For this exhibition Tapestry has been defined as “hand-woven weft-faced fabric with discontinuous wefts.”3 Within the theory-driven focus of much of contemporary art this simple technique-based definition may seem superficial. Contemporary textile art has moved into a stage where process, technique and material are often hybridized. Cloth and fibres are accessed by a wide range of artists for what they represent conceptually, not necessarily for what can be represented through the artist’s vision or by an authentic application of process and materials. The contemporary conceptual reference often exhibits little empathy for the actual process of making, particularly processes of making that have evolved from techniques and materials integral to traditional textile disciplines.4
Tapestry’s pragmatic identity would seem to be somewhat of an anomaly in the field of contemporary textiles where innovation, crossover and interdisciplinary approaches are so obviously valued and seem to gain much more critical attention. Lauren Whitley’s review in FiberArts Magazine of the 10th International Triennial of Tapestry in Lodz Poland would seem to reflect the predominating critical view. She writes:
Despite the inclusion of many works of artistic and technical accomplishment, the overall tenor of the show is neutral, with no particularly groundbreaking or innovative works distinguishing themselves from the rest….
In the end, the 10th International Triennial of Tapestry in Lodz seems to show us more of the past, rather than the future of fiber art.5
Kate Callen’s review of ATB 4 in American Craft (Feb/March 2003) was a pleasant exception. Callen seemed willing to discuss Tapestry with reference to a specific identify and recognized technical and conceptual innovation within that context.6
Here I must pose my first questions. Are we as tapestry weavers defining ourselves in a restrictive and stifling environment? Or are we side-stepping the dilemmas of identity that might arise out of these more pluralistic approaches?
As a tapestry maker, I found the simplicity of this definition quite reassuring in that it seems to establish the physical presence of tapestry’s material identity as a strong and viable link between the works in the exhibition and suggests that the physical construct of weft-faced tapestry is not just a means to an end but that the skillful and thoughtful manipulation of the tapestry structure should be an undeniable component in the success and content of the work. Acknowledging and prioritizing the physical language and tradition of tapestry would seem to suggest that the choice of tapestry as an art making process is in itself a means to evoke meaning and content.
3 American Tapestry Biennial 4 call for entry information.
4 See the following articles for further information: Twylene Moyer, “The Importance of Being Fiber,” Surface Design Journal, Summer 2002; and Diana Wood Conroy, “Curating Textiles: Traditioin as Transgression,” International Tapestry Journal, Winter 1995.
5 Lauren Whitley, “Review: 10th International Biennial of Tapestry,” FiberArts, Nov/Dec 2001, p.60.
6 Kate Callen, “Tapestry Biennial 4,” American Craft, Feb/Mar 2003, p.76-79.