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Staging Material, Performing Culture

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Abstract

T

hrough the auspices of the international biennial, contemporary practices in textiles have reached a maturity of critical reference. Drawing on anthropological theory (Alfred Gell) and contemporary critical theory

from art and performance (Amelia Jones), this article supports and frames a relationship between exchange, conversation, and enactment as manifested through textile practice in the context of Textile 07: Kaunas Textile Art Biennial.

Keywords: staging, pattern, cross-cultural, Kaunas, biennial

KATHERINE NOLAN AND VICTORIA MITCHELL Katherine Nolan is a video and performance artist, currently completing a practice-led Ph.D. entitled Seducing the Machine: Narcissism and Performance in Contemporary Feminist Practice. Recent projects include Surface Attention, bodily interventions in re-used spaces such as SHUNT London and Stattbad, Berlin, in association with MART collective. She also co-curates Visual Deflections, a video art platform for emerging artists, and is a sessional Lecturer at the University for the Creative Arts and the London College of Fashion. www.katherine-nolan.blogspot.com and Anolan.katherine@yahoo.ie Victoria Mitchell is a Senior Lecturer for Fine Art in the School of Arts and Media at Nnorwich University College of the Arts. She is currently a co-investigator for an AHRC-funded Beyond

Text project on basketry, Beyond the Basket: Construction, Order, and Understanding, with particular reference to relationships between craft, design, and architecture. She is also working on eighteenth-century textile pattern books from Norwich, focusing on relationships between manufacture and distribution. She is the book reviews’ editor for Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture. v.mitchell@nuca.ac.uk.

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Textile, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp. 204–227 DOI: XXXX Reprints available directly from the Publishers. Photocopying permitted by licence only. © 2010 Berg. Printed in the United Kingdom.

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A biennial is an increasingly commonplace and internationally vibrant format for the staging of contemporary art practice, drawing energy from a combination of stability, continuous renewal or invention and breadth or complexity of outlook. For textile art practices, typically engaged in the dynamism that emerges from the interface between tradition and (re) invention, the biennial is thus an apposite arena. The international Textile Art Biennial, based in Kaunas, Lithuania, provides a rich platform for the cross-pollination of textile practices drawn from a range of cultural and critical contexts, benefiting from the concept of the biennial as an international framing of contemporary visual practice. This account recollects Textile 07: Kaunas Textile Art Biennial and anticipates the seventh (2009) Biennial.1 We would argue that textile culture as shaped by the Biennial has particular poignancy in contemporary “global” exchange, as a medium of “conversation” and as a form of “enactment” of identity, not only articulating differences and similarities between individual positions but also acting as an agent of social and political reconciliation. Our visit to Kaunas and our collaboration as “critics,” from a particular socio-cultural stance

(UK), was also a determinant in the formative experience of cultural exchange, shaped by our encounter of the Lithuanian experience and the stage that this set for the artwork: its particular geographical, socio-cultural, and political landscape, below-zero temperatures, honey beers, and the distinctive urban environment of Kaunas. The social and cultural heritage of Lithuania provides a backdrop for the playing out of international textile practices and a pivotal space and place of conversation and enactment. Through the auspices of the international biennial, exemplified in exemplary fashion at Kaunas, contemporary practices in textiles have reached a maturity of critical reference. We have drawn here on both anthropological theory (Alfred Gell) and contemporary critical theory from art and performance (Amelia Jones) to support and frame a relationship between exchange, conversation, and enactment as manifested through textile practice in the context of the Biennial.

Setting the (Lithuanian) Scene—Staging a Biennial Lithuania is situated at a crossroads in terms of both its geographical location and its history. In its distant past the country has been variously aligned with Belarus, Ukraine, Poland,

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and Russia, adopting Christianity only in the fourteenth century, in the era of alignment with Poland. It became independent after the First World War only to be occupied by both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany between 1940 and 1945 before being incorporated into the USSR following the German retreat in 1945. The large and influential community of Jews suffered severely through Holocaust atrocities. Lithuania’s verve and the independence of its thinking are reflected in the fact that it was the first Soviet state to legalize non-communist parties, gaining its independence in 1991. Always oriented culturally toward Europe, even under Soviet occupation, all three Baltic States have been members of the European Union and NATO since 2004, and all have witnessed economic expansion in recent years. Socially and economically, the manufacture of textiles and clothing has played a crucial role in the development of postCommunist Lithuania, such that textile and clothing production is now one of Lithuania’s most important industries (nearly 10 percent GDP in 2007). It was perhaps surprising that there was so little direct reference to the relationship between textiles and mass production in the work of Lithuanian artists at Kaunas, but the situating of the Biennial in Lithuania is nevertheless poignant in terms of increasing economic development following the Soviet occupation of the country under the communist regime. The vibrancy of textile art in all the Baltic States, and in the particular focus of the Biennial

