Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Tapestry as an Art Form

Tapestry As An Art Form 
 By Ixchel Suarez   

When we come across the word tapestry, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Probably it would be those ancient huge tapestries generally called Gobelins, where the hunting scenes inscribed in the verdures, take our eyes into a deep field or forest. Or maybe we think of the great fantastic European castles with mythological animals like Unicorns or winged lions. Maybe we would go even further back in antiquity, when  Coptic tapestries appeared in several areas of Greece, or we think of the Peruvian lands where plain weaves have been found that date from 1000 BC or even older. 

       Even though  tapestries were known on the banks of the Nile River almost two thousand years before the Christian era, it is likely that the art had been practiced in other, adjoining civilizations even before then. Tapestries were made in western Asia and Greece and also in Pre-Columbian Peru or Mexico as well as in China during the T'ang period.   
             Since actual textile fragments are rarely preserved, our information about tapestry from those remote times is based largely on written descriptions, paintings or sculptures. Some samples of Egyptian specimen from royal tombs date from 1483 BC. Examples of Chinese tapestries from the 8th century are now in the Taimadera Temple in Japan. Tapestries hanging in the church of St Gereon at Cologne were probably made in that city at the close of the 11th Century. No doubt, these are the oldest examples of tapestry woven in Europe in the early Middle Ages. Tapestries have evolved from diverse techniques of textile forms and shapes. However, the basic structure has remained the same.  
           As we survey our evidence for the various types of basic weaves thus collected from a wide geographical and temporal expanse, we begin to see some emerging patterns.  emerging. Broadly speaking, the materials used for  weaving  influenced the variety of   application and the structure of the woven article   in the Neolithic and Early Bronze ages. Eventually, these  basic weave structures  begin to influence each other. It is undoubtedly no accident that the difference between loom traditions correlates with the division between the European set of weaves on one hand (from the home of the warp-weighted loom) and the Egyptian and Middle Eastern traditions on the other (in two beam ground-loom territory). It is also no coincidence that this division, while it lasted, correlates with the fact who was and who was not using wool. Everyone was familiar with linen, but for Egypt it was in effect the only major fibre. For other groups, wool became more and more important and eventually eclipsed linen. One of the main reasons for the preferred use of wool was the fact that it was infinitely easier to dye  and the colours were brighter and therefore even more attractive to the eye.

                  But let's not get too deep into structural details. The question remains: Was tapestry an art form then? Is it still an art form now? There is a tendency to compare the art of tapestry with the inseparable art of painting. The distance however is considerable, for there is a basic difference between tapestry which is a manual craft, subject (but not exclusively) to a model, and painting, which enjoys complete creative freedom. Tapestry, one might say, loses certain spontaneity, yet other characteristics which distinguish it from painting contribute to its richness and provide it with immense artistic impact.

       There was a time when tapestry was a collective art and could be compared to the performance of a symphony. The "composer" was the cartoon painter and the weavers were the "musicians". And yet, when one transposes a painted cartoon into the woven work, the weaver, who is both artisan AND artist, must call upon the skill of years of training and even  individual personality, to capture every nuance of the tapestry design.

        Where, then is the essence or the heart of the weaver when one should follow  a cartoon-project but  on the way  finds the media as the most  expressive language? When,  in the transfiguration, the project becomes one with the artist? What happens to all those inner forces that during the weaving process seem to attack us, make us feel drawn to this or that material for our project? Is it valid to let our explorations run free - - to interpret our feelings, or should we limit the creative process of weaving to suit the cartoon? 
        As a tapestry weaver and occasional painter for more than 24 years , I can tell you that one of my main design-related challenges in tapestry is precisely this problem: how to define the boundary between the design in the cartoon and the creative weaving process itself. My background as Graphic Designer has taught me how to compose and create my projects; my weaving skills on the other hand, have taught me how to create the flow, how to use  the technique to  make it into a defined idea; my artistic perception of the craft/art have led me to experiment with all the different materials available - - not necessarily following traditional practices. It seems essential to me,  that sometimes, in order to pursue the idea, the weaver  has to sacrifice something  to accomplish a goal.

