Article for Scandinavian Weaving Magazine, 2021.3
The relationship between hand, tool and machine is for me utterly absorbing. Dynamic and charged, it symbolizes a wide range of experience from the work of the hand and culture to working conditions and climate crisis. It can prompt me towards the necessity for taking a stand. Archaeological finds and old, inoperative machinery offer a narrative of this part of our history, tell us something about time. This all touches on the longings I have for experiences that are simultaneously sensory and spiritual.
What is a human being? Characteristic features of a human include a large brain, language and technology. The latter could be defined as “systematic production”: the origin of the word comes from the Greek technē meaning art or craft. Technology is, according to the dictionary, especially connected with the whole area of industrial production methods. We create things. With our head, our bodies and with tools.
The ability to use tools and acquire new knowledge has been crucial for the development of our species. The oldest finds of human activity as regards processing material consist of simple, pointed stone tools used to hack and scrape. When humans began to collect things and carry them around, their relationship to tools developed further. The evolution of tools has been significant for the technical development of manual skill and craft.
A tool is an implement for processing material, an aid intended for use when making or producing some- thing manually. This can refer to part of the body as a means for carrying out a specific function, but more often denotes a device held in the hand. One of the few animals that knowingly uses a tool is the sea otter: to break open a mussel shell, it balances a stone on its belly while hitting the mussel shell against the stone.
I find this quite moving. The floating otter, knocking mussel shells against the stone is one of my most frequently used GIFs when I want to say (and what in fact do I want to say?) something to my friends.
Since muscle strength and draft animals were for long the only energy sources available, utilizing simple tools to augment the fruits of human labour was an outstanding breakthrough. The lever, the wheel, the cogwheel and eventually also wind, water, steam, gas, oil and electricity have all contributed to the advancement of humankind.
With the advent of the factory system, technology and the growth of capitalism, conditions changed as regards craft practice. Industrialization has markedly affected our relationship to the objects around us. As a handweaver and weave designer for industry, I can at times experience some confusion in the essentially different ways of looking at my material. Or, at least in the way I identify with the textile objects. There is no doubt that both industrial as well as handweaving are part of craft practice. But there is something that jars there. In the status of my material, price setting for the work.
When textile technology is discussed nowadays, technology rather than tools tends to be the intended meaning. Someone who challenges these boundaries is Hella Jongerius – one of the world’s most acclaimed designers. Her background is in industrial design and she is known for her sensitive way of combining industrial production and handmade work, high- and low tech, traditional and contemporary. The Jongeriuslab studio she set up in 1993, now located in Berlin, is where she researches the significance of colour and material and creates work for large companies such as KLM, Kvadrat and IKEA.
In recent years, Jongerius has devoted herself to laboratory-like weaving projects, for which she embraced weaving theory and as a novice tackled techniques and tools from a design perspective. Manual, mechanical and industrial approaches have been integrated in equipment specially constructed with the aim of questioning contemporary relationship to textiles. By working more in the direction of cultural and museum platforms instead of being part of the gigantic machinery of the industrial world, she has space to push boundaries playfully and voice her political concerns.
In June 2019, Jongeriuslab moved into Galeries Lafayette in Paris. For three months, the exhibition Interlace, textile research took place in the luxury department store’s stairwell and surrounding rooms, giving customers direct insight into the textile manufacturing process. In a world of fast fashion where textiles have become a throwaway product, the aim of showing live-research was to highlight the problematics within today's consumption and textile production, increase appreciation and get consumers to re-value material. In a way, the entire Galeries Lafayette was transformed into the apparatus of a machine. And that is the interesting bit. Industry coming closer to craft practice.
This year, Jongerius has taken her weaving research further. At the Gropius Bau Museum in Berlin, Woven Cosmos took shape before the eyes of visitors; the designer invited open-ended discovery rather than observation of fixed outcomes.
Why weaving, perhaps, the uninitiated might ask? When an industrial designer, who uses material flexibly and has worked in the sector for thirty years, takes the temperature of the current global situation and concludes that weaving is indeed relevant for our time, well then, one becomes curious.