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which is explored here, reflects the reality of having overcome the constraints of recent histories. One is reminded of the Lithuanian custom of placing crucifixes on the tops of hills in the countryside. Such crosses would be removed under the communist suppression of anything other than its own propaganda. The local lore surrounding the site known as The Hill of Crosses, near Siauliai, north of Kaunas, suggests that when a cross was removed from the hill, overnight three crosses were put up. When they were removed, six crosses appeared, the numbers continuing to multiply in this fashion until there was a mound of crosses and crosses on those crosses, leaving thousands of all shapes, sizes and material crammed into every conceivable space; a spectacular monument to the defiant spirit of the Lithuanian people now remains. This same braveness of spirit and passion for expression through representation is demonstrated in the explorative approach of structuring, curating, and staging the Biennial. In addition to the curated Narrow Examination, the open submission Wide Examination, the undergraduate Young Examination and many satellite exhibitions there were platforms for discussion, performance, and research in progress. Live events, such as the relaxed round-table discussions in the warmth of the Skilaunas café or performances in galleries and bars, moved textile cultural activity beyond displayed objects and toward the moment and the now. Spectators became aware of a dialogic, interactive social

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happening and of themselves as active participants.2 These platforms for allowing things to happen in the moment exemplifies Jones’s notion that discourses around the artwork “perform” meaning ( Jones 1999: 39–55). Rather than the dominating voice of an individual critic, this was a generous, social, and inclusive dialogue that bustled around the Biennial and the art works, such that befits the nature of the textile as the stuff of our everyday lives as well as distanced art object. In Lithuania, textile arts are held in such high regard that, along with beer and basketball, they have the status of a cultural practice akin to religious worship. Beer and basketball may seem to be strange bedfellows, but what they share with the perception that shaped the 07 Biennial is that they are essentially social activities, engaging a wide community through collective discourse and pleasure. Textile culture is continuously and primarily an agent of complex social and cultural relations, a complexity which was astutely articulated in the context of the Biennial. The textile practices presented engaged sympathetically with indigenous traditions while contesting, negotiating, traversing, and expanding the bounds of influence, always with reference to a creative and critical worldview which embraced social interaction. This cross-fertilization of multiple textile contexts, loosely braided together with strands drawn from a wide platform of visual and cultural practice, mirrors Gell’s persuasive notion _S that “culture has no existence independently of its manifestations _E _L

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in social interactions” (Gell 1998: 4). In the context of the Biennial the juxtaposition of differing technological, critical, and cultural concerns created both a subtle interweaving of gentle conversations and a staged unravelling of traditional, socially embedded stereotypes. Among the exhibited works in the Biennial there was evidence that tapestry weaving, for example, is a site of continuing tradition and radical reinvention. This is not, of course, a recent phenomenon, and indeed it reflects the critical space of tapestry across historical time. Thus, in the permanent collection of the M. K. Cˇiurlionis National Museum in Kaunas a

large seventeenth-century Flemish tapestry represents (stages) the mythological contest between Athena and Arachne (Figure 1). As described by the Roman poet Ovid, the goddess Athena is challenged to a tapestry-weaving contest by the lowly mortal, Arachne. Athena is so angered by the effrontery and skill of her challenger that she draws on her divine powers to effect the punishment of eternal spiderhood on the young woman. It is a tale that never ceases to be retold and reinterpreted, offering as it does an analogy of personal, political, and textile oppositions (for example Maharaj 1991: 71–96). In the context of Textile 07 this tapestry-fable is a poignant

Figure 1 Flemish tapestry representing Athena ˇiurlionis National and Arachne, M. K. C Museum, Kaunas. Seventeenthcentury. V. Mitchell, photograph by permission of the gallery.

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reminder that passions, politics, personalities, and above all critical inventiveness and challenging expertise have a deep and lasting presence. While the seventeenth-century tapestry shows depressing signs of wear and tear, creative and critical responses to tapestry and weaving among contemporary Lithuanian textile artists are flourishing, as in the work of Laima Oržekauskiene˙ (Figure 2). Such relationships, between traditional skill and contemporary practice, are not

particular to tapestry or weaving but are certainly exemplified through Oržekauskiene˙, who, as Head of the Board of Textile 07 and former professorial Head of Textiles at Kaunas Art Institute, is a seminal figure in this context. Combining complex traditional weaving and digital print, her sometimes naked figures confront the viewer through the spectacle of an experience in which she is herself inscribed. Running like a thread through Lithuanian textile art, traditional techniques are everywhere

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reenacted and questioned in communication of a contemporary message that is often stark and challenging. Ovid’s narrative continues to be acted out, its message undiminished: the failsafe aesthetics of technical perfection give way to the sometimes dark truths this medium (textile) is capable of revealing. (Curiously it is the shield of Athena that shows the worst of the seventeenthcentury tapestry’s current fraying, as if signifying that her defence is weakening and that Arachne’s

Figure 2 Laima Oržekauskiene˙. Slip No. 1 Her Name was Egle˙ . 2005. Synthetic and golden threads, digital print, double weaving. 189 × 149 cm. Tekstile ˙, 2007: np.

