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Threads of Expression: Textile Art Unraveled

Aug 30 - Nov 4, 2023

Installation view of Threads of Expression: Textile Art Unraveled at Shin Gallery, New York, 2023

Shin Gallery is thrilled to present "Threads of Expression: Textile Art Unraveled," a celebration of textile art in all its inherent and transformable interpretations. Throughout history, the purpose of textiles has evolved from being purely utilitarian to becoming a vessel for expression, reflection, and even dissent. Embedded within the very fibers of these works is cultural heritage, community, and female liberation.

With its earliest evidence dating back to the 7th millennium BCE in Eurasia, textiles are one of the oldest art forms. Over time, humans refined their textile practices, including the invention of silk and the development of the Silk Road, catalyzing unprecedented cultural diffusion and economic growth. Technological advancements stemming from the Industrial Revolution transformed the production of textiles and our relationship with textile art and associated processes. The reduced cost of production allowed artists the opportunity to experiment with textiles without being constrained by utilitarian purposes.

Historically, the production of textiles and textile art was considered "feminine work" and was often regarded as mere craft or hobby, overshadowed by male painters who dominated the art world. Instead of conforming to these expectations, many women creators used textile art as a platform for intentional political discourse concerning their rights and visibility.

The invention of the loom in Ancient Egypt led to weaving becoming one of the most commonly produced textiles due to its customizable nature and diverse applications. In the politically charged climate of post-colonial societies, textile art emerged as a potent and revolutionary means of cultural rekindling. Polish artist Barbara Levittoux-Świderska's intricate work, "Gold Rain," embodies this concept, resonating with the post-war era by reviving traditional weaving techniques. Angélica Serech, a Kaqchikel Mayan textile artist, contributes to the weaving resurgence by incorporating elements of her people's daily lives and surroundings in her textiles, using objects such as corn husks, thread and eucalyptus branch, all based on ancestral weaving.

Tradition is not static, and expressive works can be produced by combining ancient techniques with modern art ethos. Artists like Anne Ryan, who uses cloth and string for collage material, and Rosemarie Trockel, who employs conceptual practices to create machine-knitted paintings, create abstract weavings with a distinctively painterly approach, establishing their oeuvre as serious fine art rather than craft. Leonora Carrington, undeterred by the stifling machismo of the Surrealist movement, also rebelled against conventional routes by creating fantastical worlds detached from her own reality.

Embroidery emerges as a labor of devotion, with each stitch handled delicately, much like the indigo-dyed Japanese Boro Quilt, which stands as a homage to the enduring spirit of the original fabric, unmarred by the imprints of age, numerous repairs, and use. Tracey Emin's artwork "Sleep" channels the same textile medium to articulate emotions. Through a deliberately worn cotton pillowcase adorned with the phrase "TRACEY BE BRAVE," she transforms fabric into a conduit for poignant expression. Emin adeptly captures this essence by elevating the mundane into art. In both instances, the everyday finds new significance, with Emin reimagining the use of everyday items and the Boro Quilts' humbling journey.

Artist Magda Bolumar echoes this sentiment with a constellation of works on burlap that establishes connections between organic and constructive elements. In a similar vein, artist and activist Faith Ringgold employs embroidery in her narrative quilts to address the complex history of race, gender, and civil rights in the United States. Woty Werner's intimate creations seamlessly resonate with the corresponding time periods and the artists she chooses to surround herself with. Additionally, Jessica Rankin presents her acrylic on linen piece, "Thus, the Light of the Sun," in which she initially makes abstract, fluid marks resembling the sun and the planet's atmosphere in acrylic before adding fringes sewn onto the work with embroidery thread in the end. Hence, embroidery becomes a channel for emotion.

Textile art boasts unparalleled versatility, seamlessly harmonizing with a diverse range of artistic mediums. German artist Rebecca Horn masterfully integrates textiles into her performance art, exemplified by her captivating "finger gloves." Multidisciplinary artist Toni Ross also embraces this adaptability, transitioning from traditional textile creations to integrating fibers within her sculptural pieces. This convergence of mediums showcases the boundless possibilities that textiles offer in the hands of visionary artists.

In this new group exhibition, painting is an integral component. Many artists within this exhibition skillfully amalgamate painterly mark-making with textile techniques, forging a visual language that resonates between the realms of art and technology. Artist April Street presents intricate acrylic and nylon paintings brimming with enigmatic imagery. Another artist working in both painting and textiles is Sion (Hyon Gyon). Sion's vibrant abstract works oscillate between sculpture and painting. Sion melted the fabrics of hanboks, traditional Korean clothing, to create organic forms reminiscent of eyes and limbs, built up with textured layers of paint and fabric. This combination of materials creates a memorable explosion from the surface of Sion's dynamic paintings while exuding a primal and passionate characteristic of the artist's hand.

"Threads of Expression: Textile Art Unraveled" features a diverse collection of textile-based works with a broad spectrum of influences. It explores the creation of optical languages situated at the boundaries between textiles and image-making, fine art and technology, and the outdoors and the man-made. This exhibition is an all-encompassing survey of textile art that demonstrates its intrinsic value and celebrates the artists who reject assumed limitations in form, expanding the practice of textile art to encompass painting, sculpture, and collage.