Performance, preservation, prevarication?

A very long note on arts-based research

I read textiles through visual and material documentation. Many textile processes are their own source code, readable step-by-step instructions of a maker interacting with material. As such, the textile's surface imagery (color, shape, etc.), material (plant, animal, or synthetic fibers, handspun vs industrially spun, etc.), and structure (woven, crocheted, stitched, etc.) are mediums for communication.

However, like all communication, whether it be written, oral, embodied, visual, and/or material, the meaning communicated through a textile is elusive, contingent on an intersecting web of historical and present contexts, a maker (or many makers), and a receiver (or many receivers). All research done in my studio-practice therefore is my own reading, a refracted viewpoint: a textile communication that I've heard, mediated, and shared. I do not consider any of my research authoritative or trustworthy.

Rather, I read textiles through an embodied knowledge (ancient, mystic, activated, practiced muscle-memories) of textile-making processes (weaving, felting, knitting, sewing, etc.) handed to me through others’ hands. I learned to weave encircled in the arms of Mapuche-Argentine weaver Mary Coronado, as well as many other practitioners of material knowledge with whom I have had a relationship with over the years. I weave and read textiles so I can keep the conversation with these practitioners going, and bring that conversation to larger contemporary art audiences.       

To read textiles in my body, is also to read textiles through my experience of race, ethnicity, and gender (see artist statement). Textiles have a long history of acting as symbolic placeholders for cultures and people groups, for fixing and marking identity. Consider for example how Navajo weavings (the imagery, object, and their makers) are used as a shorthand for the American West. I would recommend Thomas Patin and Jennifer McLerran’s Navajo Weavings in John Ford Westerns: The Visual Rhetoric of Presenting Savagery and Civilization (2018), as a great starting point for understanding this use of textiles as a colonial tool for marking gender, race, and ethnicity. Yet, how is my use of textiles any different than John Ford? As I weave, I struggle through questions of cultural perceptions and appropriations: how am I performing an identity (not my own?) through weaving, how will my weaving be used to mark or identify me, and at whose loss or gain does all of this happen?

 

Textiles are therefore sites where I can

  1. tease apart, intrude on, and try to begin to understand historic and ongoing constructs of othering which have defined me and my family for generations;

  2. study artist-makers perform and disavow cultural expectations, misrecognitions, perceptions, and appropriations;

  3. hear from artists who use textile processes (and thereby recorded their decisions in sequential order in the observable fabric); find through my embodied knowledge those moments where the imagery of the textile is being supported or discredited by the structure of the fabric; and read critically into these decisions to materialize communication that I believe can change the way we read material culture as a whole.

Navajo Woven U.S. Flags

 

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