (spoiler: she didn’t win the crown).
So what’s next for Yr after the WIP residency? Yr is heading back home to Iceland to continue to work on her machine knit pieces. But first, she ran a workshop and lecture at TAC Manhattan on February 25th. This was a trial run for two more workshops that she has planned, one in Iceland in June and maybe in Seattle in October.
“I encourage people in the beginning if they are not good knitters, or not even know how to knit, they can take the book and hand knit with their grandma or someone who knows how to knit and they can have a nice time together, just try to make this sweater, I am also encouraging people to start a knitting circle, it is easier to have more people to figure it out. More brains to find the solution.”