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town of Sa˜o Paolo, was introduced to Cláudio Kupstas, a maker of juostos combining traditional Lithuanian techniques and patterns with Brazilian and contemporary innovations. Kupstas had been taught traditional sash-making by his Lithuanian antecedents, but, far removed geographically from their original context these sashes had become translations from their original language. In the context of the Biennial the presence of a halffinished “hybrid” sash on a loom spoke of migration, translation, difference, and reconciliation (Figure 3). Its incompleteness, and the inclusion of the loom as well Weaving and Pattern in Crossas the textile in formation upon it, Cultural Conversation allowed the textile to reference its Textile is naturally a medium of roots at the same time as rescuing storytelling, having the capacity those roots from oblivion. The to embed “language” into the relationship between artist and interstices of its structures as curator is itself a conversation and well as to figure narrative in its an enactment of cross-cultural unfolding forms. By means of its narrative. technical subtleties it enables subject positions to be voiced in the Meanwhile, in another context of cross-cultural exchange. context, the Chair of the selection In Textile 07 it was possible to committee of the Wide Examination, trace “textile conversations,” Professor Janis Jefferies, translations, or cross-cultural presented (at an educational narratives through the work of round table event) research into several artists, techniques, and correspondences between patterns countries of origin, across different found both in the weaving of stages and contexts within the sashes and in the weaving in and Biennial. out of traditional polyphonic songs One such tracing came through (sutartinés) (Figure 4). The agency the reinvention of patterns and of pattern is and always has been techniques associated with the semantic of choice for making traditional but endangered sense of (social) relationships. Thus Lithuanian inkle-woven correspondences, whereby different commemorative sashes ( juostos). technologies mirror and reference The Brazilian artist and curator of patterns across time and between Sheer and Shallow (one of three places, have been identified Narrow Examination exhibitions in ancient symbolic patterns within the Biennal), fernando (representing the cosmos) found on Figure 3 a Lithuanian distaff and in similar Cláudio Kupstas. Untitled, 2007. Woven marques-penteado, searching for Lithuanian associations in his home examples in Ancient India and sash, loom. Courtesy Textile 07. voice has come to the fore.) Materiality continues as a site of exploration, experimentation and playfulness while at the same time practitioners engage in a staging of exchanges and an awareness of performance (or, more critically, the performative) as a mode of discursive and radical communication. The textile artist questions the authority of dutiful skill through acts of “un-doing” and “re-doing,” of self-conscious and socially conscious contamination of, and engagement in, a dialogic global tradition.

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Figure 4 Loom Tales and Sash Songs lecture as part of Archive Fever Roundtable talk in Skliautas café, Kaunas, (led by Janis Jefferies). K. Nolan, photograph, November 2007.

Central America. The intercultural bleeds into the cross-cultural and even the criss-cross-cultural, as textile processes and practices, in partnership with pattern, articulate the fabric of social exchange. In an ideal conflation of postcolonial and post-communist positioning, pattern exchange and interchange is proposed as the syntax of very real communication. In a mesmerizing performance of Hetain Patel (in the Narrow Examination United Kingdom exhibition, Unpicked and Dismantled, curated by Gerard Williams and Danica Maier), in which Lithuanian textile artist Lina Jonike˙ painted indigenous patterns (such as those woven into sashes, knitted into gloves or engraved into distaffs) onto Patel’s back in henna (mehndi), this cross-referencing of patterns is now seen to be clothing the skin through the habit and techniques of mimesis (Figure 5).

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Aided by video projection and mirror reflection, Patel in turn repeats the pattern and painting on his chest. The subject inscribes and is inscribed through patterns that shape society. Performance and ceremony are simultaneously opened out and conjoined in an act of sequential exchange and enactment. Beyond the event, memory is stretched to similar correspondences between basket structures and body-painting in Amazonia, and between Asian mehndi body-painting and embroidery patterns. Perhaps unbeknown to Patel’s henna painter, the crescent wombs of advanced pregnancy are traditionally painted with henna in Morocco. In one of the satellite exhibitions of the biennial, Jonike˙ showed one of her own partially embroidered photographs, Trikampis (The Triangle), 2006, of a naked

heavily-pregnant woman seated in dappled light on the edge of a village stream with (her?) two young children. There is no henna painting here, but on her head she wears a nuometas, a head covering traditionally worn by married women, reminiscent of a fez, around which is bound a sash which hangs down beside her naked body. The sash is represented through patterned embroidery, so delicately as to be at first sight indistinct from the smooth surface of the photograph in which it is embedded (Figure 6). There are dangers in the romanticism that stitches nostalgia into the technologies of the present, but these are less significant than the political positions that are engaged whenever representation and materiality intersect. This intersection marks and _S challenges the contemporary language of textiles, healing a _E _L

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Figure 5 Hetain Patel (with Lina Jonike˙). 2007. Performance in Kaunas Picture Gallery. Photograph courtesy Hetain Patel.

Slip No. 2 Her Name was Eglé, 2006) was dramatic. That this staging was a candlelit “event” of one day’s duration perhaps accentuated the The inspiration of the sash goes on. Oržekauskiene˙ showed digital necessity to not forget. In one further interweaving print and woven panels to moving of exchanges Rômulo Chaves, a effect in a dilapidated, disused, Brazilian agricultural worker turned dark, damp, fifteenth-century painter, reusing discarded lorry monastery church. Inspired canvases, patched and scuffed by Indo-European and Baltic through wear and tear on back (sash) ornament, double-heddle and front, pays homage (in Sheer weaving structures form a maze and Shallow) to Oržekauskiene˙ in of interlocking hooked crosses. The faces and other figurative and Rescuing Laima’s Gaze, a bannerdecorative digital representations painting based on a photograph of Slip No. 1 Her Name was Eglé. work against and through the The photograph, like pattern, is a grain of the weave so that co-responsive medium, a space of decorative surface and figurative structure appear to be interwoven. interface for the exchanging and transforming of identities. Rescuing (Elsewhere in the biennial Lia Laima’s Gaze seemed to gaze Cook’s jacquard woven Face Maze across at Chaves’s other exhibited evoked a similar effect.) In the context of the crumbling detritus of work, Gaze of Indigenous Brazilian St George’s church, the iconic faces, Women (2007) (Figure 7). These becalmed through the combination two large woven canvas sheets suspended from the ceiling were of pattern as process and as historical decoration (Slip No. 1 Her striking in their scale. The reusing of Name was Eglé, 2005, Figure 2, and the discarded lorry canvases mirrors rift between simulacrum and real(ity).

