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Editorial Note: ATA-talk is the discussion list for members of the American Tapestry Alliance and the seedbed of ideas for starting this blog. This overview of threads on the subject of Selfies and Tapestry has been edited with a light hand to streamline reading; the words and thoughts belong to the writers. Images are provided by the writers to serve as their tapestry avatars (although some have been borrowed by the editor for this purpose); notes on the images are found at the bottom of the page. Passages shown in bold are selected by the editor for their significance to the original discussion and for their potential for further examination. Direct quotes of posts are published with permission from the individual authors.—Margaret Sunday
6 DAYS IN NOVEMBER 2013
Louise Halsey: Hi, did anyone see this in Huffington Post? Too bad it is described as embroidery when it is tapestry. The artist has a nice website and better recognition than what is given here. Let me know what you think? http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/03/erin-m-riley_n_3844991.html?utm_hp_ref=arts
Dirk Holger, (aka Personification of the Nile): This “woven porn” weaver has a predecessor: In the 1970’s a French artist did not sell any of her ‘lovely’ tapestries until she designed ‘sexy’ images which then sold quickly! The whole article (of “Paris Match”) is in my new book and shows how the (any) media jumps on everything ‘sex’, even when done in a meticulous way like tapestry weaving. Any other theme would have still remained unpublished…in both cases….
Anton Veenstra: Louise, to be fair, the Huffington makes two references to “threaded” which is ambiguous, and the creator says: “using tapestry slows the images down”. Good call, the use of “slow work”.
Kathe Todd-Hooker: I am not sure that I would call it woven porn. No more then I would call Michaelangelo’s David, or Monet’s picnic or Goya’s The Duchess of Alba’s portraits porn. It’s pop art. Sexting is a continual thing that is happening among young kids. It’s a statement of what and where things are happening at or in a given time. Erin’s a good introduction of tapestry as an art medium. + It’s interesting what can happen long term with these types of images. More then a few years ago I was involved with a group called the Catholic School Girls, Generics, Toe Tag who all occasionally hung out with some members of the Grateful Dead—heavy metal industrial grunge bands. Many of these heavy metal and grunge bands hung out in my front over a 10 year period. My studio was their first introduction to the arts. + Some hung out in my studio. Any way one day I showed a group of them a picture of Jon Eric Riis’s tattooed David. The next thing I knew I was showing slide shows of tapestries to a very interesting groups of people in my studio. Over time they have purchased, commissioned and gone to exhibits and shows of tapestries and have spread out bicoastal and into Europe.
Dorothy Clews: Kathe… your occasional visitors’ response to Jon Riis’ ‘David’. These tapestries speak to an audience of upcoming art collectors about the world they live in of sexting, instant imagery and sharing . The ‘shock’ is when realising that these instant images have taken consideration and time to produce making the viewer consider what the image really means. Dirk if these are porn, so are many instances of historical art… [Erin’s tapestries] are very relevant to today’s society…. I would not call her tapestries meticulous, they are fairly broadly drawn, and having seen a video of her weaving they do not seem to be overly densely packed —this is not a criticism of technique but an observation of how weavers do respond to contemporary needs and trends, much like weaving studios shifted from few colours to a greatly increased colour range historically because of the availability of synthetic dyes. These changes are not necessarily bad or good but reflect the change in society, work, needs, tastes etc. Erin Riley is one weaver who does respond to contemporary society and issues [on] several levels.
11/26/13 The Older Selfie—
Janet Austin: Seems like just a year or two ago we were asking “what do tapestry artists need to do to get media attention?” + I am thrilled that Erin Riley is getting so much attention for her tapestries, which really are timely; commenting on, or perhaps just presenting, images that are such a part of many young people’s lives. How fortuitous that “selfie” has been declared the word of the year. Just shows that Erin’s work is well tuned to the moment. + I can’t help wondering what the reaction would be if some of us older artists started weaving the selfies of our age group….gray hair, wrinkles, metimucil and all…
Kathe: What a cool idea! America is aging and so am I.
Anton: Rembrandt did an honest series of himself in old age; guess it’s possible.
