August 13, 2009 - Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp (M HKA) - Textiles Art and the Social Fabric
August 13, 2009

Textiles Art and the Social Fabric

Hélio Oiticica
Nildo with Incorporo a Revolta
Courtesy projeto Hélio Oiticica

Textiles Art and the Social Fabric
11.09.2009 – 03.01.10

Anni Albers/Tonico Lemos Auad/John Dugger (Banner Arts)/Alice Creischer/ Enrico David/Luca Frei /Sheela Gowda/Mari –Jo Lafontaine/James Lee Byars /Goshka Macuga/Hélio Oiticica/Joke Robaard/Bojan Sarcevic/Seth Siegelaub (Centre for Social Research on Old Textiles)/Varvara Stepanova /Narcisse Tordoir/Tapta (Maria Wierusz Kowalski)/Rosemarie Trockel

Curated by Grant Watson
Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp
Leuvenstraat 32 2000 Antwerp

Textiles Art and the Social Fabric is a large-scale group exhibition of artists who use textile materials or related concepts in their work. The exhibition looks at the reasons why artists choose to do this, and finds that it is often to tap this medium’s potential to communicate complex layers of social meaning and address the political as it appears in subjects such as labour, culture, identity, protest and display.

For example Hélio Oiticica’s Parangolé Capes take the support structure of painting and turn it into a ‘live element’ so that its colours and forms become diffused and operational in social space. The Parangolé is worn like a costume or banner linking it to performance, transgender and masquerade where the body is incorporated, collapsing the division between the work and the viewer. This project by Oiticica is an open proposition with wide ranging conditions of participation, a nexus within which a number of concepts come together through textile structures. Positioned close to the body but also expanding outwards to occupy architectural and political space, the textile medium is rich with significations: from textiles as an interface between human subjectivities connected to clothing, body language and gesture, to the direct expression of ideas in political banners; from the use of textiles to transform the experience of architecture where it constitutes a flexible means of defining public and private space, to its indexical link with genealogies of art and art history where it has been situated on the margins – textiles articulate the nuance and inflections of social meaning and manifest this in diverse material forms.

With a conceptual rather than medium-specific focus, the exhibition features several different kinds of work including sculpture, installation, tapestry, books, banners, photography and film. The first installation encountered upon entering the exhibition is The Greatest Happiness Principle Party (2001) by Alice Creischer. Here, using cardboard cut-out figures dressed in various costumes, the artist restages a (fictional) party given by the Austrian Credit Institute in 1931, thrown the evening before the bank is going to go bust. Behind these figures a banner decorated with hand-written and embroidered texts connect this event to the movement of capital, recurrent financial crisis and the politics of economic reconstruction. Nearby a display of rare books selected from the library of Seth Siegelaub’s Centre for Social Research on Old Textiles (CSROT) reflect his interest in textile history, its connection to trade, the development of capitalism and industrialisation and in particular the range and ideology of its literature.

An archive of historical works displayed on an exhibition structure stretching across several galleries (designed by the artist Luca Frei) plot out a varied history of artists who have worked with textiles in relation to social and political concerns. It departs from Hélio Oiticica’s Parangolé project (first shown in 1965) with original capes, as well as replicas that can be worn by visitors to the exhibition, photographs, texts, drawings, and film footage. The archive also includes documentation of James Lee Byars’ 1969 performances and installation at the Wide White Space Gallery in Antwerp, 1920′s fabrics for workers’ clothing by Russian Constructivist artist Varvara Stepanova and small, screen-printed, gouache and ink textile designs by Anni Albers from the late 60s and early 70s. Twentieth Century flags from progressive Flemish political parties and unions are shown alongside two giant banners by John Dugger of Banner Arts: The Chile Vencera banner which was made for a mass rally in Trafalgar Square in 1974, and the Wu Shu Kwan’ Banner that Dugger produced in 1977 for use in the Flaxman Sports Centre in Brixton, South London. Contemporary elements in the archive come from Narcisse Tordoir, who shows a collection of Bogolan textiles made during a workshop in Mali, and a new large-scale photographic montage by Joke Robaard, who extracts elements from her archive of fashion magazine cuttings (assembled over thirty years) and juxtaposes them with captions and texts that draw out the latent meaning of the image to reveal how they mirror the preoccupations of the society and times that produced them.

