Sculpting with Fiber
Woven and embroidered textiles have historically been relegated to the domestic realm, dismissed as functional and decorative objects lacking in the originality and expressive potential of the fine arts. Even tapestries—once revered as expensive investments that proclaimed the status and wealth of their owners—were regarded as woven imitations of paintings.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the use of fibrous material as an artistic medium witnessed a revival. Prompted by the feminist inquiry into the social constraints imposed on women, fiber artists challenged the distinctions made between craft and fine art. They appropriated the very techniques and materials that had been associated with domestic labor and transformed them into abstract, non-representational compositions that implied rather than described narratives. Favoring coarse and raw natural fiber like hand-spun wool, sisal and jute ropes over the fine silk and linen threads of conventional tapestries, artists built out from the two-dimensional plane and into the three-dimensional space of sculpture. They eschewed using the loom to weave their tapestries and relied on hand-weaving, knotting, braiding and other techniques that allowed for greater flexibility and spontaneity during the working process. Such emphasis on hand manipulation, coupled with a limited color palette of primarily warm sepia tones helped expose and preserve the natural features of the fiber.
Varied in texture and irregular in shape, the monumental tapestries of fiber artists like Magdalena Abakanowicz and Jagoda Buic bear little relationship to the flat, evenly woven wall-hangings of the past. Instead, the interest in the process of making and absence of a narrative reflect the concerns of free informal abstraction characteristic of their contemporaries in painting like the Washington Color School painter Sam Gilliam, whose monumental stained canvas, Red April, 1970, may be found in the adjacent gallery.
The works of art in this exhibition are from the John Deere Art Collection.
The exhibition can be view through March 18, 2013.
Jacques Douchez, Untitled, 1970s, wool and sisal fiber, courtesy of John Deere & Company.
Maria Bierzynska, Promienisty, 1970s, wool and sisal fiber, courtesy of John Deere & Company.