– Weaving offers necessary perspectives on contemporary questions to do with responsi- bility and sustainability, it is a multi-faceted field with economic, social and cultural dimensions. Before the Industrial Revolution we would work together. In recent decades we have become less aware of how textiles are produced and with that we lose the skills of craft practice. Weaving is part of our cultural heritage but is also our future: the new, high-tech 3D structures are in some of the strongest, lightest, least energy demanding materials on offer to the construction industry, said Jongerius in connection with the opening of Woven Cosmos.
Woven Cosmos is concerned with designing the relationship between the human being and an object. It is about healing craft practice and objects that inspire and connect. Jongerius thinks that our relationship to objects and to the planet has been poisoned, that fast fashion has contributed to a material poverty and we are giving our textile culture away to industry.
– We are losing our culture. Keep its richness! Retain construction skills!
People today live partly in a digital world, in a flat universe where physical tactility is absent. Everything is for the eye and ear, nothing for feel and smell, in Jongerius’ view. This is behind her wanting to study tactility sensations that come through the hand. Can the eye be more of a feeling eye than a seeing eye?
What is tactility? Can one feel ugliness or beauty? Jongerius posited in an interview about the Paris exhibition that our eyes have become so commercialized. Interlace, textile research was not an exhibition that could be touched and felt with the hands. On the other hand, one could sense the windy paths of trial and error in the creative process and reclaim some of the individual understanding kidnapped by industry and globalization.
During an interview with Jongerius in connection with the Woven Cosmos exhibition, I had the opportunity to ask her about the role of the hand. Jongerius answered swiftly, with certainty in her voice:
– That is really important. Solutions lie in the hands. We need smart hands to find solutions the brain can’t. Knowledge and skill are in the doing, touching, tactility. Then one can analyse, go into the head, digitalize, produce on an industrial level. But knowledge lies in the hands.
A tool is an extension of the body or the hand itself. I like thinking about machines as tools which, when I know them well enough to be able to begin manipulating them, can be adapted to my purposes. We are producing ever more advanced tools and machines, and global trade obscures the process for us and makes it hard sometimes to relate to the background processes. I believe that if we could bridge the gap between hand and machine better, people’s experience of what we create would be that much stronger. Having respect for tools connects us to the world: to what lies close to us, just outside of us.
Touching and doing something repetitively is healing. Like working together. “Warp fellowship” someone in my weaving group once said, as we helped beam a warp. Doing things in a group is a way of understanding things in other ways than through aesthetic appreciation. Energy levels are topped up, objects aerated through our hands. And time, how does that appear? Perhaps as traces of the human. Discerning the course of events is catching sight of at least a little bit of what it is to be human.
Article for Scandinavian Weaving Magazine, 2021.2
In weave heaven, work made by hand and produced industrially are perfectly partnered and weaving gets designed for the rooms of a house as close to their inception as possible. Why? Because material is of itself complex and comes into its own when it engages with the qualities of a specific room. Ever since the industrial revolution we, living in a western society, have been removing ourselves from a direct experience of objects around, eyeing things has blunted our sensitivities: our society appears now to be calling out for sensory formation. Something has gone missing here and I do not think this is to do with a choice between craft practice and industry, rather about quality: we need sensitivity for materials and to know how to perceive them.
The Bauhaus, when it was an art school in Dessau, Germany, was characterized by its optimism about the balance between the work of the hand and the machine. Its delight in experimentation and curiosity about the potential in industry are matters of interest even today. “Art united with technology” - great! Colour and form were explored through warp and weft in the school’s textile work- shop. Architectural vocabulary had over some time fed into the language used for textiles, though there were gaps in the terminology and during the early 1930s, textiles began to adopt concepts from the burgeoning sphere of photography.
T’ai Smith’s book, Bauhaus weaving theory: From feminine craft to mode of design gives an account of how Bauhaus weavers fought for the place of textiles in 20th century design and expanded concepts such as ‘craft’ and ‘art’. The basis for this article leads on from Smith’s analysis of the haptic and textiles, since it was this very book which made me persist in getting Gothenburg Library to find the original text, Stoffe im Raum – Otti Berger's article on tactile-visual weaving, in for me incomprehensible German.
