Another textile post. I know, I know. But I am finding a lot of joy in thinking about the ways in textiles intersect with history.
I’m working on a project that has me re-purposing old fabrics. This has included working with everything from old shirts to off cuts from sewing projects to found fabric household fabric from the 1980s. As I handle, snip, and sew this fabric I’ve been thinking about the memories it holds both physically and metaphorically.
Fabric holds smells. Fabric can smell musty, it can smell like a home, it can smell like the person who wore it last. These smells are all memories of moments or individuals. I have an afghan blanket that my Grandma made me and after she passed away I struggled with the need to wash it. The blanket still smelt like her, I could wrap it around me and revisit her house and shared experiences. As I washed it the smell faded and so did that visceral memory trigger.
Fabric holds its shape. Long folded fabric gets creases and lines. Folded up linens stuck on a shelf at the back of the closet remember how they were folded and gain lines from long storage. Lines in old fabric can speak to use. Was the fabric folded over something for years? Has it discolored evenly? What can the shape of it tell us about how it has been cared for, used, and stored.
Fabric witnesses. Fabric falls victim to stains and spots and grows threadbare from overuse. That pair of jeans that I don’t want to give up, even though they have holes from bonfires past. Those jeans tells a story, even if I’m the only one who can hear it. That coffee stained quilt that you scrubbed but couldn’t quite clean. It tells a story too. Threadbare woven mats show where people walked, where furniture was placed, and those spots no one ever walked.
Touching, witnessing, and examining textiles connect us to personal, family, and societal histories. Textiles can remember how they are treated and used. They bare signs of their makers and owners. They can bring comfort, tears, and joy. What textile memories do you carry with you?
My latest piece, Embroidery as Record and Resistance, can be found over at Contingent Magazine. A huge thank you to the Contingent Magazine team for their work, dedication, and innovation in creating a space for history online. My post looks at embroidery, feminist resistance, and protest.
The second museum I decided to visit while in Toronto was the Textile Museum of Canada (TMC). If you’ve been following this blog for awhile you know I get really exited about seeing textile arts in mainstream museum spaces – so visiting the TMC seemed like a logical way to build on that love. The TMC is the only museum in Canad that “explores ideas and builds cultural understanding through the universally relevant media of textiles.” The Museum is also well known for its education and interactive programming.
Unfortunately during my visit they were just in the midst of changing out one of the main exhibit spaces so the amount of content on display was substantially smaller than normal. The main exhibit that I was able to see was Sheila Hicks: Material Voices. The exhibition focused on the work of artist Sheila Hicks whose practice ranges from weaving to found object sculptures to large scale architectural installations.
This was a wonderful exhibit that included a wide range of Hick’s work in different mediums. The exhibition also included a number of audio-visual stations some of which included films focusing on Hick’s practice and others explaining works on display by the exhibition curator. I found the videos showing Hicks process for some of her large scale installation projects particularly interesting. I also just generally loved her art and her ability to use textiles in so many different ways. The exhibition is open until February 5, 2017 and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in textiles, mixed media art, or installation art.
During my last day in Baltimore I took the Charm City Circulator to the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA). The effort of looking up a free bus service and dragging myself outside on a raining day was definitely worth it. The BMA is free and is well known for its contemporary art collection. It was pleasantly surprised by the range of artwork in the museum, the innovative displays, and the effort made to make the space friendly to families.
There were a number of great exhibitions on during my visit but a couple have stuck with me in the weeks following my trip. I was really excited when I saw that there was an Art Quilts exhibition currently at the BMA. If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile you might know that I am fascinated by textile art (eg. I loved the Ethel Stein Master Weaver exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago). So I was intrigued by the idea of an exhibition dedicated to art quilts. Though the exhibition was very small – probably under ten times on display I still really enjoyed the pieces and contextual information included in the exhibition. The quilts on display were all from the 1980s onward and showed the conscious choice of artists to use quilting as an artistic medium, often merging previous artistic practices with this quilt medium. I really enjoyed this small look at quilts as art.
The other memorable exhibit was the Imaging Home exhibition, which is the inaugural exhibition in the Patricia and Mark Joseph Education Centre. Imaging Home was really accessible to all ages and I loved the interactive components and activity spaces that were integrated throughout. The ‘Home Stories‘ video stations were particularly powerful. These videos focused on families and their experiences living with a reproduction of one of four art objects that are currently on display in Imaging Home. The households featured this project ranged greatly in age, race, neighborhood, and family makeup and the works of art included a shower curtain from The Thing Quarterly, Issue 16, featuring text by human branding opportunity Dave Eggers; a set of four annotated photographs from Jim Goldberg‘s “Rich and Poor” series; Alfred Stieglitz’s photograph “The Steerage”; and Walter Henry Williams’ painting “A Quick Nap”.
The Home Stories stations include tablets where visitors can listen to interviews to the participants responses to the artwork. I found these responses insightful, moving, and a very powerful addition to the overall exhibit. The idea of how artwork and conceptions of home can impact your life if really communicated through these videos. I love the idea of using creative ways to connect people to art. And a number of these videos included children responding to the artwork, which I think is important in engaging other kids in discussions around art.
I also found the “Three Sheds for Three Sites, Shed I: Home Shed” companion piece by Marian April Glebes‘ a great example of using sculpture to inspire conversation. This installation piece is a set of connected cabinets on wheels filled with household/domestic items. Visitors to the space are invited to actively engage with the installation by opening drawers, rearranging items, and talking about conceptions of home. I loved watching families engage with this work and was inspired by the conversations started in Imaging Home.
I really enjoyed by visit to the BMA and was pleasantly surprised by the variety of artwork on display, the creative installation methods, and the friendly staff.