Curated by Alicia Scardetta
There is a feeling in the air that textiles as an art form are having a moment. Looking at 2019 alone, we have seen an array of fiber works everywhere from museum exhibitions to fashion magazine spreads. The summer of 2019 marked a long-overdue U.S. exhibition for the late Indian sculptor Mrinalini Mukherjee, with her first stateside solo exhibition, Phenomenal Nature, at the Met Breuer. Mukherjee’s work is largely composed of both wall pieces and free-standing sculptures created from knotting hand-dyed hemp. In April, Phaidon published Vitamin T: Threads and Textiles in Contemporary Art, a highly anticipated addition to the popular Vitamin series, securing textiles a place in the Phaidon pantheon of fine art mediums. This spring we saw Sheila Hicks’ work on the Paris runway as adornments in Stella McCartney’s fall 2019 presentation. On billboards, Hicks’ wrapped canvases were featured in a Dior ad campaign, with Academy Award-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence posing among them.
With textile-based artwork receiving wider recognition both artistically and commercially, it is a timely opportunity for tapestry, with all the possibilities of its discontinuous wefts, to gain wider appeal and to be utilized by emerging contemporary artists.
Seizing the Moment brings together three emerging millennial artists who work with tapestry as their chosen medium during this exciting time for textiles. The exhibition includes Luiza Caldari of Brazil, Kayla Mattes from the U.S., and Spanish artist Mariana Piñar Castellano. Each artist skillfully works with tapestry and is unafraid of color and of manipulating scale. While their works share the same medium and a youthful exuberance, each artist achieves a wildly different outcome with her respective woven works, proving that there continues to be opportunity for innovation and exploration within the medium.
These artists developed an interest in textiles early in life. Mattes’ grandmother, a southern California art teacher, introduced her to many fiber processes. She remembers a Montana summer family vacation during which her grandmother taught her to basket weave, saying, “We were simultaneously weaving and floating in a lake with our in-progress baskets to keep the material wet.” Piñar also recalls childhood memories as her first introduction to tapestry. “My mom had always been passionate with everything related to textiles. She used to sew most of my clothes, taught me how to embroider, and had a vertical weaving loom at home where she worked on her tapestries, full of color and texture.”
After these early introductions to fibers, each artist studied textiles in one form or another within a higher education setting. Caldari studied fashion design in São Paulo, Brazil, Mattes studied textile design at the Rhode Island School of Design, and later went on to receive an MFA at the University of California Santa Barbara. Piñar holds an MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art, where she studied in the fibers department. Each uses tapestry as a mode to communicate her individual concepts, including tapestry as text, tapestry as digital pixels, and tapestry as a vehicle for material study.
Let’s return now to our textile moment. In art, design, and popular culture, we tend to cycle through these momentsof popularity organically. However, the particular awareness occurring for textiles as an art form now feels tied to our current digital landscape. In the internet age, we can answer any question by typing in a search bar or simply by saying “Hey, Siri.” There are more opportunities for discovery than ever before. Concurrently, we spend our days in front of screens to work, to study, to socialize, to shop, to read, for entertainment, and even to track our fitness. As society becomes increasingly virtual and tech companies continue to capitalize upon our attention, there is a collective desire for the tactile.
Each artist in this online exhibition came of age with the internet and yet they all chose to work with an ancient medium that demands time, skill, and focus. With this unique, personal understanding of textiles within the information era, I asked each artist to elaborate upon what she thinks is next for tapestry. How do they see the medium continuing to evolve and maintain relevance in an ever-changing, increasingly digital world?
Piñar, who has worked with digital jacquard looms, sees the availability and technological advances of digital looms, increasing woven work’s visibility. More artists from different disciplines can now access digital looms to create textile art. “I don’t believe that it’s necessarily a good thing, but not a bad one either,” she says of this occurrence. “I have a body of work where I combined digital jacquard and hand embroidery, and although it was a challenging and interesting experience, I didn’t enjoy making it as much as I did previous artworks, where I dyed, wove, and embroidered every piece by hand.” Although Piñar used machinery to construct a portion of her work, her dedication to craftsmanship and hand processes led her to ultimately create a piece that still involved her hand by implementing embroidery.
Use of digital jacquard weaving to create fine art tapestries is part of the established Western tradition of artists outsourcing weaving to tapestry workshops. Although artists do not engage in the physical labor of weaving, they conceptualize the work and are fully credited. “Weaving has so often been either disregarded or appropriated by contemporary artists,” says Mattes on this topic. “I really detest the commercial tradition of blue-chip artists such as Chuck Close translating paintings into ‘tapestries.’ How many artists written into the canon can you name who are weavers? Few.” Mattes is hopeful that this concern will change as tapestry continues to evolve. “Weaving is entering the contemporary art world with fierceness, which is exciting. When I say weaving, I mean artists who are skilled weavers, making incredibly poignant work with the medium that has the same power and formal intrigue of more accepted mediums such as painting.” Mattes also addresses how weaving will accrue further importance as we continue to evolve into an increasingly digital landscape. “If you think about it, we’re partially addicted to our phones because of our haptic relationship to them. We touch and hold them and keep them close, but at the same time we’re losing our daily association with material and hand. Because of this, I think material traditions are becoming more important than ever.”
Tapestry is a process that requires the hand, but also requires time. As our world becomes more obsessed with maximizing productivity, we will find ourselves wanting to slow down. Caldari first started creating tapestries in reaction to her fast-paced every day. “It was a moment in my life where I realized that it was necessary to use my energy toward something new as an escape from a busy world.” Caldari was drawn to tapestry because of its rich history. “It holds the power to create memories, calm down the eyes, reconnect with ourselves, and engage in an activity that feels good.”
I too am a millennial artist who incorporates tapestry techniques into my artwork. As part of my practice, I teach a three-hour tapestry workshop at the Textile Arts Center in New York City. The class is designed for adults to attend after work to learn the very basics of frame loom weaving. I’ve taught this workshop for about five years and classes are consistently full. I have had a fair share of students who are artists interested in incorporating tapestry into their artwork. Additional students who are not artists enroll because they are curious and want to use their hands. Both groups of students have witnessed the textile moment, whether they were moved by a museum exhibition, influenced by a fashion magazine, or “liked” (while scrolling on a phone) a square image featuring a macramé wall hanging, it all happened in the moment. This moment holds the power to educate people as to the tapestry process and artists who weave them, directly resulting in an appreciation for textiles as an art form, and creating an entirely new generation of tapestry weavers.
Alicia Scardetta is a Brooklyn, New York-based, Texas-born artist. She received her BFA from Pratt Institute in 2012. Alicia was first introduced to weaving through a studio internship at the Textile Arts Center in 2011. Later, she attended workshops at Haystack School of Crafts and Penland School of Crafts, where she further honed her technical skills working with fibers.
Alicia’s work explores the structural variables of tapestry weaving. Vibrant colors, wrapped elements, and unexpected compositions found in her work are largely drawn from objects associated with girlhood, including friendship bracelets, jump ropes, and hair braids. By weaving these elements associated with personal memories and identity into her work, Alicia achieves a unique, playful quality with every piece. View her work by visiting www.aliciascardetta.com.