Posted December 04, 2018 by Ann Sinfield
Woven Records: Stories from the Shelter exhibition
This fall the Chazen Museum of Art will host the exhibition, Shelter: Crafting a Safe Home. Organized by Contemporary Craft, an arts organization in Pittsburgh that has been presenting craft media by international, national, and regional artists for over 40 years, the exhibition signals a new direction for the museum. As an art experience that aims to increase awareness and create dialogue around an urgent social issue, Shelter engages the Chazen as a forum where artists respond to issues of home and housing insecurity that are global and local in scale, public and private in scope.
As an introduction to the exhibition, let's look at the work of three of the artists who are included: Kathryn Clark, Consuelo Underwood, and Tali Weinberg. All of these artists work with textiles, each uses a different process and materials, yet all tackle difficult subjects in complex and thoughtful ways.
Tali Weinberg, It’s Not Just About the Rain, 2015, California-grown organic cotton dyed with madder root and cochineal, 20 x 145 x .5 in., photo by Phillip Maisel.
Weinberg is represented in the exhibition by the work It’s Not Just About the Rain, a woven interpretation of historical climate data sourced from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Using regionally-produced cotton, locally-sourced natural dyes, and minimalist visual terms, the artist presents--in six woven panels--average temperatures in California from 1895–2014, a span of about 120 years.
The work is a visual expression of the warming temperatures of the region. It is also a landscape in the abstract—anyone who is familiar with California will recognize the oranges, reds, yellows, and browns that color the state’s topography, plant life, and destructive fires. In addition, the work forms a new kind of documentation: created by a Californian who experiences the effects of higher temperatures every day, it is a personal exploration of historical data using local materials that, because of their origin, have also been impacted by the very data they are put in service to represent. In this work, Weinberg turns a very large dataset into a localized narrative. She considers her immediate environment and what is known about it, and lays bare a startling story. In our changing climate, what happens to daily experience, to our ability to create shelter for ourselves, or to live safely and securely?
Kathryn Clark, Before/After Night Sky of Aleppo, Syria, 2016, embroidery and acrylic on linen and cotton voile.
Another artist who turns to textiles to represent data is Kathryn Clark. Utilizing embroidery and quilting, Clark develops art work about topics such as migration and housing. Although it seems an unlikely pairing, in the work from her Refugee Stories series that is included in the exhibition, the artist adapts a medieval narrative form to explore the current Syrian refugee crisis. Reaching back almost one thousand years, Clark looks to the fragile format of the embroidered, storyboard-like Bayeux Tapestry to tell the powerful story of a contemporary humanitarian catastrophe. Hand-sewn panels convey the overwhelming numbers pictorially; through careful handwork and layered fabric the experience of over 11 million people displaced by violent conflict is articulated, mapped, explored, and recorded.
Consuelo Jimenez Underwood, One Nation Underground, 2013, fiber, fabric, leather, threads, 56 x 90 x 1/4 in., photo by Bill Apton.
A different kind of story-telling is evident in the work of Consuelo Underwood. Calling upon her experience of the US/Mexican border Underwood explores identity and expands the boundaries of what can be understood as “home.” With family in both countries, the borderline, la linea, splits her existence and snakes through her weavings. A constant fixture of daily life within the region, Underwood reconsiders this almost 2,000 mile-long political division via imagery of the constellations that stretch over both countries, plants and flowers that flourish throughout the region, the barbed wire that marks the rift, and the flags of the neighboring nations. With indigenous ancestry, the artist’s heritage resides on both sides, she is from both countries. Her work defines home and self in a way that encompasses a multi-national knowledge and represents a complicated identity that is held by people all over the world.
In transforming data and experience into textiles, these artists create something personal and intimate that is also immense in reach. Fabric and textiles are the things we wear next to our skin, they are the rugs in our homes, they cover the furniture that supports our bodies in rest and in sleep. When information about the world or large amounts of data are transformed into woven form, the hard realities and cold numbers become approachable. Textiles bring the abstract formulas and spreadsheets into a human scale, they make visible the stories of people and environment that are hidden, obscured within the columns, formulas, and abstractions of lived reality.
Shelter: Crafting a Safe Home will be on view at the Chazen Museum of Art from November 24, 2018 to January 6, 2019.
Chazen Museum of Art