Jan: Kathe wrote, “America is aging and so am I.” So, we are on the cutting edge of aging! Ha ha. Typical of our generation, we think we are the first ones to experience everything…. + I am at least half serious about this idea, and I already have a “selfie” that I like….. I swore off weaving self portraits 20 years ago, after weaving 2, but I may have to try again.
Kathe: In some ways we are! I am not the same person or having the same experiences my Grandparents were or had at my age. We take so many things for granted that had not even been thought of, let alone implemented in their time. Including my Ipad that I am writing on with the ability to communicate in almost live time with people on the other side of the world. Neither could they have envisioned the world I live in. Anyway, I like the idea of doing a selfie. I haven’t done that many human forms: I did a series of Icons one time, a portrait of my business partner and 3 of Chene (dog). + On age Linda Rees did several images that incorporated the written or painted word about aging that I was enamored of. I think I may have written a review of the show—they were in Eugene, OR— for Tapestry Topics a few years ago. + The other thing that I find intriguing about selfies is the small size format of selfies done on cell phones. I am sure Erin’s are quite large, but there is another tapestry weaver Ruth Manning [who] does small images or portraits that are quite interesting. And of course there are Pat Williams’ images of women, which I think may be self portraits. And of course small Coptic portraits shouldn’t be forgotten about—perhaps they were the selfies of that time period.
Margaret Sunday: Is this the group project we have been looking for? “Openly Greys Like Selfies”? (I’m trying to make an acronym for O.G.G.L.E.S. + And don’t forget the directly drawn and honestly observed record of aging in Kathe Kollwitz’ self-portrait lithographs.
Kathe: Instead of like how about love?
Margaret: Like is, like, a cool social media word. Love is, like, a Big Wow. Loom is an L verb too….. Thinking about your comment, Kathe, on the scale of the sexted image—intimate scale we called it in school—no kidding—and how when an image is multiplied, it’s scale can no longer be strictly intimate, in either sense, because its relationship with the viewer is changed. Repetition of small images can make them large, at least in so far as their audience is enlarged. + I was also thinking about the telephone lens/ screen as camera eye, with its appetite for foreshortened views, arm’s length depth of field and unnatural croppings when self-picturing the body. I don’t use photography in my work …but what possibilities there are….
♥ Marcia Lindberg loved this, said it was the best talk yet.
Jan: How about “Openly Greys Just Wanna Have Fun”!? Sorry, doesn’t fit your target acronym, but someone (Andrea?) asked, why can’t we have fun and this popped into my head. + There might not be as much actual material to draw from as older folks are not quite as enamored of their own bodies, and were raised to be a lot more private.
Margaret: OGJWHF/”Oogles” for short/ “Selfies in Slo-Mo: a spin-off Project of the ATA-talk list”/ Jan, this broadens the interpretation of Selfie, and you are right—the theme is scary, which is why it is so powerful and important, as Janette noted. To do this right, each artist must be free to run with the powerful theme in his/her optimally most personal way. + Breadth is what Grays have to offer to the current Cultural dialogue. Trends seem to take root in youth, defining generational identity, and so forth. The honing of an articulated individual perspective happens later in life. + Are sexts all the same (merely, more or less, like or unlike, this or that, category of porn?) Well they were, until this discussion started thinking about how each of us would take on the Selfie! What is the project, anyway? I keep thinking about a group show…a book… Anyone?
11/29/13 Selfies and the Glass-Slipper-Perfect-Project
Lany Eila: A nice venue for a broad variety of tapestry selfies could be the unjuried small format exhibit that happens on even numbered years (to be exhibited around Convergence). Most have group challenges on particular themes, and this could be one more but with an open call to anyone anywhere that wants to participate. If a call goes out to have that as a group challenge for the 2016 exhibit, people would have time to consider what their tapestry selfie would be and to weave it. And then because there’s a catalog for the exhibit, we could all see what everyone did, whether we make it to Convergence or not.
