Studying the techniques of Katazome and Yuzen in Japan opened my eyes not only to the unique and culturally-ingrained processes and materials of these techniques, but also to the mind-set surrounding them.; the way the finished textiles are categorised, presented and discussed.
Since returning to Australia, it’s been no real surprise to see that Textiles here (with a capital T) is an entirely different kettle of fish.
|TEXTILES TODAY: black and red. cardigans. berets and wine. apparently.
Earlier this year I was accepted for inclusion in the Wangaratta Contemporary Textile Award Exhibition for 2015. I didn’t win the prize (of course, the 10K prize went to an artist already rolling in recognition and opportunities… sorry, still a little bitter…) but my work (“Canberra Blues”) was displayed in a beautiful historic building along with that of 48 others!
|Wangaratta Contemporary Textile Award Exhibition 2015|
|my work displayed beside beautiful wooden doors and stained glass|
|The exhibition really had a bit of everything|
I was unable to attend the opening (Wangaratta is over 400km away from Canberra…if only Australia had Bullet-trains!) but went down later to see the show on display. I was really impressed with the breadth of textiles included. There were a few pieces that I wasn’t too sure about, like miniature origami units of patterned envelope insides forming a large wall piece (how is that a Textile?) and a ceramic Budgie with a pair of “budgie smugglers”(speedo’s) tossed on it’s head (Yes, I can understand the Textile in that one but not the point…)
Anyway, I thought the selection committee and organisers had done a really good job of representing the many facets of what it means to make Textile Art. There was a bit of everything; and all of a really high standard. It felt like each piece had something to say. But contemporary Textiles is not always so well represented or carefully curated…
The Wangaratta Art Gallery heritgae building with lovely
red-brick, stained glass, high ceilings and polished wooden
floors. Apparently it used to be a Presbyterian Church.
I may be about to offend people…but I need to say it anyway.
What’s with the way that Textiles is a Naff-magnet? (naff is such a great word…)
Other genres of Art, let’s take Painting as an easy example, may attract masses of mediocre artists or uninteresting paintings. There may be plenty of ordinary Print-makers or average Sculptors, or maybe uninspired Photograhers. But Textiles, unlike the others, seems to have this unrivaled ability to generate the Naff. The Tacky. The just…not quite right.
This is probably in part because of the way that Textiles teeters on the cusp of “Art” and “Craft” (whatever they are anyway) and seems to encompass such a huge breadth of things. I’m all for diversity in Art, and in Textile Art. I’m all for using whatever medium or technique allows you to express yourself best. But I can’t be the only one who is sick of the fluffy reputation hanging round Textiles. What’s the deal?!
What spurred this rant was when I made an attempt to connect with the Textiles scene outside of Japan by joining some moderated groups on Facebook. One is called “Textile Arts” which purports to showcase Textile ART, to the point of declaring this mission statement,
“Our mission: To elevate textile fine art beyond the craft arena into the realm of conventional galleries. View the latest works from both well known and emerging artists.
and they even show this visual guideline for prospective posters. And yet….
…I am constantly awed by the, shall we say “variety”, of posts to the group.
|Textile “art” posted to the group|
I’m sorry but WHAT THE?
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not trying to make an arrogant proclamation that MY TEXTILES IS THE ONLY WAY or DOWN WITH CRAFT!
But I think the way Textile Art is spoken about is confused.
To put a Textile in the Art basket, I think it needs to be addressing an idea; trying to say something of value. I think this is why I was so impressed by the Wangaratta exhibition, the artists all had something unique and interesting to say with their work, and that made it interesting!
|View Denise Ferris’ website here → http://www.deniseferris.com/|
Denise Ferris, an Australian artist, Photography Lecturer and current Head of the ANU School of Arｔ comments in a recent article about focusing on technique versus saying something with that technique.
Denise..”specialises in nineteenth century photographic techniques, but says it’s important not to get too caught up in the technical aspects of photography.
“For us （Canberra School of Art practitioners) it’s never just about the skills, it’s about the body of work that talks about concepts through materials,” says Ferris.
“I practice these old world techniques, but I’ve never practised this for the skill itself. I’m only interested when it’s parlayed to a concept or an idea, and is about pushing those ideas further.
“That might not seem so revolutionary, but I think…this research and practice mentality is something different for [other Art Schools]”
|Red Window – Photograph by Denise Ferris|
Or perhaps this quilt of a $10,000 note by Nina Paley is on the right track. It ticks the conceptual box… but I disagree with her opinon about high art being a price tag issue.
Having said all this, I’m not sure an exclusive mindset is beneficial for Textiles practice. It doesn’t leave room for the talented makers with amazing skills. Nor does it leave room for Textile-ans who are still finding their voice.
But it sure would be nice for a change if Textile Art could lose it’s fluffy reputation.