Touch/Trace: Researching Histories Through Textiles unravels the intricate connections between textile, history and society from a contemporary art perspective. It explores how textile objects bear witness to and can transmit information about the time and place they were made in and simultaneously open up new perspectives onto those histories. Touch/Trace is a research project curated by Christel Vesters and brings together artists, textile designers, textile makers, writers and thinkers, and everyone interested in the social and geopolitical developments that shape our world of today. Touch/Trace is not about textile art, or fiber art as it was called in the 1970’s; Touch/Trace looks at textile, and textile techniques as a medium and as a mediator. It explores how textile objects – old and new – bear witness to many different histories and stories. The second part of its title, Trace, refers to this agency of textiles to function as a document, a reminder, a witness. It engages both with the historical narratives attached to a textile object and how these maybe forgotten narratives can be traced back; but also how textile itself has been a vehicle for the movement of patterns, materials, techniques. The first part of the title, Touch, refers to the affective quality of the medium; old textile not only required a human touch to come in to being, it also invites us to relate to it in a more sensuous and tactile manner. Touch/Trace consists of a series of open research seminars, the Events, in which we turn to objects just as much as we turn to theoretical or historical texts to be our guides; the Readers which form a growing collection of texts, interviews, visual documentation and other reference materials; the Lectures in which renowned curators, writers and thinkers present their views on art and textile; an Exhibition with international artists reflecting on the themes explored in Touch/Trace, and a Publication.
Touch/Trace consists of a series of open research seminars, the Events, in which we turn to objects just as much as we turn to theoretical or historical texts to be our guides; the Readers which form a growing collection of texts, interviews, visual documentation and other reference materials; the Lectures in which renowned curators, writers and thinkers present their views on art and textile; an Exhibition with international artists reflecting on the themes explored in Touch/Trace, and a Publication.
FUTURE PROGRAMME07.03.2019 Symposium #1 - Tracing Migration Through Textiles An afternoon with artist talks, lectures, screenings and discussion on textile as a medium to unravel and retell stories of migration. With Jessica Hemmings, Liza Swaving, Jennifer Tee a.o.
PAST PROGRAMME04.05.2017 Event #1 - Touch/Trace: Researching Histories Through Textiles An introduction to the project with Marja Bloem, Catherine van Olden, Yvonne Dröge Wendel and Christel Vesters 12.12.2017 Event #2 05.07.2018 Lecture #1
Event # 1
Researching Histories Through Textiles
The long-term research project Touch/Trace Researching Histories Through Textiles kicked-off om the 4rd of May 2017 with an introduction by curator Christel Vesters, and with contributions by Marja Bloem, Catherine E. van Olden, Yvonne Dröge Wendel. The afternoon was moderated by Touch/Trace curator Christel Vesters. and was hosted by Rozenstraat | A rose is a rose is a rose... a platform for experimental contemporary art in the city centre of Amsterdam. In Event #1 a series of tapestries, a black felt ball and an intriguing collection of books on textiles, introduced the different thematic threads that run through our research. Curator and art historian Marja Bloem spoke about the collection and research activities of the Center for Social Research on Old Textiles (CSROT), the one-person institute established by Seth Siegelaub in 1986, shedding light on Siegelaub’s interests and political drive, which made him one of the first to examine hand-made textile as medium and mediator of larger historical and socio-economical narratives. Moving from the macro to the micro, textile artist Catherine E. van Olden presented her series of tapestries that demonstrate how human touch affects even the most computerized production process, and award-winning visual artist and object-researcher Yvonne Dröge Wendel talked about her long-term art project Black Ball, in which a large black ball made of felt is a catalyst for human interaction.
ReportWriter and textiles affeccionado Linda Cook wrote a report of the afternoon. Three Different Takes on the Intimate Relationships between People and Textiles. The first public Event of the Touch/Trace project – a two-year initiative celebrating the human touch in textiles – took place on May 4 in Amsterdam's Rozenstraat. The location was light and airy, perfect for viewing Emily van Olden's tapestries on the walls, as well as the selection of textiles and books from the collection of Seth Siegelaub – art dealer, researcher and collector – in the display cases below. Closet quilter Emily was one of three guest speakers. Marja Bloem, art historian and partner of the late widow of Seth Siegelaub, and Yvonne Dröge Wendel – award-winning visual artist and Head of Visual Arts at Amsterdam's Rietveld Academy, also gave short talks on their own textile-related fields of interest. The afternoon was chaired by Touch/Trace curator Christel Vesters. "Despite being a 'closet quilter'", she admitted, "I always regarded textiles as 'women's art'. Quaint, a little old-fashioned and perhaps rather bourgeois." Textiles as silent witness But that was before Christel stumbled on an exhibition in Lisbon last year, Kum Kapi ¬– Travelling Carpets. The carpets, woven in the 19th century by master weavers in Kumkapi, the Armenian quarter of what was then Constantinople, were a fusion not just of materials and techniques, but perhaps more importantly of cultures and experiences. "I realised that textiles are often a silent witness to so many things. Sometimes they contain a single narrative, but often there are different threads woven together, all telling a story.” An unwilling expert in insects This intricacy of different historical, cultural or biographical threads, the 'metaphorical richness' of textiles as Christel put it, is one of the points of reference for the Touch/Trace project. This first event was an attempt to unravel some of those threads. Marja Bloem, art historian, curator and specialist in conceptual art, told an 'inside story' about her former partner, the American Seth Siegelaub. An innovative promoter of conceptual art in New York during the '60s and '70s, Seth also maintained a huge collection of books on textiles, as well as fabrics. "The books came first," said Marja. "Later, textiles were stored all over the house. I became an unwilling expert in insects!" 'Seth took an idea and ran with it' After a move to Paris, Seth became increasingly interested in the intimate relationship between society and textiles, an interest brought about through political research. "He was also interested in the economic side of textiles," said Maria. One example of this was the Center of Social Research on Old Textiles he set up, which gave form to his examination of the social history of textiles and still exists today. Elemental activities After a short Q & A session from the audience, Catherine van Olden, founder of the Save the Loom foundation, talked about the role of craftsmanship in our mechanical, technological and abstract world. A textile artist, weaving is her means of expression. "Like cooking, making fabrics is one of society's most elemental activities. It has a layered, symbolic meaning in many cultures and often brings people together." The common thread of craftsmanship This togetherness is demonstrated in Catherine's 'Falling Apart, Weaving Together' workshops, where people of different nationalities and different skill levels all drop in at various times to work on a tapestry that is 'made by everybody but belongs to nobody' as Catherine puts it. "Like children who don't know each other when they play, everyone finds a common thread when they're weaving together." Manual skills and sensory perceptions But it was the three tapestries on the walls that were the main focus of Catherine's talk: Focal Point, FP 1 and FP 2. "Focal Point," she explains. "While doing research into the philosophical side of production processes, I came across an article by the philosopher Grossman about craftsmanship and being focussed, something that you would nowadays call mindfulness." The maker makes his mark The issues Catherine explores in Touch/Trace, revolve around manual skills and sensory perceptions in the weaving process. How do they impact the working process? What is the relationship between individual creativity and cooperation? How does the progress of the work express itself in the final product? How is this experienced by the maker, and by the user? Catherine wove Focal Point herself, by hand, at the Royal Academy in Brussels. It took 320 hours. "FP 1 was made on a mechanical loom, in my presence, and I asked the operator to slow down the process, or speed it up, according to how he felt. In that way he made his own mark on the final piece. FP 2 was made by the same man on the same loom, but following specifications. They both took just under half an hour to make." All three works were on display, and they were all different. "And that was exactly my point," said Catherine, "the presence of man is obvious." A listening ball... After a break for tea, with home-made scones and jam, (both displaying evidence of excellent craftsmanship), visual artist Yvonne Dröge Wendel explained the mysteries of her Black Ball. We had already heard different aspects of how people leave traces on textiles, (the operator slowing down or speeding up the weaving process in Catherine's FP 1, the historical and cultural 'threads' in the Kum Kapi exhibition), but Yvonne's concern was how textiles – in this case her 3.5-metre black felted ball – leave traces, visible or non-visible, on people. Yvonne grew up amongst textiles, (her father was an industrial producer and used to leave her in factory containers as a baby while he worked), but there was another good reason for choosing felt for her experiment. "I wanted to make a big 'hole' if you like, which absorbs feelings and ideas. An open place of meaning. Neutral, undressed. It has just enough properties so it listens, it doesn't speak." ... with varied responses Created in 2000, her ball has left traces in many cities across the world since then. "I start by giving it a push myself, then people in the streets send it on its way themselves. I stay somewhere out of sight." The differing responses the ball encountered on its travels include perhaps the most obvious, people wanting to touch it, while others run away when they see it coming; in one city drunken students attacked it, while other cities insisted on a police escort. "And one response that I still find baffling," said Yvonne, "is that many, many men who were dressed for the office in a shirt and tie wanted it to roll over them!" So the ball leaves physical impressions behind it, moods, who know what other traces. She gave another, perhaps mundane, but definitely illustrative example. "If the ball is placed between a screen and a public viewing that screen, the people will have to move." The speakers illustrated their talks with slides and short films, and animated discussions and drinks followed. What a great start to the project and a big thanks to the organisers! Linda Cook is a British writer and editor based in Amsterdam. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Textile Design from Leeds University.
CreditsEvent #1 was made possible with the support of Foundation Save the Loom.
Craft Industrialization Migration Touch Trace
Event # 2
Tracing Migration Through Textiles
In our second public Event we followed through on one of the thematic threads that were introduced in our first session by way of the so-called Kum Kapi tapestries. These hand-woven textiles, made at the beginning of the 20th century in Istanbul, bear testimony to the atrocious events that shaped the lives of many Armenians; their diaspora resulted in the cross-pollination of Armenian weaving techniques, traditional Persian motifs and colour schemes, and the unique Kum Kapi tapestries. The Event took place at Framer Framed in Amsterdam and was moderated by Touch/Trace curator Christel Vesters. There are many similar stories to be told about the ways in which the movement and displacement of people, either forced or voluntary, evokes new encounters, identities, forms and ideas. The history of textile crafts in particular offers different examples of the migration of materials, weaving techniques or different patterns, either through the movement of people, or through trade. During this evening we looked closely at a few of these movements through the art works made by Mounira Al Solh, Elisa van Joolen and Vincent Vulsma. Dutch cultural theorist Mieke Bal elaborated on her notion of migratory aesthetics and how it is an intrinsic part of our contemporary everyday. In addition, two videos made by Mieke Bal were shown, mediating stories of movement and migration in their own way.
