Art review: Show at Space makes the link between textiles and cinema
We don’t normally make a lot of connection between textiles and digital film technology. Yet their natural symbiosis comes to life in an intriguing way in “Punctures: Textiles in Digital and Material Time”, until July 3 at the Space gallery.
The show originated at the Squeaky Wheel Film & Media Art Center in Buffalo, New York. It was hosted by Ekrem Serdar, a former Turkish-born cinema programmer, who links these threads in his statement:
“From the Lumière brothers taking the intermittent movement of a sewing machine to create the cinematograph, to the perforated cards of the Jacquard loom forming the basis of modern calculation, and to the role of sewing and gendered work in trades such as assembly and dyeing in film production, textile production remains an essential, but insufficiently understood, formal and social influence on the media arts. “
Some of the works on display have more literal connections that are easy for the viewer to understand. For example, activist artist Betty Yu has created several videos that document her family’s exploitation as Chinese immigrants forced to work for next to nothing in New York sweatshops. The videos are part of a larger installation that occupies the Space window and wraps around a corner towards a wall perpendicular to the left as you enter the gallery.
The videos and artifacts in the installation are disturbing both for the stories his relatives tell about working conditions and wages, and because they clearly reveal that this is not a thing of the past but, for many contemporary Chinese immigrants, a clear and present reality.
Trump’s demonization of the Chinese people and the anti-Asian violence it continues to provoke is just a modern echo of the many historical humiliations that Yu’s relatives have faced. There are T-shirts printed with copies of the Chinese Exclusion Law, the first law to restrict immigration to allay white paranoia over Chinese workers taking their jobs (absurd at first glance since only 0.002% of the population in 1882 was Chinese). A wallet is full of official documents that family members had to carry with them to prove their immigration status and allegiance to America. Other ephemeral documents document the creation of the Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance to fight discrimination.
Sabrina Gschwandtner contributes to a “Video Quilt” titled “Hands at Work”. The screen is populated by a grid of triangles onto which are projected 16mm and 35mm archival film clips of women performing a variety of tasks related to textile production and manual labor: weaving straw, weaving at the loom, rolling fabric bolts, sewing, knitting, trapunto sewing, threading a needle and so on. These appear in triangles that are interspersed with solid-colored triangles, with the grid configuration changing steadily throughout the video loop.
The job isn’t politically charged with how Yu’s facility is – at least not on the surface. Yet if we consider the insecure and poorly ventilated factory conditions that many of these women worked in, as well as the implications of textile technologies such as repetitive motion disorder, the piece acquires a certain omen.
As the credits roll to the end, the colorful triangles are filled with crafts, such as real quilts. It made me wish that Gschwandtner started this early and continues throughout the movie rather than using solid colors. This element not only adds to the visual richness of the room, but also imparts a deeper resonance by recognizing the beauty of what women have produced over time.
“Iran Si Iran” by Eniola Dawodu, which means “from generation to generation”, although the text on the wall does not say in which language, is placed in the center of the gallery and enjoys a great sculptural presence. Artist and costume designer, Dawodu celebrates African textiles and the women who have created them for centuries. The room, suspended from the ceiling, is made of synthetic hair fibers woven in collaboration with Wolof hairdressing artists from Dakar, Senegal, and Majak weavers in a part of town called Fass Canal 4.
Placed below is a simple wooden stool where viewers are encouraged to sit. I highly recommend doing this, because suddenly the sculpture becomes something of a huge ceremonial headdress. The feeling I had as I sat on the stool, my head brushing the woven fibers, was one of powerful transmission. It was as if I could somehow connect through time to the awesome minds of these weavers. I don’t know what the digital film connection is in this room, if there actually is one. But it really didn’t matter as I sat there, goose bumps spreading over my skin and chills rising up my spine.
The connection of digital film seems evident in “La Noche de las Especies” by Cecilia Vicuña. It is, after all, a video projected onto a wall in a dark space at the back of the gallery. But for those who do not know the work of this artist, it is the textile connection that will be unfathomable. Vicuña is a Chilean poet and multidisciplinary artist whose work, in the words of art historian Roberto Tejada, “in its very essence is ‘a way of remembering’. “
For Vicuña, words are vehicles to give voice to what has been forgotten or remains unsaid. In addition, she sees a connection between the word and the thread. For years she has made this explicit in her explorations of quipu, an ancient Inca system of recording information by tying various types of knots in threads of different colors. Words and quipu are therefore both languages which bring into manifestation what is not manifested. Hence an implicit, but not apparent, connection between digital film and manual work on fiber.
“Especies” started out as graphite drawings made up of words which were then digitized and turned into video animations resembling plankton and microscopic marine life. The letters float slowly across the screen, but their varying character sizes and the way they move in and out of the frame make us wait patiently to reveal the sentences they spell out: “Hilos vivos” (living sons), “Suelo submarine ”(sea floor),“ Vivos al Viento ”(living in the wind),“ Pelo sensor y discos anemonas ”(referring to the sensory hairs of sea anemones),“ Nictitating membranes ”(nictitating membranes that protect the eye internal, like those we see in fish or birds). In this way, the video appears to evoke the creation of life, which evolutionists originally theorized with aquatic microorganisms that emerged from deep-sea hydrothermal vents. In this light, the experience of the 60-minute video becomes a moving and meditative origin story.
There are also other works: A video and a “trans-fashion” garment by Charlie Best that challenge the binary vision of sexuality conveyed by the media. A memorable clip shows a woman posing as Charlie Chaplin as we hear a conversation about same-sex attraction in the movie “Victor Victoria”.
“Everything I’m Saying is True” features elements of a performance by Oglala Lakota artist Suzanne Kite. We wish the videos here were actually of the performance piece itself, which involved reciting a poem about various inhumanities perpetrated against Native Americans while the videos here were projected onto Kite as she danced in the dress. exposed. It’s a lot to ask the viewer to put all of these elements – dress, poem, videos – together in their mind. As with any concept art exhibit, of course, doing justice takes a lot more time than the half-hour slots you have to set aside for viewing.
Jorge S. Arango has been writing about art, design and architecture for over 35 years. He lives in Portland. It can be reached at: [email protected]