Silk Dichotomies

Silk Dichotomies
Innovation in Silk: American and Japanese Fabric & Fashion

Textile Society of America’s Symposium, Leedy Voulkos Gallery, Kansas City, Missouri (May 30 – June 30, 2003)
Northampton Centre for the Arts, Massachusetts (September 26 – October 18, 2002)

Curated by Yoshiko I Wada and Ana Lisa Hedstrom, this exhibition presented an impressive list of American and Japanese textile designers including Jun’ichi Arai. Genevieve Dion, Ana Lisa Hedstrom, Yuh Okano, Reiko Sudo, and Yoshiko Wada displaying a variety of garments, yardage and installations. Woven silk crepe fabric from Japan formed the basis of all the work in the exhibition. But after pleating, shrinking and adhesive processes, it was difficult to believe that all of the textiles on display were born of the same material. As a whole, the exhibition challenged traditional associations of silk as an overly fragile or precious fibre. Here, silk became solid and springy, gossamer and dense, sinew and filigree. With the unconventional rather than the typical taking centre stage, volume consistently disrupted the typically gossamer surface of crepe. Many artists created volume through dense pleating, puckering or shrinking.

Genevieve Dion’s development of complex pleated patterns allows her to design garments that are supple without sacrificing form. Pleated sections that move both sideways and long-ways are coupled with elegant shibori dye-work. In Dion’s signature garments, passages of snug pleating at the neckline or cuff emphasize the traditional location of garment seams as well as the joints of the body. Yuh Okano’s ‘Dried Chrysanthemum’, inspired by her recent extended return to Japan, moves away from previous experiments with shibori dyed polyester that had fuelled her work for many years. Turning to the local Japanese silk found in Kirye, Gunma, where she now owns a shop and spends part of each year, Okano has focused on the traditional weaving technique oicloque where the weave structure produces a puckered or blistered effect. The resulting surfaces remind one of seed pods, organic in nature and myopic in scale. In other studies, silk bags and scarves covered in bright polka dots were created with coloured glue to form a contrasting papery surface against the silk background.

Several fabrics, designed by Reiko Sudo for the NUNO Corporation and effectively displayed as yardage, drew their names from clouds and air. Samples such as Cirrus, Stratus, and Bubble Pack use the traditional Japanese method of enshuku or ‘salt shrinking’, in which fabric is soaked in a saline solution that shrinks the fibres. Historically, seawater was used for the procedure, but today calcium chloride or calcium nitrate increases precision. In these textiles, a substance that resists the salt solution is applied to the surface of the silk before immersion in the dye bath of salt shrink solution. The solution can only affect the exposed areas, resulting in cell and pod-like patterns and indentations. A collection of samples from NUNO was also on hand for viewers to touch. Silk Dichotomies may have presented complex manipulations of silk fabric, but the exhibition remained refreshingly simple on one level. The new and surprising surfaces contained little in the way of subversive or political content. This exhibition was a celebration of something nearing extinction in contemporary fibre art: art for art’s sake. Something that need to preclude all design, but vital and enjoyable nonetheless.

Embroidery Magazine, July 2003: 46.