I attended the opening for American Tapestry Biennial 11 in San Jose last weekend. Here are a few thoughts and photos from a weekend full of old friends, new friends, and tapestry. The video gives you an overview of the show. I apologize for the rough footage--I did this with some very average cameras in a low-light situation. Also please understand that I couldn't include individual shots and details of each piece. I highly recommend buying the excellent catalogs for all three shows. Links to do that are at the bottom of the post.
Lia Cook's show Cerebral Touch: 1980-now is on display in one of the three main galleries. ATB11 fills the other two. Lia gave a talk about her work and it was wonderful to be able to see pieces from her whole career illustrating her points.
It was fascinating to have a weaving show of this caliber hanging next to ATB11. Lia's work started with work on a regular floor loom. Her latest work is done on a TC1 jacquard loom and deals with neuroscience. She is interested in how the brain processes memory, decision-making, and emotion and how people react to a woven image versus a photograph.
The American Tapestry Alliance organized a panel discussion with seven of the participants in the biennial. Panelists were Linda Wallace, Barbara Heller, Marie-Thumette Brichard, Anet Brusgaard, Kathe Todd-Hooker, Sue Weil, and Deborah Corsini. The panel was moderated by Christine Laffer. And a more inspiring group of tapestry weavers would be hard to find.
Discussion ranged from why tapestry was their preferred medium and what the strengths and weaknesses of tapestry as an art medium are, to contemplating the sublime in tapestry. I was silently egging Barbara Heller on in her desire to talk about the place of tapestry in the art world and the tendency of tapestry to be shown mostly in medium-specific shows, but alas, this was apparently not the forum for that potentially divisive discussion. (But that didn't keep me from a little under-my-breath mantra, "Go Barbara, go Barbara, go Barbara...")
I spent as much time as I could studying the tapestries. Looking at art is one of the best ways to learn and seeing a tapestry-only show does have an advantage as far as learning about technique. If you know what you're looking at, you can learn a lot by studying another artist's way of weaving.
But some secrets are best revealed by the artists themselves. The piece below by Ellen Ramsey, for example, contains a little surprise. She used a retro-reflective fused glass ribbon for some of the forms and it fluoresces in certain light. You can get a feeling for that with the two photographs below, one with flash, the other without (yes, Ellen was standing there when I took a flash photograph of her piece and she didn't tackle me).
Here are a few photographs of some of my favorite pieces. Your favorites will undoubtedly be different than mine. I felt these particular pieces were engaging, challenged the viewer, displayed exquisite craftsmanship, and made me come back over and over. Of course the same could be said about many other pieces in the show, these were just the ones that grabbed me the hardest this particular week.
Linda Wallace participated in the artist gallery talk. She talked about this piece being the first she wove after her brain injury several years ago. She started at the bottom just weaving squares and struggling to remember how weaving even worked (and if you don't know Linda's work, she is an incredibly accomplished artist who is capable of incredible feats of tapestry magic). As she gained confidence, she realized she didn't need to weave squares anymore, and the upper forms in all their complicated beauty came back. This particular piece struck me not so much because of the imagery but because of the story. It is good to have you back Linda.
The show was large and so varied, as all shows of this type tend to be. This video gives you an idea of the layout of the space and then gives you a photograph of each piece. If you get my blog via email, you won't see this video in the email. Just go to this link to view on YouTube: https://youtu.be/hoEhVqYO_BE
Fate, Destiny, and Self-Determination
Line Dufour is the driving force behind this community tapestry project. She gave a talk about the project on Saturday. I have seen this show before, but I had not heard her explanation about the title. It had its roots in her own biography and struggles growing up. She says, "Inherent in the idea of fate is that one has no influence over events and outcomes. Mythology and psychology distinguish between fate and destiny." Destiny gives us an ability to influence our fate.
This particular project has traveled widely including a recent trip to the 9th From Lausanne to Beijing Biennial in China. Line is still accepting shapes for this project and I highly recommend participating. You don't have to be a tapestry weaver. You can make your shape in any fiber technique. Visit the Facebook page for the project to request information about participating.
Tapestry Weavers West also had a show at the museum. Elemental Tapestry: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water was a great addition to the biennial.