This is tough to do. As an artist, I am constantly choosing between the original project, the technique and the final vision of my work. To sacrifice one in order to preserve the other is for me the ultimate artistic expression.  
            During the Middle Ages tapestry was a "useful art". Hangings adorned the walls of royal and princely residences but also those of churches. Chambers of tapestries were effective insulations against draughts. But the fundamental purpose of tapestry was to cover a large surface and offer the possibility of monumental decorations. However, it was the technique which provided the force of expression and it  set mural tapestry on the level of great art.  That was understood by every well positioned person enamored by beauty, regardless who created the work  or where it originated from. . It is in this period that the greatest series of tapestries made their appearance, whether religious,   pagan, mythological or realistic. The looms of Europe produced innumerable tapestries to celebrate great individual deeds and conquests or to proclaim the teachings of the Church. Thus we see that in every period in time, tapestry was considered a work of sumptuous, expressive and   original art.  

       During the last century, tapestry lost its role of major importance. Today, after more than a hundred years, thanks to the joint efforts of cartoon painters and weavers, it has once again become an expression of the human spirit.  However, it has also generated a  particularly controversial debate regarding the  division between design, craft and art.  To  clearly define the role between  the painter who visualizes the project and the weaver, who either executes or interprets it, may seem to serve a practical  purpose;  it is also  brutal and somehow rash.  It makes no sense to me to get caught up in trying to establish a “supremacy”  amongst the many people who are involved in the design and production fibre art.  As art,  tapestry becomes the media with which  to explore and develop possibilities; as such, it  is a glorious combination of  aesthetics, concept and technique.

       Contemporary fibre art is interesting and vital precisely because it exists in the space between the  rigid and divisive  categories of craft and art. .  Tapestries are no longer classified as either functional/educational or aesthetic, but have become interpretations and expressions of individuals.  As such, they exist on a new plane.      Through these textiles, individuals are able to  demonstrate a balance of design and craft.  

        While recognizing that an avant-garde approach is always important, there is also a need for good, sober, contemporary work that satisfies the mass of consumer design. Ultimately, it is variety that characterizes the renaissance of tapestry production. I am glad that reviving the art of tapestry is breaking free of  dogmatism.

        The contemporary movement is tolerant of all kinds of content. Tapestry has now conquered elements that have fractured previously strict traditional European techniques. A vast universe of textures, colours and sensorial stimulus has made the explorations of new ideas for tapestry projects possible. As such , it straddles the huge  chasm between craft and art.     
          Tapestry weavers prove with their work that excellent knowledge of the craft of weaving is not enough. One has to be able to express aesthetically what fills the human soul. This has always been at centre of the artistic element. Tapestry requires patience. It seems out of sync with the current speed of life, the technological advances and the many forms of rapid communications. Is there no place for such a "slow" and meticulous art as tapestry? Is there no time for infinite patience? My personal refuge is precisely to escape into this kind of "motionless" time. It makes my mind travel to other times and spaces. It makes my body enter into a relaxed state of mind where I can forget about - - but also deal with - - my every- day life stress. I always look forward to the moment when I can sit in front of my frame loom, and enter another dimension on my life.

       Tapestry is not only about the craft of weaving, nor is it simply textile artists "doing their thing". It opens up possibilities of expression and thought. It opens up possibilities to interpret the past and to examine the present. It makes us aware of dogmas and our ability to go beyond .  

 I wish you weavers many such "woven moments" in your life. Share your intricate feelings with your projects! Tapestry as an art form - - an expression of our innermost self - should never vanish.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Advances in the loom


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

World of Threads 2012 is here

World of Threads Festival is here!

Oakville & Toronto Ontario, Canada.
The festival is an international showcase of contemporary fibre art. We are a not-for-profit initiative with charitable status. We exhibit innovative fibre based art from around the world and highlight the strength of our local talent. The Festival is run by dedicated volunteers Dawne Rudman (Chair & Festival Curator) and Gareth Bate (Festival Curator). Individual exhibitions are carefully planned by various curators in Oakville and Toronto.
Beginning in 1994 as a single Oakville exhibition, the festival continues to grow in size and ambition. The principle shows are the Common Thread International Exhibitions which feature work submitted by hundreds of artists around the world.
For the 2012 festival we have expanded into Toronto. We will continue to be based in Oakville, Ontario.
The town of Oakville, Ontario, Canada. It is located on Lake Ontario 45 minutes west of Toronto. Oakville has a vibrant cultural scene for which the World of Threads Festival is a prominent player. Toronto is the largest city in Canada and has a large and important art world. The festival draws visitors from across the region and internationally.

