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MARIANNE FAIRBANKS: IMPRACTICAL WEAVING SUGGESTIONS By Kemi Adeyemi “Every weaver should weave at least one bed-spread before she dies.” Berta Frey’s detailed account of how to do so appeared in Practical Weaving Suggestions, one of the many home weaving journals that circulated throughout the 20th century, accompanied by hand-drawn charts that annotate the pattern. Like much of the writing in the journal, Berta’s conversational writing is open and inviting even as it is written with the stiff and technical precision required of the dedicated home-weaving eye: “If we consider 1-2, 2-4, 1-2, 2-4, 1-3, 2-4 to be the A unit of treadling and 3-4, 1-3, 3-4, 1-3, 2-4, 1-3 to be the B unit, then the complete treadling for one repeat of the pattern is: A five times, B five times, A two times, B three times, A two times, B five times, A five times, B two times, A three times, B two times.” It’s a very simple treadling, she notes, even if “I once had to go back six inches because I had woven units of 5, 5, 5, 2, 3, 2. And another time I went back even farther because I had treadled the units in the sequence of 5, 5, 2, 3, 2, 3, 2.” Surely perfecting the sequence, Berta’s work seemingly results in the photograph of a tan bedspread that matches the grim beige carpeting of the staged bedroom that graces the cover of the issue.

installation view, University of Wisconsin-Madison Design Gallery, 2016


Overlapping Structures #3, Black and White/DDLLLLDD Broken Twill, White and Green/Basket, 2016

Taking seriously the question of what one should and should not weave before dying, Marianne Fairbanks’s solo show Impractical Weaving Suggestions offers a few somewhat modest proposals. Ranging from lawn chairs to wall hangings, her weaving demonstrations are scripted by glossy, hyper-color patterns that pay homage to the dogged mathematicians who domesticated and popularized (and, in some ways obscured) the hard labor of the form. In a day and age when weaving has gone from practical solutions for the home space, to the kind of high art that is produced through institutionalization, and emergent again as a DIY practice for Maker-Millenials, Fairbanks’s exhibition takes the histories of the medium seriously, but with a sharp edged humor that reconsiders the very nature of “practical” craft in the contemporary moment. This humor emerges most overtly in the stunning neon color palette that productively overwhelms the work. The deliberately obnoxious colors can be difficult to look at, and their intensity can verge on inaccessible, but they prove to be the scaffolding that draws the viewer into the show. But the searing pinks, oranges, and greens jump out as pure pigment that forces the viewer to think as much about the act of weaving as the rigorous color theory embedded within it. In fact, pieces such as Overlapping Structures #3 and White and Green/ Basket are not woven at all, but consist of layers of industrial


Space glo, 2015

Light glo, 2015

flagging tape typically used to survey and demarcate landscape boundaries. The saturation of the overlapping tape creates uncomfortable color relationships that fight the serenity of the gallery’s white walls. When looked at too long or too closely, the pieces resonate with the same dizzying chill felt after looking at the sun too long. In Space glo and Light glo, Fairbanks has overlaid this tape with mesh and brash spray paint that, once contained within a frame, counterbalances the free-spin of the wall weavings. The intersections of the layers in these pieces evidence the unsung foundations of weaving in optical illusion, which is further underscored in Navy and Cream/DLLD Plain and Twill and Beige and Grey/ DLLD Plain. These marker drawings of a blue and white weave require a closer look to reveal that the purportedly continuous lines are actually stuttering stops and starts. The play of color and pattern in these “weavings” activate the viewer, encouraging us to look from new and different angles with each approach. In Time Machine, Fairbanks applies color to pay playful homage to the key object of Impractical Weaving Suggestions: the loom. Fairbanks commissioned a woodworker to apply sharp neon hues to a painted floor loom that stands in sharp


relief to the archetypal blonde wood of looms tucked into living rooms and studios across the country. Fairbanks’s high-gloss pattern swarms the floor loom to make it appear almost digital, gesturing to the computerized industrialization of weaving in the contemporary age. At the same time, she continually converses with the pre-modern mechanics of weaving as rooted in the balance and weight of the human body. Time Machine is indeed functioning, and Fairbanks created a set of instructions for the gallery attendant to weave one thread for every person who proceeded through the exhibition; the first ten will alternate black/white, and the second ten will alternate white/black. Fairbanks’s attention to the various forms of labor embedded in the drafting, making, and the reception of weaving pushes against the sentimentality and romanticizing that can threaten the form.

Time Machine, 2016


PWS Tetrad, 2016

Fairbanks continues to playfully jab at weaving in a series of r eproductions of Practical Weaving Suggestions covers. In PWS Tetrad Fairbanks takes on the journal at its most buttonedup: an issue on Ecclesiastical weaving. Rather than execute the church hangings and dossal curtains to which the issue is dedicated, Fairbanks replicates the cover itself with a remarkable gradation that gives the weaving its photorealistic quality. The graphic color-contrasting weave structures lend the piece its almost-menacing tone (though the question of which is more menacing, the neon green crucifixes or the floating tetrad brocade, remains). Fairbanks’s technical skill of incorporating the reflective polyhedron into the bright pink and black weave of PWS Cuboctahedron underscores her more metaphysical question of whether people still need/weave double woven teapot covers for themselves.