Merna: The catalog would be priceless, especially if we all agree to the definition of selfie, still leaving us open to so many ways of expression in tapestry. Think of the range of possibilities. + A selfie is a type of self-portrait photograph, typically taken with a hand-held digital camera or camera phone, and usually taken in a slightly tilted manner.
Margaret: The show could travel from there [Convergence]. Re: the catalog, I was thinking how sweet a picture book this project would make, and about the potential for coalition funding for a book with such a topical reach. + A book could become a money-maker for ATA, as a non-profit—scholarships, educational projects and more appropriate uses. + Merna, Slightly? tilted? As I grow older I notice my arms are getting shorter. + Who else is thinking about doing a selfie?
Lany: To me the essence of a selfie is a non-technically-fussy, spontaneous rendering of the maker in her/his current setting, as practiced by any number of people in all sorts of places, in a manner that seeks to capture the mood of the moment while welcoming random surprises. One of the things that interests me about the idea of tapestry selfies is that what characterizes them may vary from photo selfies.
♦ Ruth B wrote that she was going to try this too.
Merna: Since I don’t generally weave imagery, I’m not even sure I’m really interested in doing this, but the idea of a themed exhibit of selfies does intrigue me. Aging tapists (and I’m certainly in that category) weaving selfies makes me smile, but of course no one would be excluded. + Lany’s idea of hooking this into the ATA Unjuried Small Format show is especially interesting because no one would be excluded. It’s not a competition, but a challenge and a place to explore. Being included in the catalog is a great incentive to some, especially those who don’t exhibit frequently.
Lany: … it could also in itself make an interesting online exhibit on the ATA website. If fine art tapestries are like fine art photography, what would be the tapestry equivalent of a selfie? I have no idea, but would be curious to find out. In many ways the haphazard photo selfie is the antithesis of our carefully constructed tapestries.
Margaret: I remember back to Kathe’s lesson about scale (of the weave) versus size (of the finished piece) in tapestry. And I am imagining forward to the kinds of images our selfies might take on: the nature of the subject matter, portrait and figures both can require detailed description and curved lines, and this theme invites narrative elements of autobiography and those “tilted” perspectives which will require the weaving of diagonal lines. + To execute such imagery in small format could require fine scale warping, and appropriately fine weights of threads, and depend upon a certain approach and vocabulary of workmanship for an artist to find the subject, scale and size appealing. My concern is that folks for whom this content is new territory will find “built-in givens” of size a turn-off. + Of course, there are alternative ways to interpret a theme in how we devise images… but I hope we will have guidelines that nurture many kinds of original solutions, rather than those that could result in mere reactions to the guidelines or turn away the possible—never to be seen. +… deliberate, considered, slo-crafted and still “slightly titled”?
Alex Friedman: I really like the idea of a themed show to bring some strength and direction to the unjuried show. I am in favor of this idea! It could be widely interpreted which would make allowances for individuality.
Kathe: I like the idea of a separate exhibit that travels and has it’s own catalogue and/or book. I am not fond of study group challenges haphazardly or without explanation placed in an exhibit without a real context. The ATA small format exhibit has it’s own context that I think is better suited for experimental work and a celebration of what could be hundreds of ideas. I think the audience might be slightly different or could be different than for the ATA unjuried small format exhibit. I do think that my interest is piqued by the subject matter—-selfie—and it’s place in history or a snap shop of what’s happening in a given time in a culture or history. I am very fascinated with the miniatures that were done in the French court of body parts that were painted or embroidered and given to lovers—-so perhaps a selfie could just be a body part. I think if one puts that much work into a group project especially if it is an advanced level exhibit, it should have it’s own exhibit and or catalogue/book.
Kathe: What I would ask or request is that there not be salon hanging or stacking of small format tapestries in the display or squished together because they are small. Give them the same respect that a larger format would have. Hung at eye level so that they can be viewed properly.
Jan: I really love the wide open inclusive format of this established Unjuried exhibit (the upcoming show will be our 10th). + A separate Unjuried themed show would be great, but it would require volunteers. As a model, I have enjoyed the Unjuried fiber art postcard exhibits they did at Tohono Chul Museum in Tucson a few years ago. Because of the size limitation there was no problem with space. + If it was unjuried then I don’t see how the size can be unrestricted, unless you had an enormous gallery space. Of course it could be juried, but I think the subject lends itself to Unjuried, inclusive: thus a certain honesty or reality check about what is out there, rather than one person’s interpretation.
