Last week I walked into a small 19th century building in the old part of a desert city to find, in its cool rooms, the work of the artist Lee Kit. His installation at the Sharjah Biennial 12 is an imprecise and warm minimalism. It is layers and drape: paint on cardboard in washes, light projected onto paintings, a dusty word on a wall, the drape of fabric, a line of string dipped in black marking the doorway so we must duck down a little to enter. I thought about the textility of veiling. There is shading over, partial cover, revelations, bright light illuminating corners, making shadows.
The sound of textile-making draws the maker in. When it is handwork — the click of knitting needles, the pull on a skein of yarn, the swoosh of the shuttle across — the sounds of textiles extend the body of the maker out into space, making a wider territory. When the machines of textiles are sounded, this is another soundscape altogether, invoking, to some, profit and progress. To others, this textile machine soundscape is distress, underpayment, monotony, even danger.
In this commentary I want to urge us to conceptualize the senses as interbraided. And if we do, then maybe one of the reasons we write is in order to sound but the sound I am referring to does not have to do with language’s sign, an utterance, or our poetic voice.
Last June I sat looking at this “sampler” by Elizabeth Parker in the textile archives of the Victoria and Albert Museum. I put “sampler” in quotes because I do not think this piece really is one and neither do the curators and archivists. What is this object? What might it say toward a textile poetics? Similarly, the stitched works of Arthur Bispo do Rosário are called “outsider art” yet they were exhibited at the 2013 Venice Biennale.
I do not want to comment on the high art/craft divide or museum and art world ethics/politics—though textiles are often in the middle of those debates. And I have written about Parker’s sampler before.
As a writer who stitches, I am particularly interested in the models for social thought and art provided by a certain textile practice: embroidery. I think it can help us think through 1) the extra-citizen or supra-citizen and, 2) art itself.
First: the extra-citizen—one who contributes to the making of a place but who may not officially belong (for example, the guest worker in the UAE) or even if citizen, whose very being is frequently under question, attack, or who must exist in negotiation with violent official forces (for example, the young black man in USAmerica in relation with the police).
The post-menopausal women of Kodi, Indonesia, are the only ones allowed to perform the indigo dyeing rituals that yield the most prized cloth. They are the “women who apply blueness” in Janet Hoskins’ “Why do Ladies Sing the Blues? Indigo Dyeing, Cloth Production, and Gender Symbolism in Kodi” in Cloth and Human Experience.
What is the poetry of this blueness? What is a life-stage poetics?