2012 Upcoming Festival
Weekly Fibre Artist Interviews Series starting in Jan. 2011 highlight fibre artists around the world and make the festival website a regular stop for fibre art lovers.
Curated exhibitions based on an international call for submissions replace the previous model of juried shows.  2012 Common Thread International curators include: Gareth Bate, Dawne Rudman, Evan Tyler, Richard McNeill & Shuhui Lee and Rochelle Rubinstein.
Expansion of the Festival into Toronto.
Contemporary Fibre Art becomes the emphasis. We will exhibit work from around the world.
Festival Chair is Dawne Rudman, quilter and Oakville's 2007 Volunteer of the Year.
Festival Curators: Gareth Bate & Dawne Rudman.
Gareth Bate Design creates new website and all graphic design.
Oakville Venues: Joshua Creek Heritage Arts Centre, The Gallery at Sheridan Institute, The Gallery at Queen Elizabeth Park Community and Culture Centre (QEP) and QEP Display Area, QEP Halls, Abbozzo Gallery, Oakville Towne Hall, O’Connor MacLeod Hanna, Ristorante Julia, Oakville Place Shopping Centre.
Toronto Venues: gallerywest, Candian Sculpture Centre, Mon Ton Window Gallery, 401 Richmond St. West -Red Room and The Roastery Coffee House, Lonsdale Gallery, The Gladstone Hotel, Case Goods Warehouse in the Distillery District, Gallery 918, Studio Cycle Group.

Countries Represented: Austria, Australia, Canada,
Denmark, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Peru, Spain, UK, USA.Canadian Provinces Represented: Alberta,
British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan.
American States Represented: California, Florida,
Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina, Oregon, Virginia.
English Counties Represented: Bedfordshire,
Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, East Sussex, Lancashire, Warwickshire, West Sussex, Wiltshire.

Memento mori
Common Thread

International Exhibition

Major Exhibition
The Memento mori exhibition at the Gallery at Sheridan Institute deals with themes of death, mortality and grief, and the quest for immortality.
The show developed out of a call for submissions called "Fibre Inspired". The call was based on a trend Festival Curator Gareth Bate had observed in contemporary art towards creating work using the techniques and aesthetic of fibre, but using non-fibre materials. He was struck by how radically different these submissions were. They were dark both physically and thematically.
The central question became why are these artists choosing to use fibre construction techniques but replacing the fragility, impermanence and tactility of fibre materials with hard, 'permanent', and difficult to manipulate materials such as stone, bronze, metal, wood, bark, ceramic, plastic, wire, solid paint and wax?
The thematic darkness of the majority of submissions was also fascinating. The exhibition creates an underworld environment. Mummification is a central theme. This process attempts to preserve and make immortal the ephemeral body.

Working with different materials is always as interesting as it is challenging. This piece reflects upon the transition of time, lifeless tree and our interaction to give back life to this tree. By standing in front of this tree, mirrors reflecting ourselves through the tree give life from the inside, bringing hope to the future.
Futuristic Birch Tree is a combination of materials with metallic scrap, metallic yarns, beads, fleece, cleaning scrubs and metallic ribbons.

Canada, Ontario, Toronto: Gareth Bate.

Canada: Ontario: Barrie: Lisa Brunetta, Cambridge: Nancy Yule, Niagara-on-the-lake:
Wendyth Anderson Breedveld, Stratford: Wendy O'Brien, Toronto: Carrie Chisholm, Nicole Collins,
David Cumming, Robert Davidovitz, Trish Delaney, Camilla Geary-Martin, Susan Lukachko,
Mary McKenzie, Lilly Otasevic, Rochelle Rubinstein, Oakville: Ixchel Suarez, Saskatchewan: Moose Jaw:
Anna Hergert.
USA: North Carolina: Raleigh: Megan Bostic.

De rerum natura
(On The Nature of Things)

 Common Thread
International Exhibition

Major Exhibition
De rerum natura (On The Nature of Things) is a highly eccentric exhibition evoking the collection of a mad 18th century naturalist. All the artwork is dealing with themes of nature, plants and animals. Curator Gareth Bate has observed that environmental work is the most dominant theme in contemporary fibre art. This lush and colourful environment is filled with striking and sometimes bizarre work. The show features the work of 35 artists from Canada, Denmark, United Kingdom and USA. They are working in a huge variety of media. There will be installation, sculpture and 2D work. The title of the exhibition is based on the ancient Roman poem De rerum natura by Lucretius who's rediscovery was a major inspiration for Renaissance artists.