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Figure 6 Lina Jonike ˙. Detail from Trikampis [The Triangle]. 2006. Photograph, embroidery. V. Mitchell, photograph.

the “rescuing” of both indigenous imagery and people, demonstrating the quite considerable political voice that the criss-crossing weave and pattern of textile conversations and practices offer when presented on a world-class stage.

An Expanded Textile Stage For marques-penteado, who initiated the idea for Chaves’s painting of Oržekauskiene˙, the giving and receiving of images in this co-responsive way is an act of generosity rather than

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appropriation, opening up the space of non-authorship, signalling the frayed and fraying edges of a form of postcapitalist ownership. It is a space in which, among other equalities, the “educated,” critically aware practitioner shares a platform with practices that are frequently invisible because they are outside the loop of naming and branding. In the catalogue of Textile 07 marques-penteado, speaking of textile art in Brazil, suggests that “(c)oncepts like Textile Art/Textile Artists/Textile Exhibitions do not

emerge in our cultural horizons and historical perspectives” (marquespenteado, Textile 07: 20). With no coherent textile nucleus in evidence in Brazilian cultural practices, he had drawn together disparate strands from unconventional environments and contexts beyond as well as within the mainstream of Brazilian art. marques-penteado’s approach throws into sharp focus the questions evoked by the cross_S cultural platform of the Biennial itself in relation to the effect of the _E _L

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Figure 7 Rômulo Chaves. Installation view of Rescuing Laima’s Gaze. 2007. Painting on canvas. 210 × 157 cm (left). Gaze of Indigenous Brazilian Women. 2007. Painting on Canvas. 157 × 210 cm (right). Courtesy Textile 07.

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contextualization of the artwork. The eclectic mix of represented iconographies were more than stylistic; their juxtaposition confronted the question of the effect of the political and socialcultural context, addressing the “how” and “why” textile/ art is produced, represented, and categorized in each country. This highlights the value of the representation of cultural specificity in an international context and reflects back upon the viewer’s own social and cultural context. In a broader textile context, the rescuing of an anonymous multitude of silent and invisible spinners, lacemakers, and sash-makers (et al.) which has informed art practices for the last several decades, continues

to provide fertile ground, allowing as it does for the foraging of lost identities to meet the articulation of perceived identities in the contemporary roundabout of global culture and society. Textile art is arguably a less highly profiled and author-conscious context than Fine Art, and in this respect it is culturally in a strong position to draw on a wider practitioner base, reflecting the ubiquity and (pre)histories as well as the cultural specificity of textile practices and extending its horizons beyond the margins of the highly educated, gallery-branded mainstream of Fine Art. Across all sections of the Biennial there were a number of pieces that entailed a ‘working

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at the margins’ of accepted practices, drawing attention to the intricacies of cross-overs between mainstream and margin. In the Wide Examination the crocheted installation of houses staged by artist Ursula Steuler on behalf of the refugees and immigrants with whom she worked in Germany over a nine month period is case in point (Figure 8). The simplest of skills and the most easily available materials do not stand in the way of the act of collaborative communication. In another example, Annika Ekdahl’s We’re Fine, an ongoing, eightyear, interactive, tablecloth, covered in embroidered graffiti,

notion of the parergon, in which he contemplates the nature of the frame: is it outside or integral to the artwork (Derrida 1976: 24)? A crocheted doily as teapot-stand in one context becomes an agent of There is a sense here of a textile practice which is not only expanded cultural reparation in another, as in the gallery. Conceived of thus, in terms of cultural identity, the artwork becomes an entity the technical process, or (anti-) meaning of which is not static, aesthetic, but also in terms of but has the potential for constant ownership. Like Roland Barthes’s expansion and flux. “endless garment” (Barthes Translating from frame to stage, 1983: 42) we perceive that textile the art work becomes mapped in and the textile object are both relation to other elements at play continuous, bound not only by within the situating of the work, the semiotic code of mainstream recognition but also by the margins including other artworks and the site itself. In the case of Textile that threaten to become invisible 07 one of the most prominent if they are not addressed. This and striking factors was the also evokes Jacques Derrida’s demonstrated that audiences both skilled and unskilled from many locations have coveted the chance to make their mark.

Figure 8 Ursula Steuler. Home Match? Away Match? Worldwide and Colourful! 2007. Mixed media installation, mostly in crochet, wire coat hangers. 400 × 400 cm. Courtesy Textile 07.

