Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

Beyond Thread


Beyond Thread
Braunstein-Quay Gallery, San Francisco

Beyond Thread: (a)mending social thought was exhibited at the Braunstein-Quay Gallery in San Francisco (July 31 to August 25, 2001). Starting with what curator Myra Goodall Block believes to be the “comfortable reference point” fabric offers, the show presents fiber art which is both subversive and overt in its conveyance of social and political themes. Work ranges from text-based banners by Karen Hampton that are reminiscent of Suffragette banners but speak to more recent and unresolved racial tension to mimetic work such as Linda Hutchins’ Do Not Cross the Line. The latter cordons off the white gallery wall with industrial strength webbing stating the title. The work is an evocative statement about underlying assumptions regarding just where and how fiber art should voice itself.

Kyoung Ae Cho’s Pine Needles and Scroll II are exquisite surfaces that uphold and celebrate the aesthetic and tactile strengths of the medium. The gossamer surfaces of Scroll II captures delicate fir needles between layers of silk organza. The presentation of the scroll format in fabric exchanges the usual marks of the text for the fertile symbols of seed pods. Pine Needles very simply honors the substance and surface of the material by capturing the uniform surface of up turned pine needles in a traditional picture frame.

Linda Hutchins’ Seven Virtues and Three Ways appropriate a common kitchen sight – a loaf of bread. In Seven Virtues, individual slices of bread are painstakingly sewn back into whole loaves. Other loaves in the series are bound in various layers of muslin which from a distance look like dustings of flour or sugar on grain bread. Three Ways places a row of loaves side by side, trapped in wire bread boxes which render the bread inaccessible but offer it no protection. In both works there is a wonderful interplay between the actual and the constructed produced by the sewing and wrapping of tiny threads through Hutchins’ new material. A woman’s duty to produce, protect, and secure is exposed through the undeniably domestic connotations the material holds.

Other works refer to the natural world through fiber. Susan Taber Avila’s Flowering Log is an intricate three-dimensional work exposing an inner trunk of threads reminiscent of the fibrous strands which come to make many of the natural fibres used in textiles today. Akemi Nakano Cohn’s work seems equally concerned with process. Printing and then interlacing strips of fabric into a woven whole, her pictorial studies emerge slowly from the brilliant patterning and geometry produced by interlacing. The earthy colors and organic patterning remind us of the fertile pieces of grain or seed pods. While Beyond Thread: (a)mending social thought certainly displays a group of socially provocative work, it takes some looking to unearth the amending that is occurring. Linda Hutchins’ Do Not Cross This Line does so with refreshing blatancy. Subtlety and ambivalence have their purpose and intrinsic beauties, but it is a relief to see simplicity so cleverly expressed.

Surface Design Journal (spring 2002: 44-45)