Communicating ideas by means of stitching on fiber is very old. The role of textiles has at times been a practical matter and at others a substrate for artistry. But now textile and fiber art is accepted in galleries and museums in its own right. “From the loom to the white cube” as critic Nadine Monem puts it.
Textiles have been made by hand by individual craftsmen and artists (usually no differentiation was made between the two) for thousands of years and largely for utilitarian reasons. However, the scope for decoration, art and story telling has always been a strong part of the craft of making marvelous tapestries, weavings and embroideries .
I’m soon going to see the Bayeux tapestry in France. It’s actually an embroidery, 70 meters long, made in the 11th century telling the store of the conquest of England by William Duke of Normandy in 1066, probably in a monastery in the south of England.
It is listed as a “Memory of the World” by UNESCO (http://www.unesco.org/new/fr/communication-and-information/flagship-project-activities/memory-of-the-world/homepage/)
UNESCO gathered together a record of about 250 “documents/events discoveries, creations, inventions etc that they consider have influenced humanity from earliest times to the present. They are kept in various libraries, archives and museums all over the world and include the Gutenberg Bible, various war archives and documentaryies, the Bayeux Tapestry, the Magna Carta, Philippine Paleographs , Captain Cook’s Journal, early atlases.
I’ve not seen the entire list (the catalogue is on my wishlist!!) but I would add Elizabeth Parker’s embroidered diary
which describes so heart rendingly her terribly sad existence – if you ever go to the V&A in London you must see it.
After the “satanic mills” spread across much of England, artists like William Morris realized the tremendous possibilities for design on a large scale…and brought art back into the medium.
Since the Second World War (1939-1945), there has been a steady development of textiles as an art form – fiber art in its many iterations is now something to be seen and admired in gallery and museum settings.
I saw Ghada Amer’s work in the Brooklyn museum in NYC as well as Judy Chicago’s – both artists using stitch and fiber to the maximum addressing feministic issues.
It is the extraordinarily tactile element of fiber art that appeals so much, I think. Free flowing stitches (whether created by hand or machine) and the sewn edges of fabric shapes (whether appliquéd or pieced) reveal the personal gestures of the artist in the same way that drawings do.
Reviewer and critic, Ciara Connolly asks “what is the point of a [fiber work] that looks like a painting?” As she discusses the point she concludes that is the very looseness, the wabi-sabe, the mark of the hand, that is so evident in much fiber that differentiates it from painting – and makes it so effective because we can almost see the artist at work.
She quotes French poet Edmond Jabes’ “I dreamed of a work which would not enter into any category, fit any genre, but contain them all; a work hard to define, but defining itself precisely by this lack of definition, a work which would not answer to any name but had donned them all”.
And, if you have been, thanks for reading. Elizabeth
PS What amazing textile works have you seen that should be considered A Memory of the World?
PPS Apologies for spam in the comments – I try to delete them every day, and have the spam check too – but sometimes they elude me!
PPPS If I can I'll report from Paris, but it may not be possible, in which case...check this space in early July!!