Lany: It’s all good: having either a group challenge in an existing show or an exhibit all its own, having size restrictions or no size restrictions, work that is wildly haphazard or exquisitely perfect, with body parts, angles, classic portraits or fisheye distortions... Sounds great to me. What specifically interests me in this project is playing with the selfie concept of capturing who and where one is right now and sharing it with a broad unfiltered web of people. When I was 20-something, a goofy snap and quick upload might have been the perfect medium for that expression. I’m not convinced that all 20-somethings (and beyond) could possibly be satisfied with ONLY having that medium of expression. For many, including those of us with grey hair, a millisecond shot might not be able to express who we have become. But… if one wants to express that one is unraveling, or that one’s life is really a web of many continuing threads or distinct but joined compartments, or that who one is right now is the result of innumerable accretions of color and texture over time… Hey, there’s an app for that! And it’s called the medium of TAPESTRY.
Lany: In keeping with the spirit of “selfies” (and the web world where they live), I think an exhibit of “tapestry selfies” might need to be (1) unjuried, (2) with an overarching concept but a minimum of rules, and (3) broadly shared, with at the least an online exhibit (bringing it back to the turf of the digital selfie!), but could also (with enough volunteer energy) include a physical (even traveling) exhibit, a paper catalog, and/or an ebook catalog.
Margaret: Our theme is too rich, too compelling, too personal and too political—too challenging conceptually and technically—to be front-loaded with stipulations that impinge upon idea. How ever valid a reason might be for stipulating size (guilty!) for a group show, unless size is the idea, it is a problem of administration, rather than of art-making. + How many artistic decisions are co-opted by administrative convenience, rather than the demands of an idea in finding its form? (I’m thinking as a purist MFA guy here, not as a designer, or commission/ contractor.) As artists putting together frameworks for a new show, which has no history to encumber it, we have the opportunity to put the emphasis back on the artist and the art. Perhaps the obligation. + A. it is tapestry (by any definition the artist chooses); B. the theme is the Selfie (definitions and descriptions offered as springboards—not criteria). If some tapestry wiz were, in the next 2 and 1/2 years to create a life-size Selfie Odalisque of mind-blowing achievement, wit and finesse… would we really want to decline it?
What about a targeted exhibit on-line and see what we get? This eliminates imposing logistical restrictions early in creative development of the art, outside of a slide quality spec. From this seedbed, we could grow in many directions…. Curators could make proposals, as Tapestry Topics editors propose themes now. The projects could each be developed according to the curator’s concept (ie: phone-sized miniatures, sexties, oogles, art historical models, woolies, silkies, softies….biggies and smallsies), with or without paper catalog, web presence, tour, physical venue…. Each curator could build a team to put together a project according to a vision. + I personally am interested in curating and producing a paper picture book —an extension of some of the pictorial thinking we dipped into designing CODA—a physical show (or 2…) and developing coalition funding with non-arts sources, especially grey-relevant sources. This is a fit with the oogles category. I think I can do this at no expense to ATA, employ a professional grant writer, and perhaps generate some funds to boot. (No promises, just sharing ….) + Outcome: ATA enjoys multiple diversified simultaneous nationwide activities for a 4-5 year period. Alliance outreach to artists, organizations. communities. Ton of fun.
Ruth Manning: Wow—nice shot of energy on the talk list…. I think this is a great germ of an idea and can have many types of versions and variations. I will tell you the recent workshop I taught where 16 weavers wove tiny faces (not necessarily themselves—but it was amusing to see how often they DID reflect their personality…) was FULL of enthusiasm and a few had never woven a tapestry before. + I second Kathe’s point made about keeping the unjuried show very open and experimental and inclusive…. A few selfies may start sneaking in even this year, who knows, but I do think the idea has legs. And you can do a lot of weird angles with a tiny t.
Cast of characters