Sealed with molten wax, each colour is protected from another colour during the process of dying different areas with different hues and tones. The wax resists any unintended spills… consequently the composition is determined at early stages. Kerr thinks of the batik stage of the process as a design, which after removal of the wax and cleaning of the fabric becomes “ready as an artwork” ( gallery handout), often “enhanced with machine or hand stitch”. While this simply describes the three stages of Kerr’s art practice, it is likely to lead to an erroneous conclusion that the staining of a ground cannot be art already, and that there is a hierarchy between the batik and the stitch. In comparison, another artist stained a canvas carrying a charcoal drawing with a confidence rooted in inventive uncertainty. It would appear that the way artists think of techniques is wonderfully (mostly) avoiding a norm.
Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011) developed her soak-stain technique as sufficient to make ” beautiful paintings of landscapes” reminiscing that they “were in my arms as I did it … I was trying to get at something – I didn’t know what until it was manifest.” Here, color takes a primary role in defining the forms of landscape sketchily outlined in charcoal.
Helen Kerr thinks of art as the stage after removing the wax. Helen Frankenthaler treats all stages as art. Including what is remembered from an experience in the world. Yet – when I walked through Kerr’s installation, the images on the walls were evoking her being there, observing and remembering.
A suggestion made once by Immanuel Kant comes to mind:”Look closely. The beautiful may be small.”
By utilitarian removal of what was necessary, a design becomes art, in a process reminiscent of alchemy. Moreover – that art is “often enhanced” by intervention of a needle work, machine or handmade.
Two question arose: until the 20th C the textile art/ embroidery, weaving etc / has been traditionally relegated out of so called High Art, Beaux Arts, Fine Art. Embroidery was understood as a lesser art, a term William Morris used in the published version of his lecture The Decorative Arts given to the Trades Guild of Learning in London, in 1877. It was not published until 1882 as Hopes and Fears for Art. Morris connected these “lesser arts” with a strong useful role to “beautify the familiar matters of everyday life” and placed them in a separation between “greater arts and work”. He calls for a “new art of conscious intelligence” made under the auspices of nature and history.
At present – the normative thinking that Morris both accepted and challenged is weakened by artists and institutions. At the current Documenta 14 – there is a whole room given to a Sami textile artist from Sweden, her Historja (2003 – 2007) . I do not have an image of Historja; this one below illustrates the scale in which Britta Marakatt – Labba combines print, embroidery, applique, and wool.
Her Historja reminded me of another female textile artist – working in Belfast (www.irenemacwilliam.co.uk) who prefers quilting and embroidery for historical and political subjects drawn from recent events, e.g. Japan Earthquake. In a nod to Bayeux Tapestry?
MacWilliam used six different techniques: painting and stumping, sun printing, digital printing, machine applique and free machine quilting.
These objects of sensible wills (Immanuel Kant) are not reducible to determinate concepts, because no concept alone is adequate to produce art.
Textile arts have a particular access to sensuality – whether they end up as useful object or art object or both at once:
There was a revival of large scale textile art in the second half of the 20th C – not only at Abusson but also in central Europe, in Brno, Czech Republic.
It was called Art Protis (http://www.artprotis.com/technik.htm). Its technique was akin a painting, except that it was made with dyed wool placed on a dark woven ground and then stitched over in a carpet making machine the hold the composition/ image in place.
One of the early enthusiasts about Art Protis was the famous Czech illustrator and filmmaker/ animator Jiri Trnka.
Trnka is more known for designing puppets and filming animations like the Midsummer Night Dream in 1959.
It still may be on You Tube…. I understand it as a gift to children and adults alike – a rare achievement in contemporary art.
There used to be every two years an international exhibition in Lausanne (1962 -1995) devoted to Fibre Art – which includes many different techniques, old and freshly invented alike (see http://www.bienale.lt/2011/?p=391&lang=en)
To sum up – textile art has established itself firmly as free of the label “lesser arts” without necessarily returning to the expensive techniques labelled as tapestries/ gobelins, and by benefiting from the openness of the current system of art.