ReportWriter and textiles affeccionado Linda Cook wrote a report of the evening 'All mother tongues are difficult' In her introduction, Christel explained how she had been impressed by Mounira's conceptual textile work Sperveri (2017) at Documenta 14 in Athens. (A sperveri is a traditional, embroidered, bridal 'bed-tent' originating on the Greek island of Rhodes.) Nat Muller, art critic and curator with a special interest in art from the Middle East, asked Mounira why this ornate artefact held so much significance for her. "Many reasons," Mounira replied. "When I was researching another work, I met people from different countries who were fleeing conflicts; many of them had an urge to talk, to share their experiences. One of them used the phrase: 'all mother tongues are difficult', expressing the difficulties in conveying nuance to someone who doesn't share your native language. I wanted to record these stories, make a memorial to people like them who I had never met." And she chose textile as her language. Mounira was raised by her dressmaking grandmother and used embroidery in many of her earlier works; textiles seem to be in her blood. "Also," she added, "Greece, especially Athens, is a middle point for a lot of migration and old Greek embroideries are fascinating because they often express the worries and wishes of the women who embroider them." The transitory nature of textiles Mounira recorded the migrants' stories of loss, migration and conflict with embroidered texts on the inside of the sperveri; on the outside are traditional, often symbolic Greek motifs: "Ottoman images," she explained, "of a Cypress tree pattern for example, or drinking peacocks. I found many common points between these two sets of embroideries. One of the 'inside stories' for example is from a man with a Yezidi background, and the Yezedis, an old religious group, venerate the peacock." She hopes viewers will pick up on some of these connections. A few of the texts were embroidered by skilled female refugees fleeing the war in Syria, others were executed by Druze women who Mounira visited in the mountains of Lebanon. Another aspect of migration Mounira highlighted was that of the textiles themselves. "They are often transitory, rarely preserved. Textiles can be eaten by worms, cut up and used for other purposes, or given away as gifts. In the case of the sperveri, it is often used to make cushions after the bridal period." The migration of the Navajo design After the break, Vincent Vulsma and Elisa van Joolen, prompted by questions from Christel, talked about their work Technik (2012/13) in light of the seminar's theme. Technik brings together diverse representations of the Native American Navajo textile design, telling the story of the migration of a popular textile pattern from its historical beginnings to its appropriation in different cultural contexts and industries. But there is significance in how the different representations are displayed, too. Technik displays four textiles hung together over simple clothing racks, with labels revealing their origins. There is an original, hand-woven Navajo blanket (its label revealing the ranch where it was made), an IKEA rug with Navajo motifs – manufactured in Egypt and distributed worldwide, a Pendleton trade blanket and a knitted sweater by German fashion designer Bernhard Willhelm. "Our fascination started in New York in 2011 where we spotted a version of the Navajo design on clothing in Urban Outfitters," explained Elisa. "We have a shared interest in cultural appropriation," added Vincent, "and our project started there. Elisa and Vincent explained how, at the end of the nineteenth century, the Pendleton woollen mill in Oregon started manufacturing Indian 'trade blankets' to trade with the Native American Indians. For centuries, different Native American tribes had produced hand-woven woollen blankets from their own sheep, and traded them. But as colonisation spread, more and more Native Americans were forced to leave their land, losing their herds and their income. Cultural appropriation and the migration of form resulted in new designs. (The Pendleton mills were founded by Scots who had moved to the US. Who knows what conscious or unconscious threads of stories they brought with them.) "We don't want to establish a hierarchy between the four textiles," said Vincent. "We are interested in how the same pattern is used by different people and emerges in different contexts." Selecting these four textiles, and displaying them together, is, as Christel pointed out, in itself an act of appropriation and displacement. Assembling them into a new piece creates a new pattern, and thereby a new narrative – based on migration; of people and ideas, as well as the motif itself. Documenting encounters Motifs, in their tangible form, played little part in Mieke Bal's presentation. Christel had invited Mieke to talk on 'migratory aesthetics', and Mieke dissected both words with the diligence and detail of a neurosurgeon. The phrase 'migratory aesthetics' arose from an exhibition Mieke was co-creating on video and migration. Averse to any objectification of migrants, Mieke's whole presentation centred around the word 'encounters', on getting to know someone who is initially a stranger on an equal footing, not as enemy or threat, as she feels is often the case today. "When I began to make videos on the topics involved with migration," she said, "the basis was to document an encounter; this became my keyword and guiding principle." Rather in the same way that Mounira had been inspired by her encounters with migrants, for Sperveri. Mieke explained she had no expertise whatsoever in the field of textiles, but saw weaving as a metaphor that could enrich this idea of an encounter. "A metaphor is an encounter," she explained, "between two meanings. A loom is an indispensable beginning, providing structure, but the weaving is where the encounters come in." She compared a loom to a tradition. "Tradition supports new 'encounters', new artistic ideas, rather than constraining them." There is an obvious parallel here with Mounira's tent, with its migratory encounters on the inside, and traditional embroideries on the outside. Mieke brings together the movement of images and the movement of people in her videos exploring migration. She sees movement to be a much more typical state than stillness. "And movement leaves traces." She refers to Vincent and Elisa's Technik: "Wearing a garment woven on the basis of a culturally traditional design is a form of 'inhabiting' that other culture." Although the word 'culture' is problematic for Mieke. "Like anthropologist Johannes Fabian, I prefer to talk about 'the cultural' – a moment where people from different cultures engage in, as I see it, 'encounters'." And migration enriches these moments. 'Binding the senses in a public space' For the 'aesthetic' part of 'migratory aesthetics', Mieke, rather apologetically, said she had summarized 1,000 pages written by the eighteenth-century philosopher Alexander Baumgarten in one simple phrase, defining the concept of aesthetics: 'binding the senses in a public space'. 'Binding' contains a promise of connectivity, and when she relates this to migration, Mieke considers this connectivity to be a mutual integration; not of 'others' coming into a fixed social world, but an event of getting acquainted, in the present, without any constraint imposed by traditions. Mounira, in her presentation talked about how she feels it is in important to work with people who love what they do, referring to the Druze women who worked on her embroideries in their mountain homes, or "it doesn't work". In a similar way, Mieke said that when she makes a documentary, she doesn't make it 'about' someone, but 'with' someone. "If people don't like the way you work because you are too distant from them, the film will fail." Connections. Perhaps this was the most prevalent idea in each of the three presentations this evening. Connections between people, cultures, places, symbols, eras. All guest speakers, with the artworks they discussed, somehow lowered the barriers between making these connections. And for that, we are truly grateful! Linda Cook is a British writer and editor based in Amsterdam. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Textile Design from Leeds University.
CreditsEvent #2 was made possible with the support of Foundation Save the Loom and Framer Framed. The research seminar took place on December 12, 2017, and was hosted by Framer Framed, a platform for contemporary art, visual culture and critical theory located at the Tolhuistuin in Amsterdam North. Framer Framed’s programme is dedicated to topics such as identity politics and notions of ‘The Other’, as well as historiographical propositions.
Encounter Migration Patterns Social Fabric
Lecture # 1
Curating Textiles: Tracing Stories of Migration
Each year Touch/Trace invites two renowned speakers to present their thinking on art and textile. Coming from various backgrounds, their research, writings and curatorial projects unravel the different contexts - social, economical, geo-political - in which textile and art are embedded. A returning question in this series concerns the apractice of curating textiles – both as an object on display and as a mode of (re)thinking objects, histories and experience as one interconnected event. Lecture #1: Curating Textiles - Tracing Stories of Migration unravelled some of the intricate connections between textile production and diasporic and migratory movements. Historical examples show us how new textile techniques and/or patterns have emerged through the meeting of different textiles traditions, but what can textile, as a medium, tell us about the complexities of today’s globalised society? Which traditional textile techniques have artists appropriated, abstracted, relocated and brought back to life? What happens when local textile traditions are co-opted in a global market place? Can they persevere and offer a space of resistance? For Lecture #1, which took place on Thursday July 4, 2018 at Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam, we welcomed curators Susanne Weiß (Germany) and Rachel Dedman (Lebanon/United Kingdom) who talked about their individual research and curatorial projects. Both have a longstanding engagement with the visual art in relation to textile traditions, through which they examine topical issues of globalisation, migration, tradition and identity. The evening was moderated by Touch/Trace curator Christel Vesters. Darly Benneker attended and wrote a personal account of the evening which you can find here.
CreditsLecture #1 was made possible with the support of Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, Fonds Kwadraat and Goethe Institut, and was organised in collaboration with Het Nieuwe Instituut.
Cultural Memory Curating Textiles Currency of Craft Identity Migration Palestinian Embroidery
Tracing Migration Through Textiles
Thursday March 7, 2019, 14-17h
With contributions by Jessica Hemmings, Wendelien van Oldenborgh, Jennifer Tee, Liza Swaving e.o. Moderator: Christel Vesters In conjunction with the exhibition Cultural Threads, which is currently on view at the TextielMuseum, Touch/Trace curator Christel Vesters curated the symposium Tracing Migration Through Textiles, which will take place on Thursday March 7 2019. In a dynamic programme with artist talks, screenings, lectures and discussion, we will explore how textile is both a carrier of and a witness to the movement of people, patterns, materials and techniques, and how artists use textile as a medius to unravell these complex (his)stories of migration.
Practical InformationDate & Time Thursday, March 7, 2019 14h – 17h Location TextielMuseum Goirkestraat 96 5046 GN Tilburg Plan your visit via Google Maps Entrance € 8,00 € 5,50 (discount students, 65+, ICOM, Museumkaart) Buy your tickets here For more information email@example.com The museum and the exhibition Cultural Threads are open from 10h-17h.
CreditsSymposium #1 is organised in collaboration with the support of TextielMuseum.
Mounira Al Solh
Mounira Al Solh
Mounira Al Solh is a visual artist, born in Lebanon, she grew up in Lebanon and in Syria, and currently lives in the Netherlands and in Lebanon. Her art practice embraces inter alia drawing, painting, embroidery, performative gestures, video and video installations. Irony and self-reflectivity are central strategies for her work, which explores feminist issues, tracks patterns of micro history, is socially engaged, and can be political and escapist all at once. Al Solh studied painting at the Lebanese University (Beirut) from 1998 to 2001, and Fine Arts at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy (Amsterdam) from 2003 to 2006. She was also Research Resident at the Rijksakademie (Amsterdam) in 2007 and 2008. Her work has been shown in 2017 in Documenta 14 in Athens and in Kassel, and at the Venice Biennial in the exhibition curated by Okwui Enwezor in 2015 and as part of the Lebanese Pavilion in 2007. In 2017/18 The Art Institute in Chicago organized Al Solh’s first solo-exhibition in the United States, titled I Strongly Believe in Our Right to Be Frivolous. She also had several solo shows such as at Sfeir-Semler Gallery (Beirut); Kunsthalle Lissabon (Lisbon); Art in General (New York); CCA (Glasgow) and the Stedelijk Museum Bureau (Amsterdam) among other places. Group shows include The New Museum’s Triennial (New York); Homeworks (Beirut); Haus Der Kunst (Munich); Manifesta 8 (Murcia); The Guild Art Gallery (Mumbai); Al Riwaq Art Space (Manama); Kunst-Werke Institute for Contemporary Art (Berlin) and the 11th International Istanbul Biennial.
