Weaving is one of the oldest crafts in the world — the process of creating baskets, thatched roofs and eventually textiles dates back at least 12,000 years. But in more recent decades, anything labeled “craft” was looked down upon in the fine arts world, considered second-class, and let’s face it, women’s work. (Remember the joke class you could take for an easy credit, “Basket Weaving 101?)
Times have changed. Many contemporary artists who work with ceramics and textiles are being recognized and exhibited in prominent galleries and museums.
In our hyper-digital era, many artists feel a desire to return to a tactile creation as an antidote to the remoteness of computer-manipulated art. But in an interesting combination of ancient craft and 21st-century technology, the exhibit “A Thread of Execution” at the artist-run Dimensions Variable (DV) knits a connection between the two.
In computer science, “the thread of execution” is a technical term used to describe the micro process of programming. While each thread can be a unique, single component, when woven together they create a multi-tasking “pattern” that results in software.
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In other words, the threads of coding and of fabrics are both parts of a greater whole. Individually, each may seem unimportant. But when they are layered together, the threads create a complex operating system, a dress, a rug — or a work of art.
Given the theme, it’s not surprising that 11 works at Dimensions Variable’s relatively new home at MDC’s downtown campus have a strong sense of grid and line. Also not surprising, given the craft’s connection with a domestic realm, all but one of the artists are women. While men still dominate the world of computer coding world, these works are made from textiles.
All, that is, except one. The center piece in the gallery is a massive work measuring more than 18 feet by 9 feet that has been crocheted out of VHS tape and meticulously pinned to the wall with numerous imperceptible nails. This piece by Carrie Sieh, entitled “Content Creators and Luxuriated Bodies,” is one of the few works in the show with a discernable image — in this case wheels and spokes, which are exposed by the white space of the wall behind the threaded black tape. The work recalls an early 20th-century textile-making machine that haws from a time when huge, mechanized, moving parts signaled progress and industrial might.
“Content Creators” is all about old-fashion methods — the intricate crocheting of the now-obsolete VHS tapes, the hidden copper nails, the sheer beauty of a hand-woven artwork. Today the digital process is too small and fast for anyone to stand and watch it in awe.
Miamian Pip Brant’s “Union Charge” moves us among artistic formats. From a distance, this colorful abstract looks like a painting; move nearer, and it seems to be made from rice or grains attached to the canvas. Up close and personal, it reveals itself as embroidery on linen — an intensively personal process that remind us of a grandmother’s hobby, or an inheritance from an old homeland. It’s an intimate, beautiful piece.
Four small works from Elaine Reichek will also grab your gaze. A contemporary art pioneer who has helped restore the appreciation of craft, Reichek has been exhibited in international museums and has work in major collections. “Swatches: Riley 1-4” (2007) are four geometric abstract squares — in rose, blue, green and orange on gray background — described as digital embroidery on linen. This connects those threads underlining the exhibit — the squares appear kinetic, and her process is a hybrid of computerized and sewing techniques.
Reichek’s series also refers to Bridget Riley, a British originator of Op-art known for her trippy black-and-white paintings that seem to move when you do. Both Brant and Reichek reveal how, while the end result of these works can look like paintings, the process of making them is vastly different.
Reichek is the most prominent artist in this airy, well-paced show, and an inspiration for one of the current directors of DV, Frances Trombly. Trombly’s own hand-dyed and woven work appears on a scaffold that stands on the floor of the first room. “Textile drape over wood structure” begs us to study the production, as we can see some threads coming apart, and the drape itself sagging.
Trombly says that she and co-director and husband Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova chose artists to exhibit “who influence us in textile, artists we admire and respect, and [those] who are our contemporaries.”
They want visitors to look at the materials, colors, the grid, at processes and labor — and the structure, which is often imperfect. The edges of anything woven on a loom will be uneven, the lines inevitably irregular; threads fray, yarn can become discolored.
Los Angeles-based Diedrick Brackens’ “a chance to move up” is a nice example. It’s a woven cotton rug, placed on the floor just like its functional cousins would be. Unlike a painting hung on the wall, or a sculpture on a pedestal, you are forced to view this piece very differently because of its positioning. Looking down at it, you see the tassels and instinctively size it up as you would a rug: the color scheme should fit the hallway, or maybe the bedroom. But then one half pops out as loose, Mondrian-like grids, while the other half is tightly woven horizontal and vertical lines, and it appears as a diptych, demanding far more intense observation than you ever would give to floor covering. You see the patches of discolored thread, the push and pull that makes the woven canvas unique.
With the intriguing piece, “32 Harnesses Controlled by a Switch,” by San Francisco Bay area artist Indira Allegra, the digital tie is evident. Made of leather and hand-dyed silk, this sash replicates the garment that weavers wear to support the body during the labor-intensive practice. But here, letters are woven into the fabric in patterns that resemble coding.
In many of the other works here, the digital theme is harder to discern. Still, the tactile textile works almost like an antidote to a society so removed from physical process and interaction because we now stare at screens, alone. In a nation losing its thread of connection and community, we sometimes long for a less mechanized time, when the craft of weaving literally fabricated early civilization. “A Thread of Execution” nourishes that hunger — at least until you pull out your phone.
If You Go
What: “The Thread of Execution”
When: Through Dec. 29
Where: Dimensions Variable, 300 NE Second Ave., MDC Bldg. #1, Third Floor, Miami