Fibristas and Fibristos, welcome to the wonderful world of rags with all their glorious frayed edges, dangling threads, snags, tears and patches. Ironically the definition of a rag is “a torn, threadbare or otherwise inferior piece of textile”. My Great-Granny used to say “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” and while she may not have approved of these artworks, she would certainly have applauded the sensibility. Whether for budgetary reasons, eco-consciousness or a rebellion against mass produced materials and canned art, this approach becomes intensely personal and is resonating with a lot of artists, in textiles and mixed media. Slapping a few ripped pieces of fabric together and then whipping in some rough stitches does not, or did not until recently, usually make it art, however, these artists featured today are respectful, compelling and thoughtful, for the cloth and process, and the tale being told.
Stained, torn and mended, patched, frayed and darned. Deliberate destruction and reconstruction, hand in hand now, a history both found and made, not falsely, but with respect and love inherent in the touch and sound of old cloth. Stories woven, embroidered, marked by weather, organic colourings and the hand of the maker. Some are vignettes capturing a moment, a few are histories, not some few are therapies taking the artist and audience to the future with shared revelations. Some are merely, but not “merely”, somatic and spiritual connections to the medium.
In today’s world of bright new bling and bandwagon trends, these works are stand-outs. The viewer is expected to slow down and really see the marks made, to appreciate the care and thought creating, and the relationship of stitch or dye to cloth to the hand of the maker. Colours are faded and soft, even when contrasting and blend beautifully into each other, threads are natural and pliable whether mechanically or hand done. From found object and vintage cloth to distressed modern yardage and scavenged threads, these artworks speak to time passed and time spent, capturing moments, hours, lives in the making, wearable, sculptural, conceptual or pure object.
Let’s not just romanticize it though: Boro, Kantha, and Kawandi, as well as 18-20thC quilt making has more often been about conservation of resources than to create works of art. Borrowing these techniques and processes should not be a glossing over of appropriation, but an acknowledgement of history and a narration that carries these stories into the future as well. These are definitely not “inferior pieces of textile”. From scraps to art, a shred, scrap, or fragmentary bit of anything, these compositions and exemplary artists have a lot to say.
See more of their work at their individual sites: Erin Endicott, Jude Hill, Matt Gould, Patti Roberts-Pizutto, Heike Gerbig, India Flint, Ann Wood, Teresa Poletti-Glover, Matthew Harris, and Drucilla Pettibone.
Arlee Barr is a Canadian artist, working primarily with textiles. She describes herself as “curious, eccentric and just a little opinionated“. Surrealist in thought, Fauvist at heart, Arlee likes the eclectic, explorative and absurd. Sprinkled around the interwebs, she can be found hanging around her fantastic blog.