Friday, February 15, 2013

CQA attends "High Fiber Diet: BAM Biennial 2012"

CQA attends “High Fiber Diet: BAM Biennial 2012”
Symposium, Saturday, February 9, 2013

By Donna DeShazo

CQA members were front and center at the Bellevue (WA) Arts Museum on Saturday, February 9, when the organization’s monthly meeting was combined with BAM’s sold-out symposium on all matters fiber.

The symposium was themed to explore BAM’s current showing, “High Fiber Diet,” an exhibit that brought together more than 40 contemporary artists in shining a spotlight on fiber art created in the Northwest. Describing the exhibit, BAM’s material says, “With its versatility and ready availability, fiber has long had its firm place in the Do-It-Yourself movement, yet is often underexposed in the traditional art world.”

More than 80 attendees joined BAM’s Director of Art, Craft and Design, Stefano Catalani, curator of the fiber exhibit, as he kicked off the day’s events with a quick highlights tour of the various elements in the exhibit that range from cedar baskets in organic shapes, to a hand-knit shroud, a “torso teapot,” and a colorful folded “blanket” made entirely of layers of paint.

Opening the formal part of the symposium was a keynote presentation on “The Long History Behind Contemporary Craft in Fiber” by Elissa Auther, Associate Professor of Contemporary Art, University of Colorado, and Adjunct Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver. She noted that some of the earlier (1960s) exhibits of fiber in traditional art venues comprised sculptural works and were dismissed by critics as “decorative,” or “gender-specific,” or “ethnographic,” and more representative of everyday experiences than true “art.” It was the old question of art vs. craft, and where fiber work fell in the hierarchy of arts and crafts. She noted that the craft of fiber was taken over by the counterculture in the ‘70s, when it was deemed handmade and authentic, and that the same movement is occurring again as DIY and young activists now lend it the aura of sustainability.

Rounding out the morning session was a panel moderated by Barbara Lee Smith, an artist currently working in Gig Harbor, WA, whose works are found in public and private collections on five continents. Panelists Jiseon Lee Isbara, Nate Steigenga, and Howard and Lorraine Barlow tackled the subject “Reinventing Tradition.” Each described his/her avenue of coming to working in fiber, and how traditions of various types figure into their current work. One nice quote: “I am trying to reconstruct an intangible process—memories—as a tangible piece.” Another: “I appreciate the process almost more than the results.” (One nugget of information new to this reporter: Traditional Aran knitting patterns in Irish fishermen’s sweaters were unique to specific families so that drowning victims could be identified.)

Marci Rae McDade, editor of Surface Design Journal, moderated the afternoon discussion titled “Time of Arrival, Point of Departure,” with panelists Vanessa Calvert, Scott Fife, Margie Livingston and Michael Cepress. Both the panelists and the audience were intrigued by the introduction and use of the term “dishabituation,”meaning the surprise from something not being what it looks like, e.g. Livingston’s painted “blankets” that look to be piles of folded, soft fabrics but that are actually relatively hard layers upon layers of paint. A great quote from this session: In response to viewers wondering if an art piece out of paint (or fiber) is truly art, “It’s your preconceived notion about (paint) (fiber) that’s holding (paint) (fiber) back.” Another: “Wearable art is now sculpture on the body…fashion hasn’t had a place in the fiber arts world until just recently.” And yet another: “The artist’s job is to show people what they don’t know they need to see.”

Rounding out the day was a presentation titled “Then and Now” by Lia Cook, Professor of Textiles and Fine Arts at California College of the Arts, Oakland CA, whose work is in permanent collections of major international museums. She noted that the concepts of collaboration and sharing are strong these days, unlike the ‘90s when work was more individual, and that “nature, natural and local” are highly desirable. There’s more concern over toxicity, promoting a return to natural dyes. She also pointed out changes in social practices, an example being engaging people in the process by bringing looms and weavers into public spaces. She showed illustrations of brain-wave imagery via MRIs that’s providing a springboard for some of her own newer works in moving from weaving techniques into video imagery. Part of her video presentation—a work by another weaver--had the audience spellbound even as we were not sure just what we were seeing, let alone how to describe it. Best that can be said is that it was a constantly forming and reforming black-and-white visual of a marching band, complete with both music and loom sounds, being produced by the stitches of a jacquard loom in full motion. Stunning!