ProgrammeMounira Al Solh participated in Event #2 at which she talked about her personal relationship to embroidery and other textile crafts, and about the stories of different women with whom she collaborated in making the artwork Sperveri (2017).
Mieke Bal is a cultural theorist, critic and video artist. She has been a Professor in Literary Theory at the University of Amsterdam, has held the position of Academy Professor of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, and is co-founder of the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis at the University of Amsterdam. Although officially retired, Mieke Bal remains very active and involved with the arts, feminism and culture in the broadest sense of the word, sharing her knowledge and critical insights in lectures, writings and video works, and keeps inspiring younger generations of critical thinkers. Her areas of interest range from biblical and classical antiquity to 17th century and contemporary art and modern literature, feminism and migratory culture. Her many publications include A Mieke Bal Reader (2006), Travelling Concepts in the Humanities (2002) and Narratology (4th edition 2017). Her view of interdisciplinary analysis in the Humanities and Social Sciences is expressed in the profile of what she has termed “cultural analysis”, the basis of ASCA. See the video clip on the right side of her website page “about”, where she explain the approach. As a video artist, her internationally exhibited documentaries on migration include Separations, State of Suspension, Becoming Vera and the installation Nothing is Missing and were made with the Cinema Suitcase collective. With Michelle Williams Gamaker she made the feature film A Long History of Madness, a theoretical fiction about madness, and related exhibitions (2012). Her following project Madame B: Explorations in Emotional Capitalism, also with Michelle, is exhibited worldwide. She also made a feature film and 5-screen installation on René Descartes and his infelicitously ending friendship with Queen Kristina of Sweden. Occasionally she acts as an independent curator. Her co-curated exhibition 2MOVE travelled to four countries. In 2017 she curated an exhibition for the Munch museum in Oslo, described on the “Exhibitions” page on her website.
ProgrammeMieke Bal participated in Event #2 during which she showed two of her video works and reflected on the ideas of migratory aesthetics, traditions and the movement of people, skills, images etc. using the loom, warp and weft as metaphors.
Migration Migratory Aesthetics
Marja Bloem is an art historian and independent curator, frequently writing on contemporary art. From 1970 to 2007 she worked at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam as curator for exhibitions where she was responsible for organizing a great number of group shows as well as solo exhibitions including by Agnes Martin, Lawrence Wiener, JCJ Vanderheyden, Berend Strik, Richard Tuttle, and Lucio Fontana. She has published many articles on contemporary artists. Bloem initiated “Better Read than Dead”: The Seth Siegelaub Source Book, 1964-2013 (Verlag der Buchhandlung Walter König, Cologne, 2016). She is the director of the Stichting Egress Foundation and played an important role as advisor to the exhibition Seth Siegelaub. Beyond Conceptual Art (Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, 2016/17).
ProgrammeMarja Bloem participated in Event #1 at which she talked about Seth Siegelaub’s work as a curator, bibliographer and textile collector, and about his Center for Social Reseach on Old Textiles (CSROT).
Seth Siegelaub CSROT Collecting Textiles Curating Textiles
Rachel Dedman (1989, London) is an independent curator and writer based in Beirut since 2013. Rachel’s practice navigates in-depth art historical research with collaborative work with contemporary artists. In her most recent work she focuses on the politics of Palestinian embroidery, textiles and dress. The latest iteration of her research – Labour of Love – is an exhibition for the Palestinian Museum in the West Bank, which departs from a belief in the embeddedness of textiles within the social, political and economic landscapes in which they are produced. By virtue of being made by people, and worn on the body, clothing is an intimate catalyst for the exploration of history. Dedman explores Palestinian embroidery through the lenses of gender, symbol, labour, commodity, and class, tracing its shift from a personal practice, to a symbol of national heritage, to a product circulated in the global marketplace. With particular emphasis on the politicisation of embroidery as image; dresses as sites of resistance during the First Intifada; the appropriation of heritage, and the global commodification of craft, Rachel argues for Palestinian textiles as witnesses and agents of history, mingling the private and intimate with the public and performative. Based on four years of fieldwork, research and curatorial practice, this research challenges nostalgic, romanticised approaches to indigenous craft, arguing for a critical understanding of Palestinian textiles as political material enmeshed in a nexus of gender norms, socio-economic forces and dynamics related to labour and class. Recent projects by Rachel Dedman include Labour of Love, for the Palestinian Museum (Ramallah, 2018); Polycephaly.net (2018); Kindling, for Fotopub Festival (Slovenia, 2017); Midad: The Public and Intimate Lives of Arabic Calligraphy, for Dar el-Nimer (Beirut, 2017); Unravelled, for Beirut Art Center (Beirut, 2016); Halcyon, for the Transart Triennal (Berlin, 2016); At the Seams: A Political History of Palestinian Embroidery, a satellite exhibition for the Palestinian Museum (Beirut, 2016); and Space Between Our Fingers, for apexart (New York/Beirut, 2015). Rachel has written for Ibraaz, Reorient, and Spike magazine, among others, and is a member of Mansion collective, Beirut. She studied History of Art at Oxford and Harvard Universities, where she was the Von Clemm Fellow specialising in art from the Middle-East. Rachel was a participant of Ashkal Alwan's Home Workspace Program, Beirut, 2013/14.
ProgrammeRachel Dedman participated in Lecture #1 at which she talked about her most recent research on the politics of Palestinian embroidery, textiles and dress, and in specific about the exhibition Labour of Love for The Palistinian Museum.
Migration Palestinian Embroidery Curating Textiles
Yvonne Dröge Wendel
Yvonne Dröge Wendel
Yvonne Dröge Wendel (1961, Karlsruhe, DE) works in the field of sculpture and her projects have been shown internationally in galleries and museums over the last 20 years. Since 2009 she works for the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam where she is head of the department of Fine Arts. In 2016 Dröge Wendel was awarded the prestigious Dr. A. Heineken Award for the Arts. Yvonne Dröge Wendel is concerned with the relational and performative abilities of things, a theme that touches on present-day questions about our relationship to the material world around us. She sets up experimental encounters and aims to capture what it is that objects actually do. Rethinking the subject-object distinction and reworking our understanding of what it is for humans and non-humans to constitute a world is the main focus point of her artistic practice.
ProgrammeYvonne participated in Event #1 at which she presented her long-term project Black Ball (2000 – now). The project continues her aim to to make objects that have relational abilities, objects that can listen and do not necessarily want to express and impose any specific attitude. Her Black Ball, which is 3.5 meters in diameter and made from felted wool, is an object that is open to a wide range of interpretations, it is whatever the public wants it to be: a sculpture, an annoyance, a toy, a friend or a tool. The ball is moved by the public through public space, at daytime and at night-time with no guidance from the artist. So far the Black Ball has made its appearance in Istanbul, Bolzano, Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Odense.
Jessica Hemmings writes about textiles. She studied Textile Design at the Rhode Island School of Design, graduating with a BFA (Honors) in 1999 and Comparative Literature (Africa/Asia) at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, earning an MA (Distinction) in 2000. Her PhD, awarded by the University of Edinburgh in 2006, is published by kalliope paperbacks under the title Yvonne Vera: The Voice of Cloth (2008). In 2010 she edited a collection of essays titled In the Loop: Knitting Now published by Black Dog and in 2012 edited The Textile Reader (Berg) and wrote Warp & Weft (Bloomsbury). Her editorial and curatorial project, Cultural Threads, is a book about postcolonial thinking and contemporary textile practice (Bloomsbury: 2015) accompanied by a travelling exhibition Migrations (2015-2017). From 2012-2016 Jessica was Professor of Visual Culture and Head of the School of Visual Culture at the National College of Art & Design, Dublin. She is currently Professor of Crafts & Vice-Prefekt of Research at the Academy of Design & Crafts (HDK), University of Gothenburg, Sweden.
ProgrammeJessica Hemming contributes to Symposium #1 on Thursday March 7 in TextielMuseum.
Elisa van Joolen
Elisa van Joolen
Elisa van Joolen (1983) is a designer, artist and researcher based in Amsterdam. She holds a BA from the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam (2006) and MFA from Parsons in New York City (2012). Her approach to design is characterized by strategies of intervention and reconfiguration, and her projects often reflect specific social contexts and emphasize collaboration and participation. Her work has been recognized with a Han Nefkens Award (2016), and was nominated for the Dutch Design Award (2013) and New Material Award (2014). She participated in shows and exhibitions at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam, New York Fashion Week, and the 5th Brazilian Design Biennial in Florianopolis.
ProgrammeElisa van Joolen participated in Event #2 at which she spoke together with Vincent Vulsma on their collaborative artwork Technik (2012-13).
Nat Muller is an independent curator and critic, and currently PHD scholar at the Birmingham City University. Her main interests include: the intersections of aesthetics, media and politics; media art, food and contemporary art in and from the Middle East. She is a regular contributor to Springerin, MetropolisM. Her writing has been published amongst others in Bidoun, ArtAsiaPacific, Art Papers, Hyperallergic, Canvas, X-tra, The Majalla, Art Margins and Harper’s Bazaar Arabia. She has also written numerous catalogue and monographic essays on artists from the Middle East and has curated many exhibitions in the Netherlands and abroad.
ProgrammeNat Muller participated in Event #2 at which she interviewed Mounira Al Solh.
Catherine E. van Olden
Catherine E. van Olden
Working in public and mobilising the public for social and political change to offer the possibility of an alternate future is at the heart of her work. Van Olden utilises the Japanese Knotweed’s cultural, natural and scientific history to explain a system of human and non-human relations that has brought us to the Anthropocene. Using Printed Media she demonstrates in field and lab studies, visual reproductions and material representations that every organism makes worlds; humans have no special status. Catherine’s work has been presented in group and solo exhibitions in Belgium, the UK and the Netherlands. Educated at the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam, the Académie Royale in Brussels (hon.) and GSA Mlitt program (hon.) in Glasgow, she is the initiator of the Save the Loom Foundation. Save The Loom is an international interdisciplinary art project set up to conduct research into the influence of sensory experiences in production processes and the significance of handicrafts in terms of cultural history.
ProgrammeCatherine was one of the guest speakers of Event #1. Moving from the macro to the micro, she presented her series of tapestries that demonstrate how human touch affects even the most computerized production process.