Gareth is setting up the De rerum natura  in opposition to Memento mori  his other exhibition at The Gallery at Sheridan Institute in Oakville. That exhibition deals with themes of death, mortality and grief. The work is dark and the polar opposite of life filled work of De rerum natura. All the Memento mori artwork engages with techniques or the aesthetic of fibre, but none of the work is actually made of fibre materials. Gareth is exploring the contrast of fibre/life and artificial materials/death.

Canada: British Columbia: Vancouver: Bettina Matzkuhn, Carlyn Yandle, Manitoba: Winnipeg: Heather Komus, Ingrid Lincoln, New Brunswick: Saint John: Sandra Betts, Ontario: Alliston: Amy Bagshaw, Kingston:
Phillida Hargreaves, Robin Laws Field, Sylvia Naylor, Kitchener: Joanne Young, Mississauga: Pat Hertzberg, Oakville:Sybil Rampen, Ixchel Suarez, Ottawa: Sayward Johnson, Rockwood: Susan Strachan Johnson,Toronto: Lizz Aston, karen darricades, Libby Hague, Jillian MacLachlan, Liz Menard, Leanne Shea Rhem,
Sheila Thompson,Tweed: Marta Mouka, Quebec: Montreal: Soufïa Bensaïd, Emily Jan, Valérie d. Walker, St-Sauveur:Marjolein Dallinga, Saskatchewan: Meacham: June J. Jacobs.
Denmark: Copenhagen: Birgitta Hallberg.
United Kingdom: Liverpool: Sarah Martin.
USA: California: San Francisco: Chris Motley, Georgia: Atlanta: Leisa Rich, Massachusetts: Somerville: Jodi Colella,Oregon: Philomath: Laura G. Berman, Virginia: Charlottesville: Lotta Helleberg.

Quiet ZoneCommon Thread
International Exhibition

 Major Exhibition

While viewing the submissions for the Common Thread International, curator Dawne Rudman was most caught by the work in neutral colours and from this, an idea emerged. Neutral colours are often used as a background or to give a highlight to something. However, neutral shades can also be elegant, alluring and strong, deserving prominent recognition in their own right. For this reason, she decided to make them the focus of this show.
Ranging from the blacks and charcoals with their dusky, shadowy hues, to the frosted, milky, or chalky whites, the work also explores the café au lait, creamy caramels, sand and tan shades. A rich range of opposites and complements is the result, made more exciting by the variations in texture. There are fragile pieces, which almost beg for protection. There are others that in spite of being multi-layered are very revealing. Some are made of silk or paper adding to their delicate appearance, some have a luminous quality, and some cast gentle shadows.
All their differences aside though, the work in this exhibition engages the viewer in a remarkable visual feast of blending and intertwining hues and textures. There are 25 artists in this exhibition, hailing from Austria, Canada, England, France, Ireland and the USA.

Canada, Ontario, Oakville: Dawne Rudman.

Austria: Vienna: Kerstin Bennier.
Canada: British Columbia: Nelson: Maggie Tchir, Rossland: Kathleen Hill, Summerland: Barbara Wellborn, Ontario: Brampton: Chamila Belleth, Cambridge: Nancy Yule, London: Dagmar Kovar, Manitoulin Island: Judy Martin,Mississauga: Pat Hertzberg, Oakville: Ixchel Suarez, Peterborough: Kelly O'Neill, Toronto: Lorena Santin Andrade, Yael Brotman, Lisa DiQuinzio, Lisa Kemp, Valerie Knapp, Colleen A. Lynch, Rochelle Rubinstein, Quebec: Montreal:Ariane Lavoie.
France: Lyon: Dominique Arlot.
Ireland: Co. Kildare: Saidhbhín Gibson.
United Kingdom: Cambridgeshire: Cambridge: Catherine Dormor.
USA: California: Los Angeles: Lori Zimmerman, Michigan: East Lansing: Xia Gao,North Carolina: Raleigh:
Megan Bostic.