Three-piece RetrospectiveI began weaving as a personal practice in 2000, upon inheriting a large loom from my Grandmother and Great Aunt Mucie. As part of my studies at San Francisco State University I continued to explore and enjoy the process of making cloth, not as any artistic statement, almost as a counterpoint to the over-aesthetic training I was engaged in for the degree I eventually received, in 2004, in Industrial Design. The comprehensible, functional, and sensuous act of weaving became my refuge from the arbitrary, cold and superficial world of design on computers, and the fabric was so gratifying to have and use… it informed my design efforts and the ways I thought about their production and use; by the time I earned my Bachelor’s I was no longer interested in design for industry. I had gained considerable technical skill in weaving and sought a venue where I could use this to critique contemporary production methods, comparing artisanal to factory methodologies. Distribution of goods interested me as well, and I thought if I was able to harness the power that comes with owning (and being) your own means of production, I might engage with the current system and change it, or at least comment on it. So, I decided to continue my studies and get a Master’s of Fine Arts in Textiles from the California College of Arts and Crafts.
This was quite a stroke of luck. Before attending Grad School I had no idea the range of activities that were available to the Professional Artist. Of course I knew it wasn’t just painting, but in one of my first classes, ‘Social Practicum’, I was introduced to performance and conceptual art, which gave me a new set of strategies to employ in what I began to think of as ‘action-research’. Ben Kinmont, the artist who taught the class, had long been performing his Dish Washings at collector’s homes, leaving only a signed sponge and a memory. That this type of thing: washing dishes, mopping floors, locking oneself in a gallery with a coyote… the existence of this type of work gave me license, I felt, to present and celebrate the weaving process without emphasizing the resulting cloth. As my project for the class I made ‘Social Fabric’, a piece in which I brought my loom to four San Francisco locations (I built a cart for this) and simply wove in public. Passers-by interacted on many levels, many with sideways glances, knowing looks, or a thumbs ups, but also with conversation and real interest. I was weaving simple, white cotton cloth, but as a way of incorporating the interactions into textile I offered for those with a technical interest to choose another color, with which I demonstrated a twill weave, leaving a colorful stripe. After days of weaving on the streets and in parks I took this cloth, and my ‘field notes’, and I began thinking about ways to present the completed object that would successfully communicate the ‘performance’ to those who hadn’t participated. In the end I folded the cloth up like a book, embroidered numbers along it to correspond to the timeline of my notes and typed them up as footnotes to the text, the textile. With an accompanying polaroid showing me at the loom on the street, this package was eventually brought to the attention of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, who have obtained it for their collection.
Sharing the weaving process in this way started me on a path that can be expressed most simply thus: offering weaving—>offering wovens—>offering offering. By ‘performing’ my utopian production in public, as art, I was able to engage with a population that would have never been available to me for these types of conversations, and to make it significant, culturally. Next I decided to try out my utopian distribution with the piece ‘Blanket Offer’ I gathered wools and produced six large blankets, dividing up the colors of yarn to create three ‘pairs’ of similarly patterned blankets. Along with a sign that indicated my intentions (‘If you need a blanket to keep warm you can have one of these, I wove them out of wool that was given to me’) I set up the piles in two contexts: first in a market stall at United Nations Plaza, a public location used by most strata of S.F. Society, and later that day at a small gallery in the Mission, mostly attended by the hip art crowd. In the Gallery I also included a life-size print of the U.N. Plaza pile. All six blankets were taken, presumably by people who were cold and had nothing better, and, from a personal standpoint, this felt good. More academically, by making functional objects that operate socially in this manner I was truly empowered to promote my political vision of distribution based on need. By conducting this in public and institutional venues it affected not just the six who ended up with blankets, but each person who viewed and understood the offer. The situation promoted an awareness of personal positionality in a very visceral form, and hopefully it encouraged a self-control that seems too absent from consumer culture. To expand on that experience and offer some satisfaction to those who didn’t need blankets, I developed what would become ‘the weaving place’ where I offered the act of weaving and giving away blankets to participants. For pragmatic reasons I also began to offer my own ‘actions of giving blankets’ to art collectors, who, for a fee, would receive some documentation and a small token blanket containing patterning from the set of blankets I would give out.
For the weaving place I bought my design skills back into play, researching weaving techniques around the world and using this to prototype and refine the most intuitive, non-frustrating weaving tool, which I produced using a laser cutter. By mounting six of these ‘laser looms’ in a section of the Vancouver Art Gallery and teaching a group of docents in their use (and my philosophy) we created a factory powered by mutual interest and caring. Over three months that the place was open thousands of visitors learned to use the loom, or watched someone else weave, or sewed one another’s weavings into blankets, or taught someone to weave. Some wall-text displayed the intent of the project and gave background to my practice, but in the end the decision of what to do with the blankets was left to the weavers and the docents, since forcing my vision onto those who had done the actual labor seemed unfair. They deliberated for quite some time (15 blankets had been produced in all, quite beautiful) and gave half to a local Women’s Shelter and the other half directly to some of Vancouver’s Homeless, who convene on a large stairway that leads to the former entrance of the Museum building. So they felt good about it too.
Now the weaving place is more dispersed. I still make and sell my little laser looms, mailing them all over the world to people who want to weave for others or just for themselves, and by bringing these looms to events I have managed to create many more of these communal blankets, produced entirely out of free will by people who were engaged in making for its own sake. And this is the combination I have developed, and that I will continue to believe in and promote: a society of objects produced in joy, guided by interest, and shared freely, based upon need. This Fall, here in Berlin, I am founding a weaving school based upon these precepts, and building some full-size looms for people to use there. I’d love for you to come.