Currently on view for the first time at the Knoxville Museum of Art is Anne Wilson’s Local Industry Cloth, a collaboratively woven textile created during the Museum’s 2010 exhibition entitled Anne Wilson: Wind/Rewind/Weave. The cloth, created entirely from donated fibers (often by mills facing closure), was produced over the course of three months, with the help of 2,100 volunteers and 79 experienced weavers. Recognizing that the Knoxville Museum of Art is located in an historic center of both American industrial textile production, and perhaps the richest history of hand weaving in the country, the resulting exhibition of textile-related work derives from a two-year relationship between the artist and the museum. The 2010 exhibition’s central themes connect skill-based labor, weaving, and performance, and point simultaneously to the global universality of weaving, the outsourcing crisis of American textile production, and the country’s loss of skill-based textile weaving. By exhibiting and facilitating her process and its visual articulation as objects, Wilson provokes a consideration of labor that has both intimate and collective implications. Wilson’s deliberate strategies which extend transparency of process, a reliance on collaboration, and a need to recognize collaborators are fundamental to the work’s life and record.
As both an art object and a record, the Local Industry Cloth doubles as an amalgamation of global cultural references and as documented evidence of the project’s unique participants. For those who contributed their labor, the cloth fosters a personal connection to the tangible textile, and more broadly it highlights personal and cultural relationships to textile production.
Reflecting Wilson’s belief that weaving is inherently social, the process in Local Industry is rooted in participation, a critical component of the artist’s work dating back to the 90s. The thread was prepared on twenty hand-crank bobbin winders by an assortment of visitors to the KMA. This included school groups of all ages, amateurs, artists, and people who had no experience with textiles or art. Wound bobbins were added to the thread wall, and were selected by experienced weavers to compose a single bolt of striped cloth on a single loom inside the gallery. The resulting cloth, which reflects the improvisational patterning of the weavers, now measures 24 inches wide by 75 feet, 9 inches long.
Once completed, the artist donated both the cloth and “Archive of Production” to the Knoxville Museum of Art; recognizing all of the contributors to the Local Industry Cloth. Currently on view alongside the cloth, the “Archive of Production” is to remain with the work whenever exhibited. This gesture, which inextricably links the evidence of production with the product, rejects singular authorship, and denies any decontextualization of the work as an immaculately conceived art object—an idea influenced in part by Robert Morris, who equated process with the submerged part of the art iceberg; in 1970 Morris articulated in an essay in Artforum, “As process becomes a part of the work instead of prior to it, one is enabled to engage more directly with the world in art making because forming is moved further into presentation.” Although perhaps not immediately identified as such, Local Industry is public art.
When the concept: public is not limited by physical space but, rather, is defined by terms of access, participation, and transparency of process, it necessitates additional considerations, and even solicits analyses that entangle the art object, project, and process—an entanglement that continues to consider aesthetics, artist intention, decisions of display, and audience reception. This category has been perhaps most notably defined by Nicolas Bourriaud as “relational aesthetics” or as social practice; however, traces of these concepts can be found in discussions of “new genre public art”, happenings, interventions, and institutional critique.
The Local Industry Cloth fluidly combines the work of amateurs and experts, elements of choice, and the production of new knowledge. By creating different ways to participate, Wilson fostered different points of entry into the discussion of textile production, including off-shore working conditions and the disappearance of skill-based hand weaving.
In reconsidering what the concept public entails the role of documentation also deserves re-evaluation, particularly as extended access has led to greater exposure but not necessarily an ability to physically experience an artwork. For Local Industry and the other projects included in Anne Wilson: Wind/Rewind/Weave the artist has made her research, drawings, references, videos of the process, and perspectives from participants available on the internet and in the KMA, where research materials were provided in a reading room.