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traditional and ubiquitous textile object contains traces of the body, as in the labor invested in stitch and weave as intricate embroidery pattern or coarse strands woven on a loom, or through the marks left on clothing from wear such as shirts creased at the elbows or the worn knees of jeans. In addition we come to know the body through the textile as it is framed with sociocultural codes as well as simply being a protective covering. Enacting such textile concerns through the body enables a particularly rich territory within a heritage of craft and utility to be articulated. But in addition to awakening dormant meanings in textile objects and processes, textile concerns are “acted out” in new contexts offering the prospect of opening up uncharted territories through the cross-pollination of disparate or unexpected discourses. For instance, Inga Likšaite˙ ’s solo show In the Mood For Movie (Museum of the History of Communication, Kaunas) (Figure 10) evoked implicit and explicit actions of textile processes as underlying a dialogic interface between stitch and screen, artwork and spectator. Trained at the Kaunas Art Institute and a winner of the Pfaff The Body as Site of Enactment Art Embroidery Challenge 2007, Nowhere is the idea of “performing Likšaite˙ took her inspiration for this meaning” more apparent than when exhibition from In the Mood for Love it is the (artist’s or spectator’s) body (2000), a film set in the early 1960s and directed by Wong Kar-Wai. that is the site of the enactment. At the entrance to the exhibition Performance was much in evidence a red semi-transparent curtain in Textile 07, spinning off from (but not to be reduced to) a central offered tantalizing glimpses of the trope of textile culture: the mutually rest of the exhibit seen through the red veil, seducing viewers inward constitutive relationship between along the delineated path and body and material, that is the constructing them as performer. A “action” of the body on the textile combination of stitched canvases, and the textile on the body. The interaction of the widespread cultures represented, and how it is that textile art is framed within each one. On the over-arching base stage of Lithuanian textile culture, the artworks coagulate into various nuclei pulled together through the specificity of the social, political, and cultural factors of the international players and the interaction of their enactments upon this platform. The manner in which the textile continues to reveal its complexity as a signifier of cultural identity elicits hidden depths lurking in the taken-for-granted arena of the everyday. Thus the Brazillian artist Felipe Barbosa presented interpretations of the football, an object of iconic significance for Brazil (equivalent to Lithuania’s passion for basketball) (Figure 9). Through visually elegant sculptural “quilts,” in which printed patterns and hexagonal and pentagonal structures become the material of invention, the über-social game of football is replayed within the critical space of a textile field. The national and international intersect with the personal, and textile intersects with the culture of celebrity.3

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Figure 9 Felipe Barbosa. 3D Ball. 2006. Footballs. 140 × 165 × 22 cm. Courtesy Textile 07.

Figure 10 Inga Likšaite ˙. What a Coincidence. Machine embroidered panel from “In The Mood For Movie”, installation, Communication History Museum, Kaunas, Lithuania. 2007. Courtesy of the artist.

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film (projected onto cloth), and found objects together allowed the viewer to be transported into a narrative in which the language of stitch became a voice of emotion traveling through time and across cultures. The film, produced by Likšaite˙ in collaboration with animator Claudia Rohmoser and sound artist Ina Viola Blazius, captures the nostalgic narrative of the original film through the expressive potential of moving stitch. Heightened through the linear sequencing of the moving image, the opening sequence of stitches appear to turn into rain as they disappear into a gathered curtain “flowing” along a corridor, echoing the curtain at the exhibit entrance. The “rain” signifies the sorrow of tears. As with her canvases, stitched lines articulate the screen as cloth (the ground into which the lines are stitched) but in a double twist they also reference the cloth as screen, as the striated line-splitting surface of television disturbed through interference. The textile becomes something that is enacted across time and space, weaving under and through the choric spaces of subjectivity and the public spaces of audience. Likšaite˙ presents a parallel between the materiality of the stitched line as a memento of the act of sewing and as connoting the emergence of a narrative of lost love. The stitch appears to be free from the ground in which it is typically embedded, free to suggest the narratives that linger beneath or beyond the surface of outward form. Thus, the activity of sewing, as it transverses the pictorial and temporal space, its fluid movement paralleled with

that of the film, is underscored as a significant and signifying act in and of itself, rather than simply a means to production. This enactment of textile processes was also played out in Linda Florence’s Sugar Dance Floor on the opening night of the Wide Examination in Zilnskas Gallery (Figure 11), this time in the charged atmosphere of live performance as entertainment which was felt among the crowd that attended. The space was patterned with a beautifully delicate motif, sprinkled in sugar on the black marble floor, spreading across the space like a lace carpet. A couple, dressed in formal black and white, waltzed across the sugared floor, dispersing the precious pattern into white mist. The delicacy of the pattern rendered in the unstable sugar dust built an effective anticipation for its destruction. The erasure of the precious decoration was paradoxically uplifting, wiping over culturally resonant pattern motifs with the spontaneous, circular, drifting marks of the body in motion. The regularity and repetition of pattern becomes performed through the body, drawing parallels between musical patterns, dance formations, and textile rhythms. The restaging of process through the reenactment of the body becomes a site of potential transformation and the formation of pattern through material allows for a reassessment and renewal of pleasure in the making. Performance is treading new ground as textile practice, reinvesting and reinventing the traditional through contemporary concerns and contexts. When such

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Figure 11 Linda Florence. Photo from Sugar Dance Floor. Performance in M. Žilinsko daile˙s art gallery. K. Nolan, photograph. 2007.

practice is able to transfer to the twenty-first-century club scene, as in the live performance of Christine Ellison (aka Polly Fibre, the sonic seamstress), it effects an exchange between that which was previously marginalized to that which is at least current and streetwise if not culturally mainstream. In a group performance, Polly and her “dollies” enacted fragmented processes and mechanisms of sewing through electronic sound. Prepared sewing machines and textile tools were deconstructed

