Tangled: Fiber Art Now!

August 5, 2017- February 11, 2018
Taubman Museum of Art

“Tangled: Fiber Art Now!” presented the work of eleven contemporary artists who redefined how we perceive fiber arts such as knitting, quilting, crocheting, and felting. Tangled features sculptures, installations, video and performance work using fiber-based materials. It’s an eclectic mix highlighting our connections to nature, the richness and diversity of our culture, our bodies, and our environment through artists who are revolutionizing the use of textiles and fiber.

Textile art, which encompasses embroidery, fiber art, knitting, crochet, and carpet design, has its roots in the invention of weaving some 27,000 years ago. It is one of the oldest forms of human technology. The term “fiber art” began to be used to describe the medium after World War II. Historically regulated to be “women’s work,” fiber art was embraced by the feminist art movement in the 1970s. Since the 1980s, artists have begun to push the boundaries of fiber art through the exploration of the materials and techniques. Now artists are using fiber art to both define and challenge current social/political issues such as gender, notions of family, and women’s work as well as experimentation with materials that may not necessarily be defined under the rubric of fiber such as terra cotta, pearled pins, and dirt.

Arizona-based artist Angela Ellsworth’s embroidered Seer Bonnets navigate issues of the body in relation to gender, sexuality, and cultural histories of the western United States. Exploring the history of her Mormon grandfather and his polygamist marriages, the project re-imagines a community of women pioneering an alternative history. West Coast-based artists Ben Venom and Jimmy McBride riff off of traditional quilting practices to create large-scale work based on the mysticism behind heavy metal music and science fiction stories. Virginia-based artist Kristin Skees’ work combines portraiture, knitting, and a love of DIY culture in her Cozy Portrait series, in which she creates a custom knit cozy for each person in the project. While the final form is a photographic portrait, for her, the piece begins with the first question: “Can I cozy you?” Mexico City-based artist Xawery Wolski creates dresses out of thousands of handmade terra cotta beads. Each piece is hand-constructed, fired, and then meticulously painted, all strung together by sturdy thread to create a sculpture in the shape of a dress. Michigan-based fiber artist Mark Newport challenges stereotypes of men by hand knitting acrylic super hero costumes, which he then wears. “Knitting is very slow. That contradicts the idea of a superhero as a man or woman of action. The superheroes that I make are generally male superheroes,” says Newport. “I like the contradiction that most people think about knitting as related to women.” Virginia-based fiber artist Meg Arsenovic explores childhood’s formative moments with her vibrantly colored faux fur sculptures.

Both Oklahoma-based Rena Detrixhe and Los Angeles-based Megan Whitmarsh have created site-specific installations for the exhibition. Detrixhe’s contemplative work combines repetitive process with collected or scavenged materials to produce large-scale objects and installations. For Tangled, she created a rug from harvested red clay gathered in the Midwest, stamped with patterns created from altered shoe soles. Whitmarsh’s soft sculptural installations reference pop culture of the 1970s and ’80s; for the exhibition she reinterpreted the impression of a 1970s artist studio. West Coast artist Alice Beasley tackles politically charged events with her fabric portraits that touch on difficult history such as the death of Trayvon Martin. Beasley talks about her inspiration, “One of the great things about being an artist is that even if I can’t change the world I still have an unfettered opportunity to express my opinions.” Philadelphia artist Caitlin McCormack creates skeletal bodies out of crocheted cotton thread and glue that allude to bird species. She pins them to velvet backings in antique specimen tables as homage to her departed grandmother who crocheted and her grandfather who carved bird sculptures. Pairing established artists with emerging figures, artists in “Tangled” explore new horizons being developed at this very moment in fiber art while redefining how we perceive this ancient art form. “Tangled: Fiber Art Now!” is curated by Amy G. Moorefield, Taubman Museum of Art Deputy Director of Exhibitions and Collections.

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