Textiles had long been portrayed as part of an interior, but in 1931 it so happened that the Bauhaus July issue published a close-up of a fabric on the front cover. The photograph was the lens through which the tactile aspect of the textile became visible. Background: There was intensive on-going debate at the time on how to use photography in society and in culture. As early as 1709 it had been mooted with reference to optics that because the eye can only see two-dimensional patterns of light and colour for perceiving shape and distance, the brain connects these with sensory memories to experience three-dimensionality.
Art historian Riegl wrote about the brain’s way of using tactile and optical methods to interpret its surroundings, and introduced the terms optic and haptic into language applied to art matters – it would actually seem that the world developed from nearsighted haptic to far-distant optical. With photography, we began to experience places and spaces through pictures in newspapers and thanks to the development of photography, Bauhaus weaving was given a boost. The July issue cover picture revealed variations in the thickness of the thread and the shadow effects caused by the meeting of warp and weft. Folds in the fabric and material encounter created tactile sensations. Close-ups enhanced tactility; while promising, infinite dimensions offered by the zoom lens contributed to an edge of expectancy.
The weaver Otti Berger studied at the Bauhaus 1927–1930 and it was through the course given by László Moholy-Nagy, who vigorously upheld the necessity of tactility for sense perception, that different sensory properties such as pressure, puncture, rub- bing, pain, temperature and vibration were examined singly and combined. Berger mapped out a variety of materials and their optical and tactile qualities, and through combinations of colour, shape and material saw how different characteristics seemed to overlap each other or merge into one and the same surface.
No other Bauhaus weaver made such a strong appeal for tactility as the primary qual- ity in a textile. Berger’s article, Stoffe im Raum (Fabric in a room), in ReD magazine, 1930, takes up an issue subject to misrepresentation: different materials’ tactility in relation to kinaesthetics (the movement of the body in relation to an object). The article became part of the debate to do with the sensory status of an object. Berger took her starting point from the then topical discussion about photography as an optical medium and developed this line of reasoning by showing how a textile was not just an optic object, but also and even perhaps primarily a tactile object. She used the word ‘Griff’ (grasp) and by demonstrating the difference between grasp as in taking hold by the hands and grasp as in understand, illustrated the connection between visual and tactile qualities. Over the years she grew increasingly interested in a textile’s haptic properties in relation to interior or spatial design, since she saw that textiles in a room are experienced through touch, sight and movement. Berger wrote about “tactile memory”, about the way a textile is not simply experienced as tactile to the touch but also tactile in the unconscious. The discovery of the interaction between optic and tactile elements and her work in applying theory to an actual room space, have made her a forerunner to the textile architecture of today.
Haptic perception, or appreciation, literally means “the capacity to grasp something”. In 1892 the psychologist Max Dessoir coined the term haptic for the area of research dealing with sense perception, further described as “the individual’s sensing of the world next to his body by means of his body”. In the digital world of today, haptic technology is widely used both within virtual reality and for two-dimensional images experienced as three-dimensional or tactile. Human Haptic Perception by Martin Grunwald includes findings from psychophysical studies suggesting that macrospatial attributes, such as the form of an object, are strongly linked to sight, while the feel is conveyed more by microspatial attributes, that is, texture.
Berger opined that one needed to be able to grasp the texture of a textile in one’s hands. Fed as I am by today’s discussions about the importance of craft and the work of the hand, I do wonder if she also considered texture as a form of knowledge about a textile’s production process. Moholy-Nagy thought that a finished product says something about process: the working of nature, the handling of the material or the mechanical processes have a bearing on the experience of the product and he illustrated this theory with pictures of a wrinkled person and a shrivelled fruit. Visible aging allows us to discern a course of events. And we can imagine a history, a process that leaves its traces.
Moholy-Nagy used the term “facture”, which could be translated as fabrication as well as texture (both are to do with making or production). If haptic perception exists in earlier experiences – does it mean in that case that a material of today is less perceivable because its fabrication lies hidden to us, in another part of the world? I look at images of my machine woven monofilament work and wonder whether the haptic level is higher or lower. They were woven with the aim of attempting to understand what a haptic textile might look like today. I keep looking and looking, trying to see how the weaves might be experienced. But I can’t. Is it the coolness of an artificial material? Or that the work is machine woven? It feels odd not to know whether the weaving is superhaptic or low in haptic quality. Might it be that much of today’s material is designed for optic purposes rather than tactile, so as Riegl thought we move from nearsighted haptic to far-distant optic, and that we to a certain extent have lost a capacity to experi- ence material? Would we experience tactility more if we were aware of how something came into being? There is a part in Thinking Through Craft by Glenn Adamson to which I occasionally return:
"Once Yagi was asked to name the essence of ceramics. Was it the wheel, the traditional tool of the potter? No, it’s not the wheel, Yagi replied. It’s the feeling you get when you take soft clay and squish it between your fingers. That’s the essence of clay for me."