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through sounds, actions, and graphics, reformulated through the friction of rasping sonic energy to form an unsettling choreography of mechanized textile tasks. The effect referenced situations which are far from entertainment, such as the factory system for textiles and clothing through which the body of the worker, wired up to a technical and economic system which is often socially divisive, functions as a robotic machine. The doll-like robot bodies of the performers moved in staccato rhythms in response to the

machinery of (sound) production. Although initially responding to an ordered rhythm, akin to Florence’s performance of pattern, Polly Fibre’s performance diverged into freestyle expression where the feminine seamstress acquired her own agency beyond the repetition of the machine. The nameless seamstress toiling in the factory becomes the star of the stage and the underlying actions and sounds that whisper from the textile _S object become loud, grating, and _E unsettling while simultaneously _L

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entertaining. The performance hints at the possibility of risking even greater discomfort in the narrative that unfolds from around the female body. This potential transformation of identity, through the reenactment of rituals of gendered, social, and cultural roles was in evidence across the cultural diversity of the Biennial, from ‘Euro-pop’ to the postcolonial. In Leora Farber’s video (Figure 12), A Room of Her Own (2006) (Narrow Examination South Africa, curated by Fiona Kirkwood), the artist subjects

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and enacts, as a kind of grafting process, her postcolonial experience of South Africa through the person of Bertha Guttman, a Jewess brought to South Africa in 1885 from Sheffield to enter into marriage with the entrepreneur Sammy Marks. Marks himself had been born in Lithuania and was the son of a tailor, thus further elaborating the textile-cultural dynamics of this work in its Kaunas context. A hazy, oval-shaped border of sepia imagery suggested a view through a nostalgic eye, looking back toward the Victorian era

Figure 12 Leora Farber. Installation view of A Room of Her Own. 2006. Video. Courtesy the artist.

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while also interweaving cultural reference and context, complexity, and criticality. Set in a time when voices from the emerging women’s movement were beginning to trouble the patriarchal prescription of femininity, and in the colonized state of South Africa oppression and power were being challenged, race and gender simmer under the surface as the artist attempts to negotiate her own identity through the videoed performance. Trussed up in her undergarments Farber is engrossed in the “feminine” activity of needlework complicated by indigenous ritual connotations of “marking” the body. She juxtaposes the Victorian convention of corseting and binding with the practice of tribal scarification as practiced on both male and female, a sadomasochistic inscribing of the body which interweaves disparate and jarring cultural codes and practices in relation to gender and identity. Immaculately staged, the work combines Freudian slippage with historical and cultural specificity, drawing the viewer into the central act of “grafting” in which aloe leaves (for which we read indigenous culture) are apparently sewn into the flesh of the artist’s body, which remains frustratingly obedient, despite the sharp point of the needle. Behind her the rose-covered wallpaper disintegrates as if into the liquid of tears. A reference to Charlotte Gilman Perkins’s The Yellow Wallpaper is hard to avoid; indeed this enriches the cultural context of this disturbing video. Screen and fabric together constitute a site of mutative becoming, wherein cultural identities are negotiated

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and communicated as narrative, and performance and history coincide with poetic effect. They also serve as a site of recollection, of matters which it is better not to forget. Across their respective cultures (Lithuanian, English, Irish, South African) these artists delve into past narratives, roles and identities deploying the repetitive and repeating characteristic of sewing, weaving, or patternmaking, under the premise that the act of repetition provides scope for slippage. Transition across medium opens out further, a space for transformation as conversation occurs between the established patterns of disparate practices, as well as histories, producing a double layer of recontextualization in which to challenge convention. In these works the action of stitching and pattern-making not only begets but often supersedes the product, opening out the symbolic meaning of the act. Thus, the body’s relation to the textile becomes an act of making, through which the artist moves beyond the textile object to the textile as theatrical performance. There are crossovers and parallels to be drawn between the cultural and the performative, such that Farber’s grafting and Patel’s henna engage in a shared criss-cross cultural conversation. Inscribing the body as the site upon which the intercultural converges instigates a process of such transformation.

Between Body and Textile The body–textile relation is most commonly evoked through the textile itself. In its ubiquitous use

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as clothing or domestic furnishing it carries connotations of intimacy and of the body, extending and transforming the utilitarian function of object or garment. In addition specific techniques and materials carry metaphor, frequently with implications of behavior, identity, or state of mind. Some work in the Biennial subverted a traditional comforting relationship of flesh and cloth, a relationship which could otherwise be in danger of being too comfortable (critically). A medium or object which is overloaded with connotations of the nicely made or warmly treasured can be invested with repulsion, pain, or the grotesque, opening to the interior of memory, fantasy, or dream, or effecting a catharsis of hidden emotion. The textile thus assumes a surrogacy for the acting-out of complex identities. The comforts of domestic memory and the attachment of this memory to the travails and transformations of subjectivity were explored in the photographs of and by the São Paolo artist Nino Cais. Lace doilies and tablecloths, along with bowls, jugs, cups, tables, and chairs, are used to stage the body as sculpture, disguising and revealing the body’s flesh through juxtaposition and drawing the viewer into conversation with the identity that is shaped by his association with domestic objects and settings. In this respect the textile does not just simply signify the relation of flesh and corporeality, but often bears the weight of the gendered body. Conversations between bodies and textile objects _S _E occurred in many sections of the _L