Wendelien van Oldenborgh
Wendelien van Oldenborgh
Wendelien van Oldenborgh (1962) develops works, whereby the cinematic format is used as a methodology for production and as the basic language for various forms of presentation. She often uses the format of a public film shoot, collaborating with participants in different scenarios, to co-produce a script and orientate the work towards its final outcome. With these works, which look at the structures that form and hinder us, she participated in various large biennials, and in smaller dedicated shows. Recent presentations include: Cinema Olanda, solo at the Dutch Pavilion in the 57th Venice Biennial 2017; I am a native foreigner, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam 2017/18; Future Footnotes, solo at Significant Other, Vienna 2018; .As for the future. solo at DAAD gallery, Berlin 2017; Bete & Deise (2012) in MAM Rio de Janeiro, Casa França-Brasil, Fundaj Recife and Casa do Povo, São Paulo 2015. Van Oldenborgh has exhibited widely including in RAW Material Company Dakar (SN), Tate Liverpool (UK), Muhka Antwerp (B), Generali Foundation Vienna and Muzeum Sztuki in Lodz (PL) as well as in Biennials such as: the School of Kyiv, Kyiv Biennial 2015, the 2nd Biennial of Kochi-Muziris 2014, 12th Biennial of Cuenca (EC) 2014, Danish Pavilion at the Venice Biennial 2011, 4rth Moscow Biennial 2011, the 29e Bienal de Sao Paulo 2010 and at the 11th Istanbul Biennial 2009. Van Oldenborgh is a member of the (Dutch) Society for Arts and a recipient of the Dr. A.H. Heineken Prize for Art (2014). In 2017/2018 she was a Fellow at BAK, Utrecht (basis voor actuele kunst). A monographic publication, Amateur, was published by Sternberg Press, Berlin; If I Can’t Dance, Amsterdam and The Showroom, London in 2016.
ProgrammeWendelien van Oldenborgh contributes to Symposium #1 on Thursday March 7 in TextielMuseum.
Jennifer Tee’s (1973) works comprise sculpture, installation, performance, photography, and collages, all with a wide-ranging underlying frame of reference. Of central importance is Tee’s interest in the in-between state of what she calls the soul in limbo. The soul in limbo is restless and alive, and caught in an unnamed place – a conceptual, mental, psychological, and physical space – on the border between the here and the possible. Tee also researches contemporary life, with its cross-cultural identity and narratives, its instability and complexity, and its potential for the loss of identity, language, and kinship with original cultures. In addition, Tee explores various forms of utopian concepts of life and their potential for creating a new and more beautiful and soulful world. With her work, she encourages the contemplation of life’s fragile connections, evoking spiritual realms with active material experimentation.
ProgrammeJennifer Tee contributes to Symposium #1 on Thursday March 7 in TextielMuseum.
Christel Vesters is a curator, writer and teacher based in Amsterdam. She studied art history and curating in Amsterdam, New York and London and graduated cum laude from the University of Amsterdam with a MA in Art History. Christel has an established career in art criticism and curating. She has curated numerous exhibitions and discursive projects, including the successful lecture series and publication Now is the Time: Art & Theory in the 21st Century (2009) which was a collaboration between the University of Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, SMBA, Metropolis M and W139; Unfinished Systems of Non-Knowledge (2014, 2018, 2020) in partnership with De Appel, University of Amsterdam and the KNAW. She is initiator and curator of Touch/Trace: Researching Histories Through Textiles (2017-ongoing), a multidisciplinary project, which investigates the intricate connections between textile, history and society from a contemporary art perspective. Christel regularly contributes to various international art publications, including Afterall, FlashArt, Stedelijk Journal MetropolisM and De Groene Amsterdammer; and to numerous catalogues including Out of the Studio (2007), Niet Normaal (2010), Cultural Threads (2018). In 2014 she was the MondriaanFund curator-in-residence at CCS Bard, New York, where she divided her time between research and teaching.
Vincent Vulsma (1982) studied at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam from 2002 to 2006, and was a participant at De Ateliers in Amsterdam between 2006 and 2008. His work explores the tensions between autonomous art and the sociopolitical relations underlying its production. Important starting points for his investigations are the history and economy of cultural appropriation. Recently he contributed with In the Hold to the research programme Undercurrents by Hotel Mariakapel. His Solo exhibitions include A Sign of Autumn at Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam (2011) and ARS NOVA E5305-B at Galerie Cinzia Friedlaender, Berlin (2009). Vulsma participated in group exhibitions at Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris (2013); De Vleeshal, Middelburg (2013); Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen, Düsseldorf (2012); and Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (2012).
ProgrammeVincent Vulsma participated in Event #2 at which she spoke together with Elisa van Joolen on their collaborative artwork Technik (2012-13). >
Susanne Weiß (1976, Berlin) is a curator and art mediator living in Berlin. In her curatorial practice she considers context and display as important tools of mediation. In 2015 she started to develop the touring exhibition The Event of a Thread for the ifa (Institute for Foreign Cultural relations). What inherent meanings and messages can be found in fabrics? What is the cultural significance of material? How can they be ‘read’? What can fabrics tell us about their origins, meanings and social roles? Which traditional textile techniques have artists appropriated, abstracted, relocated and brought back to life? In 1965, the Bauhaus artist Anni Albers described The Event of a Thread as something multilinear, without beginning or end: more broadly, it meant the constant possibility of reassessing relations and restructuring connections. This reconfigurative vision is illustrated by the objects, installations and video essays assembled in the exhibition The Event of a Thread (ifa touring exhibition), which disclose the specific qualities of textiles, their contexts and their histories. In this way, the works highlight the complex ways in which “textility” is interwoven in our lives. The artists link personal and aesthetic narratives with the social and economic circumstances of a globalized world. Together with local artists and curators, the main body of the touring exhibition will be expanded with material relevant to location’s own textile history, connecting the exhibition with the work of artists associated with that city. This raises a new set of questions: How does the significance of the “thread” change as it moves through different locations? How can the exhibition connect with each new context, with the textures of its everyday life, and with its economic and social history and presence, which is partly shared and partly unique? Susanne Weiß has been director of the Heidelberger Kunstverein from 2012 to 2016. From 2009 to 2010 she worked as Robert Bosch Cultural Manager for the Goethe Institute at the Sharjah Museums Department in the Emirate of Sharjah. In 2008 she developed the exhibition series Ruhe und Ordnung together with Ulf Aminde (JET, Berlin). Between 2007 and 2008 she was artistic director at Kunsthaus Dresden. In 2007, together with the NGBK RealismusStudio, she organised the Felix Gonzalez-Torres show at Hamburger Bahnhof, Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin. Since 1996 Susanne Weiß has worked on making international exhibitions in cities such as London, Oxford, Jerusalem, Vienna, Dresden, Sharjah and Berlin. She studied Museology at the HTW Berlin.
ProgrammeSusanne Weiß participated in Lecture #1 at which she talked about the touring exhibition The Event of a Thread, which she curated for the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations (ifa).
Het tapijt als drager van verhalen
door Christel Vesters
In de introductie op zijn magnus opus, de Bibliographica Textilia Historiae (1997), omschrijft Seth Siegelaub - behalve curator en activist ook een fervent verzamelaar van boeken en textiel - zijn fascinatie voor historisch textiel: “Textiles have played a very special role in the history of humanity because of their unique and contradictory dual character: they are at the same time very delicate to the natural elements and human use on the one hand, while on the other, they are very rugged, resilient and portable as objects of transport.” Met name door het gemak waarmee het getransporteerd en verhandeld kon worden, maakte textiel tot “...an essential means of communication for motifs, designs, cultural values and ideas, as well as the power behind them.” Seth Siegelaub inventariseerde in de Bibliographica Textilia 7300 publicaties over de wereldgeschiedenis van pre-industrieel textiel. De Bibliographica Textilia bevat items over de techniek en esthetiek van geweven en geborduurd textiel, maar ook statuten en verordeningen van gildes en andere documenten met betrekking tot de productie en handel van textiel. Hiermee plaatst Siegelaub de geschiedenis van handgemaakt textiel in de bredere context van economische ontwikkeling, handel, sociale verandering en technologische vernieuwing. In zijn benadering draait het niet alleen om schoonheid, functie en vakmanschap, maar om de rol van textiel als drager, verspreider en getuige van de vele geschiedenissen wereldwijd. Een kleine tachtig jaar eerder introduceerde Aby Warburg al de term Bilderfahrzeuge (beeldvervoerders), waarmee hij de rol beschrijft die vijftiende-eeuwse Vlaamse wandtapijten speelden in de verspreiding van beeldmotieven van Vlaanderen naar Florence. Aristocratische families namen de tapijten met zich mee wanneer zij in de winter van hun Vlaamse kastelen naar hun Florentijnse verblijven verhuisden. In zekere zin zouden de wandtapijten kunnen dienen als een vroege case study voor de moderne studie naar migratory aesthetics waarin, zoals Mieke Bal het omschrijft, onder andere onderzoek wordt gedaan naar het huidige culturele en artistieke moment met het oog op de samensmelting van culturen. Kortom, textiel en in het bijzonder tapijten zijn meer dan vloerversiering en isolatiemateriaal; als een gewild handelsproduct hebben zij bijgedragen aan de verspreiding van beeldmotieven en van weef- en knooptechnieken. Tegelijkertijd zijn handgemaakte tapijten het product van een intensief en vaak persoonsgebonden arbeidsproces. Ieder tapijt, iedere knoop en iedere knoper is uniek. Een tapijt is het testament van de toewijding van een persoon die in ontelbare uren handwerk zijn kennis, zijn kunde, zijn gevoel voor materiaal, textuur, kleur en patroon overbrengt op het weefsel. Je zou kunnen zeggen dat het tapijt, voor een bepaalde periode, is verknoopt met het leven en de beleving van de maker. Verknoping van materiaal, plaats en tijd De tentoonstelling Kum Kapi – Travelling Carpets in het Museum Calouste Gulbenkian in Lissabon biedt een perfect voorbeeld van deze verknoping tussen materiaal en maker . In de schaars verlichte kelderzaal toont het museum een selectie bijzondere Kum Kapi tapijten afkomstig uit eigen collectie. Deze Kum Kapi tapijten danken hun naam aan de wijk in het toenmalige Constantinopel waar zich eind negentiende eeuw een kleine groep Armeense meesterwevers vestigde. Hun verfijnde, met de hand geverfde en geknoopte tapijten van zijde zijn onder andere beroemd om de fraaie ontwerpen en motieven, geïnspireerd op zestiende-eeuwse Perzische tapijten. Het gebruik van zilver en gouden metaaldraad en de hoge knoopdichtheid (10x10 knopen/cm2) maken de tapijten tot exclusief handwerk. Kumkapi ligt op de zuidelijke grens van het Europese deel van Istanbul, ingeklemd tussen de muren van het Topkapi-paleis en de Marmarazee. Kumkapi was aantrekkelijk vanwege de geografische ligging, dicht bij het stadje Hereke dat zich sinds de vestiging van het hofatelier voor tapijten en textiel in 1843 had ontwikkeld tot hét centrum van de meest verfijnde handgemaakte tapijten ter wereld. Het verblijf in Kumkapi bood de Armeense wevers de mogelijkheid om hun verf-, weef- en knooptechniek te verrijken met de expertise van de wevers uit Hereke. Behalve deze ‘samensmelting’ van weeftechnieken en -culturen, is de meest evidente verknoping met de lokale cultuur te vinden in de specifieke ontwerpen van de Kum Kapi tapijten. De Armeense wevers uit Centraal-Anatolië, die tot dan toe voornamelijk Turkse en islamitische motieven kenden, bezochten waarschijnlijk regelmatig de schatkamers in het Topkapi-paleis waar de sultan een aantal kostbare zestiende- en zeventiende-eeuwse Perzische tapijten had tentoongesteld. Het was hier dat de wevers hun inspiratie opdeden voor hun creaties met