The very core of ceramics, according to the Japanese potter Yagi, lies in its production, or hardly even production – rather playfulness with material.
There does seem to be a connection between the haptic and production. It was said that when Alvar Aalto designed the MIT Dormitory Baker House, Aalto went to the brick factory himself and selected the ugliest, most uneven bricks he could find. The facade created with these second grade bricks has an arresting surface that carries traces of the man- ufacturing process. The wall becomes etched into one’s memory and the wonder arising from the shadow play of all the irregularities, the dialogue between sun and material in the wainscot, stirs the imagination about the manner of construction and composition. The manufacture of textiles is loaded, since it spans continents, working conditions, fast-fashion, unsustainable consumption, economy, crafts and culture, and it is apparent that industrialization has affected our way of experiencing objects around us.
In her 1933 article, Stoffe und neues Bauen (Fabrics and new buildings) Berger, inspired by her work for an interior design company, wrote that for a textile to respond to spatial require- ments and on completion express some form of mutuality with a new building, the role of textiles in architecture needs addressing. It seems like Berger would like haptic textiles to be in dialogue on an equal level with architecture, and I think something of this does exist now seen from a time standpoint. Respect for the place shown through sensitively designed fabric. Site specific craft.
Weave is a highly haptic material that can be experienced both objectively and subjectively. There seem to be several ways of fully expe- riencing spatiality. Proximity to the material, as well as the zooming in of a camera, the pro- cess of creation, not to mention the physical, are all significant elements. The weave comes up close, is multifaceted. And it has everything to do do with space and a room.
Article for Scandinavian Weaving Magazine 2021.1
Franz Kafka wrote in his memoirs that “everyone carries a room within”; for a weaver such a room is very likely envisaged as a textile space. Weaving a space is nothing new under the heavens: protective tents and heat insulat- ing, ornate dwellings have been around from of old. Weaving a spatial experience though – that is something different.
Japanese architecture, traditional as well as contemporary, has a way of looking at spatiality as subjective experience, a physical memory, a continuous process in the human mind. In ‘The Materiality of the Surface’, Fridh and Laurien describe spatial experience as ongoing and abstract rather than as form. That which is called textile, according to these propositions, would be an example of a flexible material whose transparent layers or reflections, suffused with light, stimulate the psyche. A textile surface, with its tactile, flexible and two-dimensional qualities, can be experienced as three-dimensional and spatial because of its changeability.
I, the writer of this article, am particularly interested in perception, here in its expe- riential sense; and in my artistic practice, three-dimensional weaving has come to em- body thinking around spatiality. A while ago, my brother posed the philosophic question to me, “what is an interspace?” for which there was no ready answer. Interspace, a gap, can be an area or the distance between two very concrete objects, but it can also exist between two abstract things. Multi-layering has occu- pied me technically throughout my weaving practice: a way of creating everything from three-dimensional surfaces to architectonic modules woven in one piece – small spaces if you like. Microscopic at times, sometimes large enough for even crawling into. These spatial entities are like small worlds of their own, where the mind and imagination can roam free.
A dream like quality is evoked between these woven walls. Purely psychologically, in accord with Fridh and Laurien’s ideas, the optical effect arising as the light bounces and gets filtered through the layers contributes to a spatial experience. An interplay of surface texture and patterning with form, form with the surrounding space, colour, light and shadow with spatial perception. Metaphor is also created: interspace as an expression of a longing for space. For quietude, slowness, time.