Where her series of journal covers reinterpret the covers through an abstracted lens of geometry, Fairbanks often demonstrates the labor required of weaving by returning our gaze to weaving’s completely pedestrian implementations. She levels with the viewer in pieces like Pink/LDDL Plain Twill, where she has reassembled the iconic lawn chair into a painterly piece of black, white, and pinkish strips that are warped on a custom aluminum frame that was made by one of the last lawn chair manufacturers in the United States— frames that were originally developed from excess metal in the post-WWII era. The complementary piece, Lawn Twill, amplifies the archetypal plain weave of a lawn chair with sharply crisscrossing lines of silvered grey that provide a contrasting weave. The play between the painterly Pink/LDDL Plain Twill and the utilitarian but complex visuality of Lawn Twill point to Fairbanks interest in thinking of as much as with weaving: using weaving to understand everyday life, and vice versa.

Pink/LDDL Plain Twill, 2016


Impractical Weaving Suggestions specifically considers how the value of the time and labor of weaving has taken on new meaning, even as the fundamental mechanics of the form have persisted. To this end, many of Fairbanks’s impractical suggestions distill the mathematic and mechanical precision required of weaving. In Draft #1 plain weave, the lines of the graph paper traditionally used to draft weaving patterns has been cut out and then woven together. The labor-intensive work is truly impractical, matched only by Rag Rug, in which Fairbanks scanned images of torn fabric and then cut the images into strips before weaving them together. In Color and weave fragment, Fairbanks has woven together rolled strips of common oven-bake clay before flattening the entire piece with a rolling pin. In these fragments, Fairbanks reconsiders weaving’s foundations in string, yarn, and, ultimately, in the concept of the line in order to underscore the rich potentiality of fibers writ large. Inverse Rotations features a neon sneaker dangling from its shoelace in the midst of being woven on a

Weave studies, 2016


Weave Studies, 2016

painted tablet loom. (There is surely nothing practical about weaving a shoelace in the age of industrial looms.) By keeping this object tethered to the mechanism of its construction, Fairbanks literalizes the path of the weft to the final product, and the physicality of weaving materials become as important, if not more than, the process of their construction. To be sure, yarn was the real driver of Practical Weaving Suggestions, as the journal was published by North Carolina’s Lily Mills company and each guide detailed the precise length, weight, and color of the Lily Mills yarn to be used. In deconstructing the physical and conceptual lines of weaving, Impractical Weaving Suggestions, for all its humor, presents a serious exploration of the radical potential of fiber in and of itself. Fairbanks’s uptake of Buckminster Fuller’s Vector Flexor is most interesting in this regard. The Vector Flexor is an object made of jointed continuous lines that can be collapsed and unfolded to create fluid series of 2 and 3D shapes. Fairbanks’s Triangles and Twills and Parallel Positions model the Vector Flexor’s lines and trademarked flexible joints, but she’s covered the lengths of dowel with reflective and hand-woven cotton that is knotted at the intersection with hand-woven shoelace. The fibers are what allow for the form’s structure and flexibility. There are points where the careful balance of the figure is disrupted, but the collapsed space isn’t a failure of construction as much as it points to new geometric planes that reconfiguration allows for.


Net Series, 2016

For Fairbanks, the work of weaving necessarily entails a measure of transparency. By always opening the door toward failure—a burning color palette that will ward off a certain set of people just as a vector flexor that might collapse at any moment—Fairbanks achieves what Practical Weaving Suggestions rarely hinted at: that a “mis-woven” form might be perfect in and of itself. After recounting the many ways that she miscalculated the treadling of the bedspread in her Practical Weaving Suggestions article, Berta Frey sternly reminds the reader the treadling “is always 5, 5, 2, 3, 2.” The author-weaver’s mistakes weren’t meant to shed light on their creative practice or their personality, but served as a means for reiterating that there is always a right way to do things. The journal, as a result, left little room for innovation. The work in Impractical Weaving Suggestions, on the other hand, is about over-doing it, spending too much time, thinking too long, taking too long, and taking too many steps; a craft maximalism where building and/ through excess allows us to see the joints and the ruptures that,


in turn, reveal the thorough labor required of the medium. By overdoing it, Fairbanks sets herself to the task of exploring the question of who has time to weave bedspreads, testing her own limits in painstaking and time-consuming weaving exercises that don’t give up easy answers. This juxtaposition grounds Impractical Weaving Suggestions as a reflection on the value of a life’s work through weaving, always keeping an eye on the immense personal pleasure it clearly continues to elicit.

Weave Fragment, 2016


Pink, Blue, Yellow, Pink 3/3 twill, 2016

Kemi Adeyemi is a writer and educator interested in how people use sound, image, and movement to reveal and disrupt common sense understandings of race, gender, and sexuality. She has presented work at many national conferences, including the American Studies Association, EMP Pop, and Cultural Studies Association. Her writing has been published in Palimpsest, Sounding Out, and in essays for artists, curators, and organizations including Jovencio de la Paz, Alexandria Eregbu, and Chances Dances. Kemi is currently in the process of co-editing the first collected volume of scholarship on queer nightlife. She currently lives in Chicago, where she will receive her Ph.D. in Performance Studies from Northwestern in June 2016.


Marianne Fairbanks: Impractical Weaving Suggestions