For Atlanta-based artist Gyun Hur, issues of labor, collaboration, and process as performance are also tied into the reconstruction of fabric. Instead of relying on a participant’s choice of pattern, however, Hur’s installations are deliberate recollections of her mother’s wedding blanket in Korea, the colors of which reflect specific sentiments relating to posterity. Re-purposing silk flowers used for cemeteries, and shredding them until they reach an almost powder form, Hur’s work is driven by memory and the vulnerable expressions of loss. Instead of harkening to a political stance of labor, Hur’s need for labor is personal, and the act of giving more access to the process is one of risk.
The first phase of her striped installations is the methodical shredding of the silk flowers until they reach an almost powder form. In the past, Hur relied on the help of her parents—shredding the flowers to dust: an aspect of the intimate connection between the material and the artist. For Spring Hiatus, Hur’s largest installation to date, she had to enlist the help of volunteers to complete the construction of the medium. The transformation of these flowers is a painstaking process, and a skill that’s only acquired with time; participants collectively worked 40 hours a week for over three months. The volunteers transformed the nature of the task from a personal activity to a collective one—building newly skilled people, capable of working in a new medium.
In 2008 Anne Wilson came to SCAD-Atlanta as a visiting artist (while Hur was in the second year of her MFA program), which profoundly impacted Hur’s conceptual framework. Recalling witnessing the documentation of Wind Up, a work included in Wind/Rewind/Weave, Hur responded, “I remember being so struck by it; it answered a lot of my questions regarding the process, performance, and final aesthetic execution of an idea.” Elaborating, Hur explained that Wilson illuminated how process can be shared publicly, and how process and labor can be as beautiful as the final visual effect of a work of art.
It’s easy to understand why Spring Hiatus is called public art: As an intervention in a public space, it has been lauded for its efficacy in drawing together an unusual art audience. I think there are components of her work that reflect a nuanced understanding of public, and it’s not just because it happened in a mall.
Like Wilson’s Local Industry and Wind Up, the creation and growth of the installation took place over a period of time in front of on-lookers. Taking about an hour per line, the installation measured 16 by 30 feet upon completion. Viewers reveled in the opportunity to witness the process and appreciated the time and care it took to produce just a single strip of color. By providing people with access to the production, and not merely the product, Hur’s project gave viewers a greater appreciation for the labor involved in creating the specific art work, and perhaps also art in general.
For Spring Hiatus, participants were central to the process and the final outcome of the work. Though not explicitly choreographed, the small yet meticulous acts of measuring, pouring the silk powder, and tweezing out renegade flecks were carefully enacted. Instead of being mere spectators, volunteers acted as docents, creating space for curiosity, tension, and dialogue—critical components of the public sphere. In both Spring Hiatus and I Dreamed Your Utopia, Hur’s most recent installation of the striped pattern, brought together strangers, acquaintances, friends, and family to help construct works of art.
When considering ephemeral works, process often takes primacy over the final product. The transparency of process works to debunk the myths created with Modernism: first, that a work of art can exist as an autonomous entity whose meanings and implications are self-contained; and second, the artist as genius (or magician), whereby the artist is lauded as the sole font of creativity and originality. Highlighting the process recognizes the value and time of artists’ works in tandem with their assistants and collaborators. It also serves to address the larger construction of space, by implicitly or explicitly acknowledging the environment that a work is being created within. Wilson and Hur utilize labor in ways that converge and diverge as they construct artwork; both brim with personal and political meanings. Allowing different points of entry to engage with their work challenges the notion of public art.
For further reading see Julia Bryan-Wilson’s book Art Workers: Radical Practice in the Vietnam Era , which connects art history and theories of labor to illuminate how artworks and protest actions were central to this pivotal era in both American art and politics. Julia Bryan-Wilson also has an essay in the catalog that accompanies Anne Wilson: Wind/Rewind/Weave.
In her monthly column, The Fringe, Kristin Juárez writes on the intersections of art and the public sphere. She emphasizes art as a vehicle for visualizing social, environmental, and political issues pertinent to our lives both in Atlanta and abroad. This column traces her exploration of interdisciplinary practices that continue to reflect, foster, or challenge contemporary notions of collective identity.
Check BURNAWAY to read The Fringe on the second Wednesday of every month.