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Biennial, particularly in evidence in the United Kingdom Narrow Examination, the coherence of which stemmed from an edgy linking of the decorative textile (with connotations of domesticity and security) with dangerous sexuality. Through the semiotic of doilies and floral decorative patterns, sexual connotations of lace (the thrill of the frill) were emphatic, in some instances to the point of discomfort (as fetish). Thus, Catherine Bertola punctured pinholes as prickings into paper to form the patterns of lace knickers, creating delicate prettiness through the harsh penetrating “prick.” Danica Maier’s colored-pencil flower motifs evoke traditional (feminine and domestic) ornamental

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pattern (Figure 13). Decorative florals used as a feminine sign are covert in their reference to female genitalia, constantly whispering from underneath convention and familiarity. Maier deploys a subterfuge of her own to undermine the insidious implications of the female’s “flower.” Feminist reappropiations of the word “cunt” undermine derogatory reference to female genitalia by employing its shock value. Maier is devious, employing the familiarity of decoration, as it is only when the viewer approaches the pretty motifs that words such as “pussy” emerge within the petals, leaves, and curling tendrils. The viewer is drawn into an intimate relation only to be affronted with pornographic terminology.

Figure 13 Danica Maier. Pussy Face (detail). 2003. Pencil on Multilayer of Mylar 76 × 9 cm. Courtesy Textile 07.

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Both Maier and Bertola use a “cunning lingua” (Chisholm 1995: 19–41), employing the symbolic agency of language in metaphor and double entendre to subvert the traditional signifying patterns of the feminine. We are reminded once again of Arachne’s tale as the innocence and lure of decorative lace (or its representation) is

revealed as a snare, as also in Katherine Nolan’s collaged digital prints of lace-festooned flesh exemplifying a grotesque femininity. The flashes of flesh nestled among ribbons and frills imply the presence of the performer, the body again arising as the site of enactment of textile concerns as it oscillates between states of embodiment and

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objectivity, as flesh and folds merge into one another pushing the bodytextile relation beyond intimacy into morphology. The UK section’s treatment of sexual politics centered around the naming of the gendered body, in which language is manipulated to present a knowing and aggressive sexuality. An altogether different

Figure 14 Walter Oltmann. Mother and Child. 2007. Weaving Aluminium wire 195 × 445 cm. Courtesy Textile 07.

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kind of “dangerous” sexuality was highlighted in the South African section of the Narrow Examination. In Walter Oltmann’s Mother and Child (2007) (Figure 14) in which the body is depicted in the form of a delicately woven, aluminum-wire skeleton resembling an archaeological excavation, the skeletal lace-like effect of the intricate weaving makes the image feint, forcing the viewer to examine the work closely. The body slowly reveals itself as a mother carrying an unborn child in the womb. Oltmann’s work visualizes the rapid spread of AIDS in South Africa as a series of concentric borders beginning with a scalloped lace fringe, each layer dependant on the previous as the child on the mother. The work calls to mind the not always nurturing bond of interpersonal relationships. The simplicity of the ritual “grave” and the common bond of death allow the work to speak across cultures. A somewhat painful bond between parent and child was further examined in Silja Puranen’s Rose (2007) (Wide Examination) a wall-mounted quilt in pale hues, rough around the edges, ragged and torn (Figure 15). The rose pattern of this threadbare Finnish eiderdown is faded but beautiful; grubby marks of use are reminders of the bodies that have been held and comforted beneath its warmth. This quilt bears a digital print of a mutated infant, ambiguously (through embroidery and fabric paint) referenced (as if hybrid) to the fading print. Expecting the sweet and soft the viewer is confronted with a strange corporeality, and a sense of guilt or remorse for being

repulsed by the body of a child. A comparison can be drawn with Tracey Emin’s Something Really Terrible (2001), similar in the use of the baby quilt with pastel colors and also in the relationship between Emin’s subject matter of miscarriage and Puranen’s imagery of a malformed neonate. Yet technically and in terms of potential readings this is only a beginning. As the catalogue describes it, “this work explores the boundaries of recognizable humanity and the point at which the emotional reaction of attraction facing a small child turns into rejection and fear of the alien.” Perhaps it is in the space of the fraying fabric, where ageing threads of a oncedomestic comfort-blanket meet the irregularities of the human condition (digitally manipulated), that reflection finds a place of realization. The power of the textile to evoke the body is here reaffirmed, both in terms of the marks of usage that imply past narratives and in the dissolving of the image of the body into the pattern which makes it recede insidiously. The haunting presence of the textile as an ethereal trace of the stricken body was also evident in work-in-progress as discussed by Irish artist Seamus McGuinness. His research, presented in one of the many engaging roundtable talks in the Skliautas café, involves collecting items of clothing and belongings of victims of suicide. McGuinness noted that Lithuania along with his native Northern Ireland are among the countries with the highest rates of suicide in Europe. One wonders whether this may relate in some way to “The

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Figure 15 Silja Puranen. Rose. 2007. Digitized photograph, painting, embroidery, heat transfer, fabric paint and found textile 217 × 130 cm. Courtesy Textile 07.