The exhibition presents a number of other newly commissioned works including Tonico Lemos Auad’s sensory environment using elements of interior architecture and decor, a sculpture by Sheela Gowda composed of Indian vernacular textiles (the mass produced strips of printed cloth that are often hung in doorways) and a tapestry designed by the artist Goshka Macuga and produced by a specialist company in Flanders. This tapestry is a woven interpretation of an image constructed from press photographs taken at the artist’s exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in London. For the Whitechapel show, Macuga borrowed the tapestry version of Picasso’s Guernica from the UN building in New York and installed it in the gallery, where it became the backdrop for meetings by various groups, speeches and community events. The tapestry shown in this current exhibition depicts an address given in front of the Guernica tapestry by Prince William, and is a critique by the artist of her own work and how its political intention came to be circumvented. The work also reflects a history of royal tapestry workshops, and the description of royal scenes which were often depicted using this medium.

The historical importance of textiles production in Flanders provides the exhibition’s backdrop. It is a region which has been associated with textiles since the Middle-Ages through the trade in wool, linen, luxury cloth and tapestries and (in the 19th Century) industrialised textile manufacturing. Today Flanders is still rich with expertise in this field. A work collaboratively produced by the artist Enrico David and the designer Lieve De Corte of Tasibel (a textile company based in Hamme) links contemporary art practice to local design and technical know-how, resulting in one of David’s motifs (inspired by Wiener Werkstätte designer Ugo Zovetti) being woven into a repeat pattern, eighteen metre long cloth. In the museum installation, the regimentation and high quality rendering of this cloth dissolves into an aggregate display of works on paper that give voice to the uncertainty that is present in any collaborative creative endeavour.

An ensemble of works by Rosemarie Trockel (an artist with a long history of using textiles) includes Grote (2006) – an enclave filled with woollen strands coloured in vegetable dyes within which the visitor can be immersed, as well as several sculptural and photographic representations of women – where surface pattern, clothing, and gesture combine to produce a complex staging of cultural and gendered codes. In his installation Favourite Clothes Worn While S/he Worked (1999/2000) Bojan Sarcevic also presents clothing as a field of information to be read– with garments normally associated with leisure time laid out on tables, marked by the residue of the profession of their owners, who have been asked to wear them to work. Shown in the same room as Rosemarie Trockel, Tapta’s (Maria Wierusz Kowalski) hanging rope installation Formes pour un espace souple (1974) from the M HKA collection creates a tactile environment in which people can congregate and interact, and from a similar oeuvre (and also from the museum’s collection) Marie-Jo Lafontaine’s Monochrome Noir (1979) provides a rich, textured backdrop of woven fibres to one of the gallery spaces. These two last works serve as a footnote in the exhibition to ‘Fibre Art,’ a movement which took off in the 1960s (although the term was coined the following decade) that connected the use of non-traditional materials with feminist concerns, but which today rarely registers in exhibitions or art historical writing.

A series of events taking place at the museum respond to the exhibition’s theme. These include an interview with Seth Siegelaub and a performance by Stefanie Seibold in collaboration with Teresa Maria Diaz Nerio revolving around the costume politics of musicians Sun Ra (presented by If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want To Be Part Of Your Revolution). The experimental music ensemble Champ d’Action will produce a special program, which includes a recital at the opening and a day long series of concerts including Morton Feldman’s Coptic Light inspired by Eastern tapestries and textiles. A collaboration between students of textile design at Sint-Lucas Hogeschool in Gent and students of dance will result in the production and demonstration of Hélio Oiticica’s Parangolé capes, made using his Do It Yourself Parangolé instructions.

Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp
Leuvenstraat 32 2000 Antwerp


Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp (M HKA)
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