Saturday, April 24, 2010

Fiberart International 2010

It’s been a week since the opening festivities for Fiberart International 2010 in Pittsburgh but I’m not sure I have yet digested the experience. As with many “survey shows,” where the jurors want to display a wide range of what’s going on in the field, the work was all over the map.

In such a show you expect quilts, tapestries, embroideries and basketweaving with excellent workmanship. You also expect some works that flaunt what I might call “non-traditional workmanship” – deliberate use of techniques that the quilt police or tapestry police or other cops would find horrifying. You expect works using fiber techniques to manipulate non-fiber materials. You expect reuse of old household textiles.  You expect found objects (aka junk) to make an appearance. And you expect some deliberately jarring juxtapositions of elements. You can imagine a large matrix of possibilities and the jurors trying earnestly to fill in all the spaces.

Which they pretty much did. One juror commented in the catalog on the very limited presence of knitting (one dress with dozens of triangular “pockets” sticking out) and crochet (nothing), and on the small number of large 3-D works; another commented that digital technology was far less prevalent this year.

Some spaces on the grid had a disproportionate number of checkmarks. There were many, many works with representative images of people – by my count, 18 out of 85! There were many, many embroideries with the knots and thread ends on the front of the work. There were many pieces with themes of destruction, pollution, and other nasty processes. Several pieces were straight-pinned to the wall.

There were a lot of pieces that explored non-traditional precincts of fiber art: A stretched embroidery with an inset video screen playing an animation of the embroidered image. A weaving with holes burned in it. Beading and felting around found objects, sticks, gourds. A man’s suit entirely covered in lottery tickets.  Pieces of X-ray film sewed together into human figures.

Then there were the shock-element pieces, those where the artist apparently said “what can I put together that nobody would expect?” Some were totally successful, as with Claire Taylor’s crushed plastic coffee-container lid, encrusted with a bazillion mold-like green french knots as nature wins out in the end. Others didn’t get far beyond the gee-whiz level; they reminded me of student work, endearing in its enthusiasm as the kid discovers that hey! you can actually sew a potato chip bag to a piece of fabric! but lacking in substance.

To my eye, there were too many pieces in this category. Coiled baskets held together with plastic cable ties instead of cord; hand-stitching through photographs; beautiful tiny bits of embroidered felt packed in little plastic bags for display; an “interactive” piece where viewers got to stick up little vinyl figures onto velcro dots on a vinyl background. They were different, yes, but the ratio of gimmick to art seemed a bit too high.

After I visit a museum or show I often ask myself, if I could take one piece home with me, free, which one would I choose? On reflection I could find several pieces in this show that I liked, a couple that I liked a lot, some that I’d be happy to take home with me, but nothing wildly excitingly wonderful that made me say YES!! THIS IS THE ONE!!

I will write more next week about the show and some specific pieces in it.

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