Troubles,” the unresolved divide between Catholic and Protestant factions in Northern Ireland, aware too that Lithuania has a rich Roman Catholic and Jewish heritage. As issues of politics, religion, and suffering open up to McGuinness’s discussion of the archive of personal objects such as clothing or hairbrushes, one is reminded of the other such collections that pay tribute to lives lost. Many concentration camps are now museums housing collections of possessions: reams of glasses, shoes, and clothing piled high as a reminder of the countless lives lost, idiosyncratic items that re-humanise the individual from a homogenized mass of victims, all demonstrating the power held by items that have

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touched and been used by the body. In Textile 09 Mc Guinness presented the collected material and memories through a series of 42 life-sized, digital woven portraits (Figure 16) (assisted by Monika Žaltauskaite˙ -Grašiene˙) and a film which documents the implications of the act of their making. While there may be no definite answer as to why the two countries should share the suicide statistic, there will be an unspoken exchange between them through the woven vestments, quietly whispering understanding through shared suffering. Indeed the project itself has emerged through conversation, as McGuinness’s dialogue with the families is on-

going, intense, and patient. His brave and sensitive handling of the research subject troubles Foucault’s notion of the “indignity of speaking for others” (Deleuze and Foucault, in Bouchard 1980: 209). With his facilitation, the families find a voice and place to publicly remember their relative, in addition to raising awareness about the affecting issue of suicide. In this work and in the context of Kaunas the textile serves as agency of both personal and cultural reparation, unraveling the hidden and painful, while also imparting something to hold on to.

Finale In Textile 07 conversations _S were enacted between people, cultures, and histories, sometimes _E _L

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Figure 16 Seamus McGuinness. 2009. Kaunas Biennial Lost Portraits Gallery. Courtesy the artist.

occurring fluidly and connecting across perceived boundaries, sometimes jarring or contradicting one another. another. Textile cultures were enacted and performed through the body and materiality, and across time, place, and discourse. The textile heritage that interweaves its patterns and S_ its materiality to that of the body E_ forms one of the most powerful L_ and recurring tropes within

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contemporary art. The previous “lives” of textile, in whatever form, make the transference of the site of meaning between the object and the body a poignant and rich territory. Textile art is itself based on the premise of a shifting rhetoric of the frame, from utilitarian, craft, and fashion contexts to high art and beyond, forming platforms particular to itself while also critically

referencing the complexities of a contemporary context. The space of a biennial enables these expanding trajectories not only to be staged but also to be evaluated. In this collaborative reflection on Textile 07, we repeatedly returned, in our exchanges and discussions, to the concept of theater as a grounding reference for critical analysis and evaluation: a public site for dialogue to

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flourish. This metaphor of theater is one which embraces the playwrights, actors, and audiences as participants in the readings of the work presented. As the conversations continued into Textile 09, the organizational team, sponsors, curatorial voices, artists, audiences, and critics were each engaged in a “performative” role enacting an ancient cultural tradition, shaped by the steady but changing context of the biennial. Frames, platforms, and stages have provided a means of (re)locating the work in a critical context. As well as the performative engagement of individuals and communities of interests, the staging of textile work invites consideration of the possibility that the textile itself has a voice. For all its apparent silence it is arguably the voice of the textile that has most to say, in particular sharing with pattern a semiotic equivalence across widely differing cultural perspectives, subject positions, and technical concerns.

Acknowledgements With greatful thanks to the organizing committee for their assistance and support.

Notes 1.

2.

3.

This article grew out of an earlier collaboration for the review of Textile 07 published in Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture 7(1), March 2009. The mission statement for the 2009 Biennial, “Discover. Interact. Enjoy,” underscores the movement of the Biennial in this direction. This is supported by the addition of “Live Examination” in Textile 09, a series of 30 residencies with 60 artists from 20 countries, and an engaging Education program that involves artists’ workshops and guided visits. In a further expanding of the textile stage a reference to the child and low-wage labour associated with the stitching of footballs in India and Pakistan comes to mind, the almost invisible underside of a game which is heralded as enabling a lifting out of poverty for many in Brazil.

References

Bodies—Language and Perverse Perfomativity.” In E. Grosz and E. Probyn (eds) Sexy Bodies: The Strange Carnalities of Feminism. London: Routledge. Deleuze, G. and Foucault, M. 1972. “Intellectuals and Power: A Conversation between Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze.” In D. F. Bouchard (ed.) (1980), Language, Counter-Memory, Practice. New York, Cornell University Press. Derrida, J. 1976. Of Grammatology. Trans. G.C. Spivak. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. Gell, A. 1998. Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory. Oxford: Clarendon. Jones, A. 1999. “Art History/Art Criticism: Performing Meaning.” In A. Jones and A. Stephenson (eds) Performing the Body Performing the Text. Oxford: Routledge. Maharaj, S. 1991. “Arachne’s Genre: Towards Intercultural Studies in Textiles.” Journal of Design History 4(2):75–96.

Barthes, R. 1983. The Fashion Vitkiene˙, V., Carroll, E., and System. Trans. M. Ward and Gelu¯niene˙, V. (eds). 2007. TEXTILE R. Howard. London: Jonathan Cape. 07, Catalog of Kaunas Art Biennial, Kaunas, Kaunas Artists’ Support Chisholm, D. 1995. “The Fund. ‘Cunning Lingua’ of Desire:

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revista Textile  

trabalhos de Felipe Barbosa na Bienal da lituania

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