‘There are also places to grieve or hate, such as between the doors where the mail is delivered. The door in the hall has small green and red glass panes, is narrow and rather solemn and the hall is full of clothes, skis and packing cases. But right between the doors where there is barely any space, there is an even smaller place for simply standing and hating. To do so in a bigger room means dying immediately. But in a narrow space, hate passes in and around the body and never to God.’
Tove Jansson’s description in ‘Sculptor’s Daughter’ of the space between the double outer doors hit home for me. It combines everyday objects with the strongest of feelings, physical and spiritual intertwined. My textile space contains practical rag rugs, an imitation sheepskin rya on the bed, sheer curtains filtering the light as well as figurative angel motifs giving me a sense for other dimensions.
Textiles can of themselves define a space. Which is the reason for me stating that I weave whole spaces. My ambition is to offer people an experience of interspace, the space-between: a place for the mind to rest. An interlude, away from the information-overload of our society.
Here, it might be worth teasing apart the differences between the English words of feel- ing, emotion and sensation – three concepts rather loosely translated in Swedish as ‘feeling’ (känsla). Emotion and sensation do exist as Swedish words; ‘feeling’ in Swedish perhaps covers a mixture of meanings. Emotion denotes a movement of feeling or a mood. Then finally sensation: the slightly neglected concept describing a sense-based or bodily experience.
It was Josef Albers, Anni Albers’ husband, who described art as coming about from the discrepancy between physical fact and psychological effect. The idea that psychological effects lie in the realm of perception was one I took up in my master’s thesis on three-dimensional handweaving. Right now, though, my focus is on the fact that both painter and weaver work with bodily reactions and psychology when using optical effects to evoke sensation.
Time takes on different guises. What I discovered when doing my finals was how time becomes embodied as passing moments are discerned. By rendering the making process visible, rather than erasing any traces of the work of the hand, and by letting the light of day play over the surfaces and material, spatial handwoven work becomes in various ways a manifestation of time. My work on The Metamorphosis of Weaving was in this way an exploration of interspace as well as the experience of daydreaming type sensations. Surfaces, the encounter between surfaces and the meeting of surface and form create spatial perception, as the observer beholds or moves around an object. An informing process takes place: it might have the appearance of a shiny or rough surface, or perhaps have more to do with the composition in the room itself – but deciphered, we see it contains stimulus, well-being and is a form of wordless communication, of softplay for time out. (Lovely.)
The Metamorphosis of Weaving involved making cord for large-scale, three-dimen- sional weaves. With this project I was, in a limited amount of time, aiming to link spatial theories to handweaving: one way of achiev- ing this meant there was no way but to scale up thread. Consequently, the weft consists of cord, rope and rag rug strips. I wanted the work to make an impression on the beholder, for it to be felt in the body. Creating some- thing bigger than myself was necessary so as to get an idea of how perception of three-dimensional form, micro- and macro-patterning, textures and colour in mutual relationship affect the viewer. Six layers were woven by hand in one piece and I only saw the five lower layers once the work was installed with the aid of a sky lift at the Textile Museum of Borås. I was utterly exhausted and it was with emptiness and wonder in equal measure that I took in what I had woven.
Metamorphosis means transformation. Transformation or change can come, as I have attempted to indicate here, through spatial perceptions arising from the interplay of light, textiles and movement. Weave, however, today also stands at an exciting juncture, a weave awakening, where its practice is being rediscovered by new practitioners and thereby at times taking on other forms. Three-dimensional weaving is relevant not just for industry; it is for a designer an interest in the technical challenges of weave that consists of thread moving through a multiplicity of layers and craft practice that is digitalized and facilitates complex, intricate drafts.
Weaving as a narrative where thread acts as the principal character, the textile as text, is a wonderful metaphor. This is perhaps never so concrete as for rag rug weavers: a piece of cloth is taken apart and cut into strips, then pick by pick the pattern is built up again, like Kasuri. The more skilled the weaver, the more information about the origin of the weave can be gleaned. The thread, or line, in conversation. But it also creates surfaces. Kandinsky, in 1926, noted that a special capacity of the line is its ability to form a surface. And surfaces in turn, as we established, form space. To move, as in my work, The Metamorphosis of Weaving, over a field stretching from the making of the thread to the whole room – weave power, no less. A stepping into the role of Sensation Director.
The Metamorphosis of Weaving
Master thesis, 2020