bloem- en diermotieven. De Kum Kapi-tapijten zijn het resultaat van een unieke “ontmoeting” tussen twee verschillende culturen en de daaruit voortvloeiende uitwisseling en vervlechting van materialen, technieken, stijlen en beeldmotieven. De Armeense wevers, ‘Fahrzeuge’ van ambachtelijke kennis, beeldmotieven etc., arriveerden in Istanbul onder uitzonderlijke historische omstandigheden: de meesten van hen waren waarschijnlijk op de vlucht voor de toenemende vervolging van orthodox-christelijke Armenen in hun geboorteplaats in Centraal-Anatolië. De tapijten zijn onlosmakelijk verbonden met deze specifieke plek en tijd in de geschiedenis; niet alleen in de geschiedenis van de textiele ambachten, maar ook in die van haar makers. De productie van Kum Kapi tapijten in Istanbul is maar van korte duur. In 1915 verlaten de meeste Armeense wevers het Osmaanse Rijk, op de vlucht voor de etnische zuiveringen die tussen de 1 en 1,5 miljoen Armeniërs het leven zou kosten. Hagop Kapoudjian Naast een zestiende-eeuws Perzisch tapijt toont het museum in de tentoonstelling Kum Kapi – Travelling Carpets drie stukken van een van de meesters uit de beschreven Kum Kapi ‘school’: de Armeense wever Hagop Kapoudjian (ong. 1870-1946). Kapoudjian werd omstreeks 1870 geboren in Kayseri, een provinciestad in Centraal-Anatolië. Ook hij trok op jonge leeftijd naar Istanbul, waar hij op zijn twintigste al reputatie van meesterwever verwierf. Zijn tapijten onderscheidden zich vanwege hun uitmuntende techniek, de hoge polen en het unieke kleurspectrum die zijn creaties glans en licht geven, maar waren vooral geliefd om hun unieke, authentieke ontwerpen, met kleurrijke, fantasievolle motieven met pauwen, herten, bladeren en bloemen. Kapoudjian liet zich inspireren door de Perzische tapijten uit de Safavid Periode (16e en 17e eeuw) die te zien waren in het Topkapi Paleis. In de tentoonstelling zijn een aantal van zijn originele schetsontwerpen te zien: kleurrijke blad- en bloemmotieven knoop voor knoop uitgetekend in een grit van hokjespapier geplakt op karton. Kapoudjian signeerde zijn tapijten in het Armeens; een bijzondere geste die getuigde van trots en lef, gezien de precaire situatie waarin de Armeense wevers zich indertijd bevonden. In de lente van 1915 stopt Kapoudjian’s productie abrupt. Op 24 april pakte de Osmaanse regering tweehonderdvijftig Armeense intellectuelen op en kondigde verdere maatregelen af waarmee de Armeense Genocide een feit is. Samen met vele andere Armeniërs liet ook Kapoudjian voor de tweede maal huis en werk achter. Via Griekenland kwam hij uiteindelijk in Parijs terecht, waar hij nog een aantal tapijten zal maken en zijn inkomen verdiende als restaurator van handgeknoopte Perzische tapijten. Hier ontmoette hij ook de Britse zakenman en filantroop Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian (1868-1955), voor wie hij verschillende tapijten uit diens collectie restaureerde. De mannen bewogen zich niet in dezelfde sociaal-maatschappelijke kringen, maar deelden wel hun Armeense achtergrond. Gulbenkian spendeerde een groot deel van zijn tijd en geld aan het verzamelen van kunst, waaronder Armeense kunst en kunstnijverheid producten zoals de Kum Kapi tapijten, en wierp zich op als beschermheer van het Armeense culturele erfgoed - ambities die tot op de dag van vandaag in zijn naam worden voortgezet door de Gulbenkian Foundation in Lissabon. Mehkitar Garabedian De levens van Gulbenkian en Kapoudjian zijn via hun liefde voor de tapijtknoopkunst met elkaar verbonden. De meest tastbare getuigenis van deze verbintenis is het door Kapoudjian gerestaureerde Kum Kapi tapijt dat bij binnenkomst in het midden van de tentoonstelling ligt. Het levenswerk en de levensverhalen van deze twee mannen worden in dialoog gebracht met dat van de jongere kunstenaar Mekhitar Garabedian. Garabedian werd in 1977 geboren in Aleppo, Syrië en heeft een Armeense achtergrond. Net als Hagop Kapoudjian verliet zijn familie in 1915 het Osmaanse rijk op de vlucht voor de vervolging. In 1981, tijdens de Libanese burgeroorlog, vluchtte zijn familie weer - ditmaal naar België. Persoonlijke thema’s als ‘afkomst’, ‘migratie’ en ‘identiteit’, en de zoektocht naar de betekenis van zijn Armeense wortels zijn belangrijke referentiepunten in zijn werk. Voor Garabedian vertaalt de zoektocht zich naar een continu animeren van de statische en anonieme beelden en getuigenissen uit een ver verleden naar een continu in beweging zijnd heden. Een veelzeggend voorbeeld van dit proces waarin de kunstenaar zich zijn culturele achtergrond eigen probeert te maken, is het gedisciplineerd oefenen van het Armeense alfabet, geschreven op de muur in het werk Fig. A, a comme alphabet (2010-2016). In de afgelopen jaren heeft de kunstenaar deze schrijfoefening op verschillende plekken herhaald, zoals op de muren van tentoonstellingsruimtes als het Gulbenkian Museum, maar ook in de vorm van een geweven tapijt. De onder elkaar geplaatste lijnen met repeterende a’s, b’s, c’s (enzovoorts) in Armeens schrift wiebelen tussen de regels van een multomap-blaadje. Het patroon van repeterende letters, is een vertaling van enerzijds een intensieve exercitie om een persoonlijk familieverleden in leven te houden en anderzijds een daad van verzet tegen een collectief vergeten van het lot van de Armeense diaspora. Of, zoals de kunstenaar zegt, deze serie werken documenteren “het verlies van de moedertong, iets dat in veel migratiegeschiedenissen gebeurt, vooral bij de Armeense diasporagemeenschappen.” Net als de andere tapijten in de tentoonstelling hangt Garbedian’s Fig. A, a comme alphabet (2012) niet aan de muur. Het tapijt ligt achteloos op grond, alsof de stijloefening ongemerkt uit een ordner is gevallen. Doordat de tapijten op eenzelfde – horizontale – manier zijn tentoongesteld, worden verschillen in herkomst en generatie moeiteloos overbrugd. In de open ruimte tussen de tapijten ontvouwen zich verhaallijnen en geschiedenissen die zich in de tapijten hebben ingekapseld. Zo lijken Garabedians oefeningen om zich het Armeense schrift eigen te maken, een verwijzing naar het feit dat Hagop Kapoudjian zo’n honderd jaar eerder zijn tapijten in het Armeens signeerde, als eerbetoon aan zijn Armeense afkomst. Het ware onderwerp van de tentoonstelling Kum Kapi: Travelling Carpets is niet de Kum Kapi tapijten en hun betekenis in de geschiedenis van handgemaakt textiel, hun ambachtelijke en esthetische statuur, maar de onzichtbare geschiedenis en het tragische lot van de Armeense diaspora dat zij in zich dragen. Het vertelt het verhaal een gebeurtenis, de Armeense Genocide in 1915, die tot op de dag van vandaag door veel naties (waaronder Nederland) niet officieel is erkend. Textiel en tapijten zijn niet alleen interessant omdat zij sporen van maker en gebruik tonen, aldus Siegelaub, maar omdat zij getuigen zijn van de onzichtbare, geleefde geschiedenis waarin zij zijn ontstaan, circuleerden en communiceerden. Dit essay is verschenen in Simulacrum, jaargang 25, nr. 2 (c) Christel Vesters
Kum Kapi Tapestries Migration
A Tapestry of Thoughts
Seth Siegelaub - Beyond Conceptual Art
by Christel Vesters
I am unpacking my library. Yes, I am. The books are not yet on the shelves, not yet touched by the mild boredom of order. (…) Instead, I must ask you to join me in the disorder of the crates that have been wrenched open (…) to join me among piles of volumes that are seeing daylight again after two years of darkness, so that you may be ready to share with me a bit of the mood – it is certainly not an elegiac mood, but rather one of anticipation – which these books arouse in a genuine collector. The invitation is Walter Benjamin’s, asking the reader to share his excitement in rediscovering his books after being separated from them for years. His 1931 essay, Unpacking my Library, is not so much about the accumulated knowledge contained in his library as the heightened state of mind of the book collector. Benjamin, a genuine collector, observed that the passion of every collector borders on the chaotic, and that the library, in essence a chaos of books, finds its counterpoint in the order of its catalogue. As he concluded, ‘There is in the life of the collector a dialectical tension between the poles of order and disorder.’ I had to think of Benjamin’s observations when I found myself sitting amid a disarray of books and dozens of half-unpacked cardboard boxes. They belonged to Seth Siegelaub, and their contents needed to be catalogued after his sudden death in 2013. Administrative drudgery, you would think, but no: every box revealed a fascinating ‘chaos’ of books. It could hold a year’s issues of 1930s magazines on embroidery, antique manuscripts with dye recipes, or titles on textile crafts from around the world, including Guatemalan Textiles Today: The Art and Technique of Weaving, Dyeing, Spinning, Crocheting, Looping, and Netting in Guatemala Today (1978), or The Art of Bobbin Lace: A Practical Text Book of Workmanship (1908). The same box might also contain publications on the social history of specific crafts or the economic development of the textile industry and trade, such as La Technique et l’Organisation de la Draperie a Bruges, a Gand, et a Malines au milieu de XVIe Siecle (1920). As random and disjointed as this all first seemed – covering different periods, geographies, academic disciplines and socio-political fields – as I worked my way through the boxes, a narrative started emerging, and with each box I opened, the intricate web of knowledge and materials that Seth Siegelaub had assembled increasingly peaked my interest. The books are part of the Center for Social Research of Old Textiles (CSROT), a one-man research institute dedicated to investigating the socio-economic history of handmade textiles, which Siegelaub founded in the late 1980s. As well as building CSROT’s comprehensive archive and expanding his collection of antique textiles from around the world, he also tirelessly constructed a detailed bibliography, each item meticulously described and systematically indexed. In 1997, he published the Bibliographica Textilia Historiae: Towards a General Bibliography on the History of Textiles, the first general bibliography on the subject ever published. Parts of the CSROT library and the Seth Siegelaub Textiles (SST) collection are currently on view in the exhibition Seth Siegelaub – Beyond Conceptual Art at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Arranged alongside cross-sections of rare antique books and more recent volumes are the most exquisite and delicate textiles from Europe and far afield, collected by Siegelaub on his travels. Most of the fabrics show traces of wear, in keeping with the nature of his interest in them, which concerned not merely their aesthetic beauty, but the histories they lived and convey. ‘Textiles’, he wrote, ‘occupy an interesting place in our history: they are intertwined with the history of the applied arts on the one hand, and with commerce and economic developments on the other.’ Seth Siegelaub – Beyond Conceptual Art is a survey of Siegelaub’s life’s work, highlighting not just his pioneering projects of the 1960s, making him the ‘Father of Conceptual Art’, but dedicating equal space to lesser-known activities that he developed whilst living in Paris and Amsterdam. Occupying the notoriously difficult 1100m2 exhibition space in the museum’s new wing, the exhibition is broadly in three sections. To the right a richly documented survey of each of the legendary art projects that Siegelaub developed with Lawrence Wiener, Robert Barry, Joseph Kosuth and the Dutch artist Jan Dibbets, amongst others, in New York in the 1960s. In the centre a cross section of left-wing publications that Siegelaub collected or published in Paris in the 1970s and 1980s, and to the left a selection of textiles from the SST collection accompanied by books and documents from the CSROT library. Curating a comprehensive overview of Seth Siegelaub’s achievements is no straightforward task. How does one pay due tribute to a man who was a gallerist and dealer in antique carpets; who stood at the cradle of New York’s conceptual art movement, organizing such experimental exhibitions as The Xerox Book (1968) and January 5-31, 1969, which introduced the ‘catalogue-as-exhibition’; a man who published artists’ books, political pamphlets and translations of such controversial works as Mattelart and Dorfman’s How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic (1979); who was engaged in political activism, ran a one-man press and news network (the leftist PP+NN, 1972), drafted the first artist contract (The Artist’s Reserved Rights Transfer and Sale Agreement, 1971), was an archivist and bibliographer, a self-taught researcher running interdisciplinary research institutes and, of course, an obsessively curious collector? ‘Seth was a modern homo universalis,’ writes Marja Bloem, his ex-partner and co-curator of the exhibition, ‘someone who didn’t let himself be bracketed into one category, nor wished to spend his entire life specializing in one thing.’ When asked why he abruptly had left his successful career in the art world and moved to Paris in 1972, Siegelaub answered, ‘I don’t like to repeat myself too much – which of course is the essence of success. I try to avoid comfortable, often uncritical situations by transforming my interests every ten or fifteen years.’ The threefold structure of the exhibition appears to follow this rhythm: New York and Conceptual Art; Paris and Political Publishing; Amsterdam and the History of Textiles. But instead of using partitioning walls, dividing the exhibition in clearly defined sections, the curators chose an open structure, allowing long lines of view across the space generating fascinating and unexpected connections. The Oriental carpets, which Siegelaub exhibited in his New York gallery, for example, can be linked with a geometrically patterned fabric from a Peruvian Chimu carpet (1000-1200 AD). In the far left corner of the room the curators installed a small watchtower offering a bird’s eye view of the exhibition – the privileged perspective of the art historian. Five decades of collecting, producing, publishing and distributing mapped out like an atlas, creates the opportunity to discover new patterns and recurring motives, such as Siegelaub’s love for lists: lists with artist names, titles etc. used to systematically plan his projects, lists of people he met at various occasions, down to the detailed indexes in his bibliography on old textiles. But one the most significant threads that runs through Siegelaub’s wide array of activities, is his passion for books, as bearers of knowledge, as a democratic medium to circulate knowledge, as a designed object and as an alternative exhibition space. His catalogue-as-exhibition projects may now be deemed (or even canonized) a dematerialization of the object, but Siegelaub cared about books-as-objects, about their material and aesthetic qualities, printing, font, how they were made. Siegelaub’s outspoken left-wing political engagement is another theme that runs through various projects on display. Like the artists with whom he worked, he distrusted established conventions and economic power structures in the art world. By producing art in limited editions and creating exhibitions as books, rather than in ‘hallowed’ gallery or museum spaces, Siegelaub rejected the aura of the ‘authentic’ art object, and the prices that accompanied it. The catalogue-as-exhibition was an aesthetic experiment, but also an institutional critique. A similar thing can be said about his ‘academic’ undertakings. During his life, Siegelaub initiated a number of research initiatives, such as the earlier mentioned Center for Social Research of Old Textiles (CSROT) or the International Mass Media Research Center (IMMRC). The pompous names and acronyms, and the fact that they comprised only a single person, were a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the conventional academic system. Although these were the product of one man’s convictions, Siegelaub was no soloist. Both as a curator and as a researcher he was deeply embedded in social networks. In contrast to conventional academic practice, his research method consisted of long kitchen table discussions with artists, activists and political thinkers. It provided him with a rich variety of sources and materials, which were often overlooked –or ignored – by the official institutions. The dialectical tension, as Walter Benjamin calls it, between the organic chaos of this intuitive collecting of information (and objects) and the meticulous ordering in lists, indexes and bibliographies is perhaps the key to unlock the intricacies of Siegelaub’s practice. Seth Siegelaub – Beyond Conceptual Art gives us an excellent perspective of how knowledge and materiality were interwoven in Seth Siegelaub’s varied practices. It is also an indirect critique of our need to classify what cannot be classified, of the mechanisms of simplified categorization and neatly boxing things in. Thanks to the open structure of the exhibition, which invites us to roam and wander, to seamlessly connect aspects from different periods of Siegelaub’s life, projects, themes and interests, we can begin to grasp the fascinating fabric of his inquisitive thinking. The fluid arrangement suits the free spirit that was Seth Siegelaub, whose meandering mind can best be understood not in terms of strict frameworks or categories, but interwoven threats and knotted networks. (c) Christel Vesters This is a revised version of the essay Seth Siegelaub – Tegendaagse Doener en Denker, originally published in Dutch in De Groene Amsterdammer, 17 February 2016.
by Wendelien van Oldenborgh
1. TRADE / parallel textsDavid: “So somehow there is a lot of exchange going on. And that exchange of ideas actually ends up being an exchange of hard cash. That is part of the work: to keep things in circulation. What did I read? This is what she wrote: “The beginning of the African wax print market, as it is known today, is somewhat obscure. But it is known that the interest in wax prints can be traced back to the famous Javanese Batiks.” - Obscure... Yeah, so much to see, and I don't know how obscure it is; or obscured. The spectacle...” (1) In 1910 the Royal Association Colonial Institute was established. It opened to the public with a museum in a new building in Amsterdam in 1926. The Colonial Institute was a continuation of the Colonial Museum in Haarlem, which was the first of its kind worldwide. The Colonial Museum had been founded to house a collection of artifacts and its function was mainly for trade and production purposes. Goods and source material were collected and viewed by local Dutch traders and crafts people to see how to make use of them. Sometimes the acquired knowledge was used to trade back to the colonized regions, the products made in the Netherlands with raw materials from that same region. The entrance of the new building is a majestic marble tribute to its founding and funding members and decorated with three large murals, which were inaugurated in 1936. These paintings present in a triptych the Institute's view on the relation between a agricultural and primitive “East”, the industrialized “West” and as a conclusion to the two the third composition, entitled “the Cooperation” (De Samenwerking). In this last painting, the ideal relationship between the colonizer and the colonized is being presented as collaborative forces in a common modernization. The composition speaks for itself as to whose knowledge leads the way in this cooperation. Some hundred years after the founding of the Colonial Institute in Amsterdam, the equity firm Actis bought a Dutch textile company called Vlisco Group for 151 million US$ (2) . Vlisco Group had been part of the Dutch-British joint-owned Gamma Holding for some decades after being founded and run as a family business: van Vlissingen & Co, since the first half of the 19th century. Vlisco has always been a textile printing company, and ventured, together with some other European textile industries, into introducing an industrially manufactured Javanese style batik for the colonial markets in the far east. The imitation batik, currently known as wax prints, proved to be difficult to sell successfully in the Dutch East Indies, but on the trade route to the east, the ships with goods would pass the West Coast of Africa and merchants found an interest there for the printed cloth. In these regions wax print became increasingly popular during the 20th Century. The relationship of this product to its market, and between its consumers and its producers has been an interestingly entangled one, and was shaped and reshaped by both sides. The main production has stayed in Europe, but image and meaning, which would lead to success or failure, were produced in Africa. Economically speaking, one could safely say that the producers have profited and are still profiting from this, but the question of value and appropriation stays open. As part of this entanglement, sales were up and profits soaring around the years in which various African nations became independent(3) . Many resistance groups in these regions used the wax print cloth as a symbol of renewed national identity. More recently however, sales of the Vlisco Dutch Wax Print (or Veritable Wax Hollandaise) were threatened by cheap imitations of the cloth by Chinese industries. As an answer to this trend – of threatening the original imitation of an Asian cloth type, which had become an authentic African product, with a cheap imitation made in Asia – the current Vlisco company updated their marketing strategies and restyled themselves into a fashion label. Successfully branding themselves as the 'True Original' of the African print cloth and aiming at the high-end fashion market. From now on they not only produce the cloth itself, but also the 'look' that goes with it. Four times a year a new collection is introduced and advertised, according to the rules of the contemporary international fashion system. Goods are now sold in flagship stores, that are being opened in the heart of the already existing markets, offering accessories and already tailored clothing next to the traditional six yards of the cloth. Next to the high level of sophistication with which this 'True Original' African print cloth is being manufactured, a re-establishing of its brand as the most important sign of value was needed to keep up, or even improve, the status of the product. Branding, brand marking... interesting terms when one thinks about their origin and use in an African-European past. On a parallel storyline, in 1857, the influential F. H. van Vlissingen addressed an official request to the King of the Netherlands, King Willem III, to ask for permission to colonize for agricultural exploitation some more islands in the region of the Dutch Indies(4). He acted as head of a commission representing traders, planters and industrialists. The large island of Java was the main area under Dutch rule at the time. After some negotiations with the head of State of the Netherlands, this commission of individuals was granted the permission to go ahead with the colonization they had proposed. In these same years the textile production firm of the family, van Vlissingen & Co, was developing techniques to reproduce Javanese batik under the directorship of Pieter van Vlissingen, a nephew of F. H. In fact, various textile printers in the Dutch region had been doing experiments to industrialize the manual technique of batik. The first machine to be mildly successful was an adapted banknote printer by the Belgian textile producer Prévinaire. He used his invention to apply the wax or glue on two sides of the cloth to automate the dye resist technique previously just manually applied by craftsmen and women in the Dutch Indies. This first printer was nicknamed La Javanaise. By the beginning of the 20st century the industrialized batik technique printed at van Vlissingen & Co was primarily made for specific West African markets. At this point Jan van Vlissingen, a grandson of the van Vlissingen who had started the batik adaptations, became the director of the textile company and stayed in this position for most of the 20st century. He was also an active member of the board of the Royal Colonial Institute in Amsterdam from the 1920's until his death in the late 1970s, whilst the Institute changed its name in 1951 to the Royal Tropical Institute. David: “I heard that Jan van Vlissingen, who was the director of Vlisco, was a member of the board, or invited to be a member of the board of the Tropical Museum, or I think it was the Colonial Museum at the time or the Institute. And so there is this direct connection between Vlisco and its international operations and the global consciousness that this museum is trying to present. So if one is the hand of the one who takes action, the entrepreneur. The other is kind of the memory of all these acts. And a way of trying to be conscious or give a consciousness of all these actions.” (5) Jos Arts writes in his eulogy of Vlisco, written in 2012 that “Perhaps he [Jan van Vlissingen] is one of the first Westerners who takes the African consumer seriously.”(6) Globalization, market driven developments and consumer culture are in this instance and in this family history totally bound up with the colonization and its efficiency thinking of the previous epoch. Jan van Vlissingen was the first member of the industrialist and colonialist family to actually travel to Africa and study his own markets. He loved it so that he started to collect culture products from all over the continent – as the Colonial museum might have done. The contemporary Tropical museum does not collect in this same way anymore, but becomes the image provider – or perhaps the consciousness provider, as David Dibosa suggests – for a European audience. The image that is being shaped, however, is bound to change constantly according to the current conscience.
