Fiber art as an echo in the fabric of time
“Echoing Time,” which recently opened at the Liangzhu Center of Arts in Hangzhou, aims to push the boundary of fiber art and young artists.
It is also a showcase for the fiber art department at China Academy of Art.
Likely the only art college to have such a department, its origins go back to 1986, when Bulgarian artist Maryn Varbanov was invited to teach. And the Varbanov Tapestry Art Institution was established in the same year. In 2013, the first Fiber Art Triennial was launched in Hangzhou with spin-off shows and seminars held throughout the year.
Fiber art uses natural or synthetic fiber and other components, such as fabric or yarn. It is as much about the work of the artist as the materials.
Shi Hui, once a student of Varbanov at the academy and the initiator of the triennial, took the lead in developing Hangzhou into a fiber art center. Many of the artists showing at the Liangzhu center are actually Shi’s students.
“The fiber art we refer to today, however, is not just limited to weaving, though it is still a very important part of it,” said Huang Yan, an artist and also curator of the show. “But we use ‘fiber’ as a medium to look into the social problems we have today.”
When “fiber” is used metaphorically in art, the result may cover a myriad themes relevant to our daily life.
In “Entropy,” gradient colored tapes are woven into a square grid made of 28 warps and 28 wefts. Looking like a regular knitting piece, when someone comes closer, the electric motors attached to each tape will be triggered, and the “image” on the grid begins to move and change gradually until it finally stops at a random state.
“These motors are controlled by a program. As a new media artist, I have absolutely no interest in anything predictable. For me this is a work that discusses the relations between textile and logics,” said the work’s creator, Guo Yaoxian.
If Guo’s work is more or less conceptual, some artists are more interested in creating emotional connections with the audience.
The last room of the show offers a unique immersive experience in darkness. Two video works are installed by the two sides facing each other. A cylinder water tank has been spotlighted in the center, with a piece of pink gauze floating and dancing inside.
The chimes are coming from the right side, while the audience see a multi-screen display of the same shot showing hands doing needle work repetitively. On the left side, two women actors are trying to release themselves from a stitched felt blanket, revealing vividly how fabrics shape and restrain our body, or mind possibly.
“The last room talks about our body, body as a metaphor,” Song Zhenxi, another curator, told Shanghai Daily. “Fiber art is sometimes inevitably related to women and feminism, but this part is not necessarily rendered in that respect. For me this is a prayer room for the religion of fiber art.”
Ying Xinxun, a woman artist from the China Academy of Art, wallpapers the room with green velvet. The mirror, attached with tiny pieces of hair on the surface, rubber gloves, in normal or large sizes, a Mickey hat wrapped as a gift, and a velvet-covered swan mold sitting on top of an upside-down shopping bucket … all these seem to remind people of what a woman is defined socially.
“My work comes from my daily experience, as an artist and as a woman. The swan is actually inspired by a novel entitled ‘The Velvet.’ The protagonist’s mother went mad because she lost 5 jin (2.5 kilograms) of swan meat, which in the Chinese context represents something desirable but unattainable at the moment,” said Ying.
“I put it on a usual shopping cart and I hope to ridicule its meaning,” Ying added.
Ying is also a lecturer from CAA, taking charge of a studio in the academy named Fiber Art and Modelling for senior students. Another studio Fiber Art and Space is led by Huang Yan.
“All students enrolling in the fiber art major need to start from doing craft works, to get an idea of different materials and to understand the logistics of weaving, wefts and warps. And that’s how young artists are able to build their personal stuff and personal experiences out from these rudimentals,” Huang told Shanghai Daily.
The courses they offer may delve into such public agendas as the environmental harm of the fashion industry.
“The concept of weaving can be anything, weaving of time, weaving of videos, weaving of people and orders in a greater extent. What we do is to extend its denotation, so the art can be more inclusive, and this is also a better way to embrace and develop the legacies from the older-generation artists like Shi and Varbanov,” concluded Song.
Date: Through June 4
Venue: Liangzhu Center of Arts, intersection of Yuniao Rd and Binjiang Rd S.
Admission: 30 yuan