FIBER VISIONS by Janis Jefferies
Fiber Visions is the first edition of Hangzhou Triennial of Fiber Art, inaugurated as a cyclical exhibition in September 2013 in the capital of Zhejiang Province in Eastern China. This ambitious and thoughtful group exhibition organized on a large scale, brought together works and ideas developed around what is broadly understood to be fiber art. A wide range of works from all over the world brought together both historical and contemporary perspective on art, evading clear definitions and terminologies while combining contemporary art practices, craftsmanship, and mixed-media means of expression.
Modern and contemporary fiber art practice is presented within this challenging exhibition divided into a four-part framework inspired by the essence of traditional Chinese language. Sections entitled “Warp and Weft, Sprawling towards Four Directions”, “Coordination between Hand and Heart”, “Motivation Springs from the Opposite” and “The Net World” poetically interpret current trends in fiber art, organically exploring contemporary art production suspended between different traditions and a search for experimentation. On the one hand, the Triennial focuses on works originated from the ancient tapestries of the West, and includes a number of classical works produced for and presented within Lausanne International Biennial of Tapestry. On the other hand, a big emphasis is put on the local and national context of China with its centuries long tradition of silk production, as well as the search for possible scenarios for the development of fiber art in the future.
A multigenerational exhibition displaying 186 works by 45 artists from 16 countries presented in a non-linear way tells the story of a global development of fiber art from flat wall-hangings to spatial art installations, from small woven objects to monumental tapestries, combining old techniques such as sewing, knotting and embroidery with the use of new media. For example, video and participatory works employ interaction with the audience, revealing fiber art as a meaningful genre of contemporary art practice.
An extremely important point of reference for the Fiber Visions exhibition and overall subject of fiber art in China (which is less well-known in Europe) is the tradition of modern art tapestries in Asia strongly associated with the artistic and pedagogical practice of Maryn Varbanov who promoted Chinese art internationally and who encouraged experimentation among Chinese artists. The Bulgarian-born fiber and tapestry artist arrived in China in the 1980s and established the first modern tapestry research centre. Varbanov’s legacy is cherished and continued by his former student and collaborator, artist and professor Shui Hui, a major figure in contemporary fiber art in China. Since 2003, Shui Hui has run “Fiber and Space Art Studio”, dedicated to contemporary fiber art creation, established by the Department of Sculpture at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou.
Undoubtedly the highlights of the exhibition are historical works by women artists who, in the 1960s and 1970s, pushed the boundaries of textile art production and challenged formats of fiber art on the international art scene. Among the “classics” from the point of view of art history are works by Ritzi Jacobi (Transylvania VI), Jagoda Buic (Red Volume), and Magdalena Abakanowicz (Abakan Orange, Abakan Red).
Particularly interesting new works encountered by the author for the first time, and which extend concepts of fiber art, were videos, mixed-media installations and objects by Rakhi Peswani, Risham Syed, Alina Azadeh, Uli Fisher, Cécile Le Talec, François Daireaux, Franand Seamus McGuiness, Liang Shaoji, and Yin Xiuzhen for whom a starting point was personal or collective memory and history. A selection of artists in Fiber Visions presenting works that clearly make use of the textile medium, but whose works are not usually presented within framework of textile exhibitions include: Kiki Smith, Grayson Perry, Christo Javacheff, Lucy & Jorge Orta, Yinka Shonibare, Joseph Beuys, Ghada Amer & Reza Farkhondeh, and Maria Nepomuceno. The tapestries and woven examples of works experimenting with semiotics and the language of textiles are the newest works by Unichi Arai, Louise Lemieux Berube, Philippa Brock, Lia Cook, Wen-Ying Huang, Liz Williamson and Zhu Guangping & Zhao Hong.
The vital agenda of Fiber Visions and forthcoming editions of the Hangzhou Triennial is to build up a long-term dialogue between the Chinese and international art scene as well as to develop a curriculum within the structure of the China Academy of Art responsible for educating future generations of artists in fiber and textile art. This reminds one of the roles of such projects mentioned above like the Lausanne International Biennial of Tapestry, which has fulfilled its goal of being an important platform for the development of fiber art.
Visionary and diverse objectives of the exhibition also include the remit to examine the different traditions and pioneering heritage of fiber art around the globe; search for the relationships between hand and mind, but also showcase craftsmanship as a creative tool for thinking embodied in fiber art. Last but not least, the exhibition and accompanying symposium held during opening of the Triennial, has the aim of renewing meaningful academic discourse on fiber art.
Exhibition curators: Shi Hui, Assadour Markarov, Janis Jefferies, Zeng Shan.
21.09.-20.11.2013. Zhejiang Art Museum, China National Silk Museum.
Janis Jefferies: Professor of Visual Arts
Associate Pro Warden Culture and Creative Industries
Postgraduate Convenor PHD Arts and Computational Technology
Co-curator of the Hangzhou Triennial of Fiber Art 2013
Zhejiang Art Museum, Hangzhou, China