2. FASHION and THE CONTEMPORARY / image and displayToday, the fashion shoots for the contemporary Vlisco fashion label – which creates images for the upcoming African markets, for the contemporary African looks and tastes – are all set up and produced in the Netherlands. Sonja: “They will fly me in. I get to know what time we are going to start and do the shoot. And it can be in different parts: in Amsterdam and different locations. Sometimes we do shootings in the studios and sometimes we go outside.”(7) “...and it's timeless. It can either go into the future or they can go back in time, but they always create wonderful shapes and movements.” (8) In his essay “What is the Contemporary” Giorgio Agamben talks about fashion as a good example of our special experience of time we could call contemporariness. “Fashion can be defined as the introduction into time of a peculiar discontinuity that divides it according to its relevance, its being-in-fashion or no-longer-being-in-fashion. [...] The time of fashion constitutively anticipates itself and consequently is also always too late. It always takes the form of an ungraspable threshold between a “not yet” and a “no more.” [...] But the temporality of fashion has another character that relates it to contemporariness. Following the same gesture by which the present divides time according to a “no more” and a “not yet,” it also establishes a peculiar relationship with these “other times” - certainly with the past, and perhaps also with the future.[...]” (9) Vlisco has reacted to the crisis of its sales in 2004, when seriously threatened by cheaper goods form China, with a contemporary solution. The contemporary global fashion system and its branding and label value, which adds monetary value to the products, is based on image making. It is also based on the kind of Samenwerking (the Cooperation) with its markets that was already portrayed in the mural in the Colonial Institute. In the epoch of the painting, it was the ideal of a relationship between the colonizer and the colonized as collaborative forces in a common industrial modernization. The common modernization ideal is still alive, only now equipped with globalized ideals of beauty and globalized possibilities of image, trade and value. With the ideal of a relationship between producer and consumer as collaborative forces. Sonja: “The last shoot for Vlisco was “Palais des Sentiments” and it was inspired by India. So a lot of beautiful prints and again lots of vibrant colors.” Charl: “So did you know it was about India before you started?” Sonja: “No I didn't actually. I am always surprised and what I love about it, is that they always have the fabrics and beautiful tailoring...” Charl: “Are you the only model? Or there is another model?” Sonja: “Sometimes there are other girls and they're either from Jamaica, or they live in America, different parts, but it's all girls that are from Nigeria, or have nice beautiful features. Yeah, sometimes they fly in girls from New York or London.” Charl: “Oh they are flown in from everywhere... ohhh.” Sonja: “Yes exactly – so it's really wonderful.” Charl: “So you are an Oslo girl, flown in to work for a Dutch company that does African prints. In an Indian style.” (laughs) (10) The profile of the international group Actis, the current owner of Vlisco, is – like Vlisco's – a contemporary one. It appeals to a politically, economically and socially correct way of doing business today. Focussed on new emerging economies, the emphasis is on 'the helping hand', which capital can offer. That money is invested in a Dutch enterprise with all its design, marketing and production staff in the Netherlands – hardly an emerging economy – in the name of a necessary investment in a product to be sold mainly in the emerging markets in African is perhaps ironic, but not surprising for a firm which also invests in shopping malls all over the African continent. The image of an African fashion ideal is being produced in the Netherlands by a contemporary company. On the other hand, another image of Africa, of the Dutch ex-colonies and of other far away cultures, is being elaborated for a European audience in the Tropical Museum. An image that has been produced and reproduced over time. Shaped and re-shaped. Each period reflects its ideals and believes onto the display. Perhaps only the last image counts in the present, but there is no way to get rid of the traces of previous epochs or 'texts', which mark that image, which layers the image. The Tropical Museum is a palimpsest of texts and images, and is not being able, and perhaps not wishing, to overwrite the proves of previous ideologies. What we see in this contemporary museum is as much a product of the entangled relation between the colonial past and the globalized now as is what we see in the elaborate fashion imagery coming from the Vlisco design studio's. And what about a contemporary art museum getting completely caught in national pride, historical entanglement and contemporary marketing with the very recent exhibition in the MMKA, the museum for modern art in Arnhem called: “Six Yards – Guaranteed Dutch Design. A tribute to the Vlisco textiles, Visual Arts, Fashion and Design.”?(11) David: "Yeah, so much to see, and I don't know how obscure it is; or obscured. The spectacle...” (12) -------------------------- (1) From: Wendelien van Oldenborgh La Javanaise, 2012, video installation with two screen, 25 min. Featuring fashion model Sonja Wanda, artist and ex-model Charl Landvreugd and thinker/writer David Dibosa, whose voice is quoted here. (2) ActisInReview2011pdf, downloaded from http://www.act.is/content/WhyActis accessed 29/08/2012. Some quotes: “Actis is a private equity firm investing exclusively in the emerging markets: Africa, Asia, Latin America. (...)We believe this capital is transformative and for that reason we call it the positive power of capital. (...) Actis took over the Vlisco Group in September 2010. As a company that also sits in a developed market but whose reach is pan-African, we felt an affinity with the Vlisco Group, and knew we could bring Actis’s knowledge of consumer companies gained from other emerging markets to help it meet the increasing demand for its products.” (3) See for example the Dutch daily newspaper De Waarheid of 5 november 1964: a small article next to a report on museum visits, announced that the textile industry was doing well, naming Vlisco amongst two other firms who had been producing wax prints for the African markets. But also Jos Arts Vlisco, ArtEZ Press and W Books, Zwolle 2012. p 42-43, where this fact is mentioned with a certain pride – but also surprise – as if it meant that Vlisco somehow was part of an anti-colonialist movement. (4) Merkwaardige Brief van den Luitenant-Generaal J. van Swieten aan de heer F.H. Van Vlissingen, betreffende Europesche Kolonisatie op Sumatra. Published by the committee for exploitation and colonization of East-Indies foreign properties, based in Amsterdam. 's Gravenhage 1858 (Peculiar letter from Lieutenant J. Van Swieten to Mr F.H van Vlissingen regarding the European colonization on Sumatra) p.III (5) From: La Javanaise, 2012. David Dibosa's voice. (6) Jos Arts Vlisco, ArtEZ Press and W Books, Zwolle 2012. p 77 (7) From: La Javanaise, 2012. Sonja Wanda's voice, speaking about her experiences with Vlisco for whom she models. (8) Idem. (9) From G. Agamben What is an Apparatus? And other essays translated by David Kishik and Stefan Pedatella for Stanford University Press 2009. p47-50 (10) From: La Javanaise, 2012. Voices of Sonja Wanda and Charl Landvreugd. (11) Exhibition ran from 21-01-2012 to 06-05-2012 and exhibited indiscriminately pieces of art which were meant to criticize a colonial past next to an unquestioned celebration of the trade and production history of Dutch Wax. (12) From: La Javanaise, 2012, voice of David Dibosa
Some Notes on Women, Labour and Craft...
Some notes on women, labour and textile craft
"My hands made this product, earning you a huge profit.”
