25 November 2014

Game Changers - Fiber Art at the Fuller Craft Museum

Warrior of Light in the Blue Night, Maximo Laura, 2010.

On November 23, DH and I drove to Brockton, Massachusetts, to view Game Changers: Fiber Art Masters and Innovators at the Fuller Craft Museum.  The invitational exhibit, on view from July 5, 2014, to November 23, 2014, featured fifty-four works by artists both veterans of, and relatively new to, the museum world.

Exhibit entrance.

Fiber is broadly interpreted, encompassing traditional materials such as wool and cotton fibers, but also substances which might be considered a bit off the beaten path of the textile landscape, such as glass tube segments, grapefruit peels, stone, and substrates such as paper.  Paper is itself made of fibers pulped and bonded, so in that sense it is fiber-related, but then one could posit that any painting on woven canvas is also fiber-related.  Some works feature no filament or fiber at all; these outliers seem to function as orbiting markers for the limits of the ever-expanding textile universe.  Exhibits that promote boundary busting necessarily elicit questions on inclusion and scope.

Another view of the exhibit.

The thesis seems to be that expanding the definition of fiber to include almost any and all material somehow strengthens the dissolution of the old established stratification of some types of art, and certain materials, as superior to others.  We are presented with another upheaval of the old strata of Western Art, with a capital "A", where three-dimensional sculpture ruled at the top of the ladder, followed by two-dimensional painting, then prints, and, down in the lowlands, the world of "craft" - textiles, ceramics, etc., or anything tied to a functional past.

That hierarchy is pretty well demolished by now, although it wasn't when some of the artists, such as the late Ed Rossbach and Dorothy Gill Barnes, in this show began their careers. A bit more chronological context might have helped this exhibit become more of a narrative in addition to a survey.

Mulberry Dentroglyph, Dorothy Gill Barnes, 1997.

#31, Pamela Studstill, 1984.

Pamela Studstill was one of the first art quilters to hand-dye and paint her own fabric, and to compose the quilt as a field, often featuring color gradation, rather than a grid of repeated, identical blocks.

Nameless Woman - Blue Durumagi. Chunghie Lee, 2010.

A more recent work involving stitched fabric is the durumagi  (a kind of formal robe worn over other clothing) by Chunghie Lee, above, executed in the bojagi piecing technique, a Korean tradition.  Like the quilt above, this textile is descended from a functional ancestor in both form and technique but has long shed its utilitarian heritage.  Does only non-functional fiber art qualify as innovative work?

There was some exciting embroidery, including the portrait below, by Mary Bero, in which the directional stitching and strong color create an animated personality.  This, and the other figurative works in the show, seemed very fresh and even provocative, perhaps more so than the abstract works.  In one of the few works with any political content, Adrienne Sloane's figures of knitted wire are literally caught in red tape [or wire] in a piece that suggests the tension between individuals and institutions.

Changing Season, Mary Bero, 2013 - 2014.

Truth to Power, Adrienne Sloane, 2007.

Speaking of narrative, Carol Eckert uses wire and cotton to illustrate a Chinese myth in her work below - I wish she would illustrate a book.

Even without the story, the assemblage works as a tale of life and death in the natural world, but I always like a good myth, so here it is: 

In Chinese mythology, the God of the Eastern Heaven, Dijun, had ten children, called sun-birds, who together took turns as the earthly sun. Each day one of the sun-birds would leave its nest in a carriage and rotate around the earth, providing light and warmth for the planet. However, the sun-birds became tired of the routine and began performing their circuit in the sky all at once. The heat and light provided by ten sun-birds at once was too much and the earth began to scorch and the people to suffer.

Houyi, the God of Archery, was sent by Dijun to correct the children's behavior and Houyi shot down the birds, one by one. After the ninth bird was killed, Emperor Yao pleaded with Houyi to spare the final sun-bird, as without any sun at all the earth would languish in total darkness. Houyi agreed, and we have one sun now, which rises and sets each day.

Time of the Ten Suns, Carol Eckert, 2013.

Time of the Ten Suns, detail.

5 Temari-Sashiko Spheres, Lucy Arai, 2014.

Of course, as a sashiko practitioner myself,  I was tickled to see this hand-sewing on Lucy Arai's ethereal hollow temari globes, a technical tour-de-force combining thread, washi paper, sumi ink, indigo pigment, gold and acrylic.  The contrast of the humble sashiko - simple running stitches -  and the precious materials celebrates the impact of that most basic building block, the stitch.

5 Temari-Sashiko Spheres, detail.

Artist Anastasia Azure also created a technical masterpiece, below, woven flat using silver, copper, brass wire and nylon filament in a double weave technique. Opened to reveal the layers, and with a jewelled center, it is truly fit for royalty.   Delicate - after all, it's mostly wire and air -  the piece employs symmetry, the reflective qualities of the metallic materials,  as well as its three-foot diameter size, for impact.

Landau for the Maharaja, Anastasia Azure, 2009.

Landau for the Maharaja, detail.