by Christel Vesters
Triggered by two unrelated news items, writer and curator Christel Vesters embarks on an expedition, looking for a common thread that may connect the two. Her explorations touch upon particular events and ideas in the history of textile production, utopian socialism, the Arts & Crafts Movement and the women’s movement, juxtaposing some key moments in those histories with examples from contemporary artist practices. 'No craft has been subject to such fundamental changes as the textile craft, and in no industry have workers been so vulnerable to exploitation as in textiles' I. Some weeks ago, I came across an unusual news item released by Associated Press: Shoppers at the Zara store in Istanbul had found messages written on labels hidden in different items of clothing. One of them read: 'I made this item you are going to buy, but I didn’t get paid for it'. The international press picked up on the story and soon the facts behind the desperate cry for help became clear. The notes were put there by Turkish factory workers who hadn’t received pay for three months of labour, and after a year of unsuccessful negotiations between their union and the multinational Inditex (Zara), were now asking the international community for solidarity and support. Earlier this year another story had caught my attention. A purple banner had been found in a charity shop in the north of England with the embroidered text: Manchester – First in the Fight + Founded by Mrs Pankhurst 1903. The banner had witnessed many important marches for women’s suffrage, most notably the huge rally in Manchester’s Heaton Park on 19th July 1908 organised by the Woman’s Social and Political Union. These news items made me think about the connection between women, labour (and the value we place on it), and textile crafts. Later, standing in front of the beautiful tapestries designed by Gisèle-Waterschoot van der Gracht in her salon, admiring the rich colours, patterns and skilful weaving, I wondered why I always connected textile art with housewives and the home, never taking it seriously and certainly never considering it as the political or socially engaged art form that it can be. Why, I wondered, does this romantic 19th-century image of a woman making high-value textiles with her dexterous fingers, still persist today? And why do we still value crafts(wo)manship as more precious, more authentic than factory labour? When did making textiles become imbued with social qualities like togetherness, which prompts contemporary artists to embrace textiles as their medium? The two news stories sent me on an expedition to look for threads that might connect them. I also hoped to rediscover some of the political struggle that is part of the history of women and textiles, but that seems to be shrouded by our current admiration for its aesthetic, tactile and poetic qualities. II. The situation of the Turkish textile workers is not uncommon. Our global marketplace has turned low-income countries into factories for multinationals like Zara. 'We made these products with our own hands, earning huge profits for them,' as they put it themselves. This global division into a world market and a world factory is the most recent chapter in the story of textiles. No craft has been subject to such fundamental changes as the textile craft, and in no industry have workers been so vulnerable to exploitation as in textiles. Traditionally, crafts like spinning, weaving and sewing were domestic crafts, executed to make clothing or other items for private use. In the Middle Ages this domestic labour took on a more commercial character; farmers who could afford it invested in their own loom and others bought one to be paid off in instalments, enabling them and their families to increase their income. But it was the market and the merchants who ultimately determined how much their craft was worth. Women and children already made up a significant part of the work force in the proto-industrialisation period, but because they weren’t allowed to join the guilds, they remained invisible. Interestingly though, the image of peasant women weaving and spinning at home would become the reference for fin de siècle socialist city folk who aspired to the romantic ideal of the 'country life'. III. In 1787, weavers from Calton, a small community outside Glasgow, became Scotland’s first ‘working-class martyrs’. The weavers rallied against a 25 percent wage cut; the demonstrations were violent and cost six weavers their lives. In subsequent decades, this story of a prosperous community of weavers falling apart largely due to mechanisation and the re-organisation of production and labour was to be repeated across Scotland, England and the Netherlands. IV. Simultaneously, technological innovations ushered in the Industrial Revolution. There was, for example, the 1764 invention of the Spinning Jenny, a multi-spindle spinning frame that allowed workers to boost their volume, and the power loom, which speeded up the production process, resulting in a further specialisation and division of labour. By 1800 most of the textile production in Britain was carried out in large, city mills. The Industrial Revolution might have brought technological innovation and the promise of progress and prosperity, but for many it meant working long hours under dangerous circumstances in dusty factories, exploited and underpaid. This revolution did not just impact the economy, it also instigated a process of social and political change. Workers organised themselves into unions, rallying on the streets and lobbying in parliament and with each new strike came changes. In the UK the 1842 general strike, which drew some half-a-million textile workers, led to some of the country's bigger reforms. V. The Calton Weavers' Strike is often seen as the beginning of the Scottish workers’ movement. In 1987, 200 years after the Strike, Glaswegian artist Ken Currie painted a series of panels honouring the event. Two elements stand out: a banner with the slogan ‘Weave Truth With Trust’, which has been the weaving craft's motto now for centuries, and the central figure of a woman. In an interview, the artist stated: "...I wanted to represent a cycle of images that showed the ebb and flow of an emergent mass movement, where the real heroines and heroes were the many unknown working class Scots who fought so selflessly for their rights..." The woman draws attention to the women who were harshly affected by the Industrial Revolution and, having no political representation, remained invisible for a long time. VI. The purple, hand-embroidered banner recently acquired by the People’s History Museum in Manchester, became an important attribute in the marches organised by the women’s movement. Not only did it express the suffragette’s political stance, but it also made the women easy to recognise. At the beginning of the 20th century the women’s movement gained traction all over Europe and in the United States. Demonstrations attracted hundreds of thousands of suffragettes, some of whom were not afraid of taking militant action. In Britain the suffragette movement was led by upper class women with socialist ideals and activist attitudes ('deeds, not words'). The suffragettes prided themselves on being an all-women movement, propagating ‘solidarity amongst the classes’. Famous leaders like Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst were often seen distributing flyers at textile factories, and working class women marched together with the 'ladies'. But, as a cotton worker who had worked in the mills from the age of seven declared in 1906, 'working women had their own aims'. For them, 'the fight for the vote was inseparable from the fight against the bosses'. In the Netherlands too, the women’s rights movement started in the upper class. Women like Aletta Jacobs, Henriëtte Roland Holst, and Wilhelmina Drucker fought for women’s right to vote, but they were also supportive of the workers’ struggle for better working conditions, raising funds for the men and their families when they went on strike. VII. Banners have been an integral part of political protest through the ages. In March 2016 women took to the streets of cities across the US protesting against the presidency of Donald Trump. These Women’s Marches signalled a revival of the 20th-century women’s movement, only this time the collective colour is pink. Dutch artist Lara Schnitger also participated in the marches, but her banners were slightly different, they were quilted in stark colours bearing slogans like ‘Don’t Let the Boys Win’, and protesters carried so-called ‘Slut Sticks’, totems for the free expression of womanhood. These banners are part of a series of public performances called Suffragette City, staged by the artist in various cities around the world. The protests-processions are a tribute to the suffragette movement, but also to contemporary feminist protest groups, like Pussy Riot and FEMEN, and ‘playfully integrate political protest, elegant wardrobe with “typically female” practices like quilting to elevate and explore representations of feminism and femininity.’ VIII. Meanwhile, as textile workers organised themselves into unions and rallied for better wages and working conditions, others tried to achieve a better future in a more peaceful way. One of them was the British textile manufacturer and social reformer Robert Owen (1771–1858). Aged twenty-eight, Robert Owen, a self-made man from humble origins, bought the New Lanark Mills in Scotland from his father-in-law. The mill employed around 1,300 workers and their families, some 500 of them children aged just five our six. Influenced by the utilitarian and socialist ideas of that time, Robert Owen believed that better working and living conditions would make better men, and thereby create a better society. He set up a model factory and a model village in which he implemented his socialist-utopian views. He refused to take on any more children, improved workers' housing, built a school and a shop selling goods at a fair price, introducing the model of co-operative distribution. He implemented the eight-hour workday and coined the slogan ‘Eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest.’ Politicians and clergymen from around the world, even the Tsar of Russia, visited the mill. IX. More then a century later, a group of Dutch pioneers founded the Coöperatieve Productie- en Verbruikersvereniging De Ploeg, (Cooperative Production and Consumers Association De Ploeg) inspired by socialist ideology and the idea of collective ownership. De Ploeg, plough in English, started as an agrarian work-community modelled after the economic principles of the cooperation as introduced by Robert Owen. In 1923, they also opened a weaving workshop organised along the same principles, specialising in household textiles. To accommodate its growing production, the cooperation built a new factory designed by Gerrit Rietveld. The design incorporates the socialist ideals of De Ploeg, creating optimum work conditions with plenty of daylight, green space and clean air. By the end of the 1970s the success of De Ploeg was faltering, and in 1991 an investment group took over the cooperative. In 2014, as part of her long-term research entitled Body at Work, the Argentinian-Dutch artist Aimée Zito Lema organised a children’s workshop at the abandoned factory of De Ploeg entitled ‘Warp And Weft’. The title refers to the cooperative working skills the children were stimulated to use during the workshop. Having only pieces of old textile at their disposal, they were encouraged to work together and to create something new. 'Warp And Weft therefore not only refers to the weaving movement of yarn and thread, but also to the interconnecting skills and relations, creating both a physical and a mental tapestry.' X In his acclaimed study The Craftsman, Richard Sennett describes the transition from handmade crafts to machine-led production and how it impacted the values placed on craftsmanship. Throughout the book there are echoes of the romantic idea of the craftsman’s workshop as a place where work and life are in perfect balance. For Sennett, the craftsman embodies a way of life, a way of being in the world, in which making is thinking, and hand and head are connected. He also believes that ‘the craft of making physical things […] can shape our dealings with others'. Paying tribute to American philosopher John Dewey, Sennett states: ‘Good craftsmanship implies socialism,’ referring to the instruction Dewey gave to workers that they should assess the quality of their work in terms of shared experiment, collective trial and error. True art, just as true living, according to fellow socialists John Ruskin and Morris, should be both useful and beautiful, and in service of the betterment of society. The ideas of the Arts & Crafts Movement were a reaction against the negative effects of the Industrial Revolution; its members believed better working conditions not only improved the quality of life, but would make for a better society. Although the idealisation of craftsmanship and the workshop-home advocated by the movement received its fair share of criticism, their belief in a world of simplicity, beauty and crafts still resonates today. XI. In an article on Weverij de Uil, a weaving studio established in Amsterdam in the 1950s, the author states: 'Technique has not completely killed all craftsmanship. Sometimes one would wonder and think the opposite, especially when the journalistic trail leads through a hyper-modern factory. Anyone who has been in a textile mill, seeing hundreds of mechanised looms speeding like insane robots in a mist of dust and an inferno of noise; anyone who knows that even a shuttle can be missed, will breathe easily when visiting the hand weaving studio, where this century-old craft is still capable at inspiring and exciting people.” Weverij de Uil established a name for itself for its expertise in traditional weaving and colouring techniques, but also for its innovative approach. The fact that the workshop was run by women only added to its allure ad fame. Thanks to a commission from Gisèle-Waterschoot van der Gracht, Joke Haverkorn started a small studio, which later became De Uil, together with Nenne Koch, where everyone sat and worked together at one big loom. Six months later they had finished the 2.45 x 4.50-metre tapestry Augurium. Haverkorn has always stressed the collaborative nature of the work, not just in the dialogue with the artist but also in the collaboration amongst weavers working on the same tapestry. 'None of the weavers can impose their individual ideas onto the others. It is the tapestry that dictates... The weaver surrenders herself to its demands.' XII. British anthropologist Tim Ingold once praised ‘…that peculiarly human ability to weave stories from the past into the texture of present lives.’ It is indeed a beautiful ability and freedom we have as writers, artists and people, to pick up threads from different histories, discourses and contexts and explore what new patterns may emerge. As the woman weavers from De Uil followed the will of the tapestry, I too followed the lead taken by the two news items. There is never just one straight line connecting history with the present, nor is it just one line. There are many lines and many layers, just like in a tapestry, which brings together the individual strands of the warp and the weft.
door Christel Vesters
Curator Christel Vesters Projectmanager Charlotte Bijl Web developers van Leeuwen & van Leeuwen
Touch/Trace: Researching Histories Through Textiles A project by PAR & H Foundation p/a Van Boetzelaerstraat 65-hs 1051 EA Amsterdam The Netherlands E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Touch/Trace: Researching Histories through Textiles is a project by PAR & H Foundation, an organisation that initiates, develops and supports art and curatorial projects with a focus on research and interrelated histories. For each of its projects, PAR & H Foundation develops unique communication platforms, including a website, emailing (Mailchimp) and printed matter. Touch/Trace: Researching Histories Through Textiles (hereinafter referred to as: ‘Touch/Trace’ or ‘we’), is a project that unravels the intricate connections between textile, history and society from a contemporary art perspective. On the website www.touch-trace.nl (hereinafter referred to as ‘website’)Touch/Trace posts announcements and updates about this project and programme. Christel Vesters is a curator, writer and teacher based in Amsterdam. She studied art history and curating in Amsterdam, New York and London and graduated cum laude from the University of Amsterdam with an MA in Art History. Christel Vesters has an established career in art criticism and curating. She is the initiator and director of PAR & H Foundation.