Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

Telephone: Artists Connect to Artists


Chinese Whispers

The exhibition “Telephone: Artists Connect to Artists”, was shown from February 24th to April 5th, 2003 at La Jolla Fiber Arts Gallery in La Jolla, California/USA. The game of “Telephone” or “Chinese Whispers” starts with a phrase that is whispered from one person to the next until reaching the final recipient who declares what they believe they have heard, typically at great amusement to the originator of the phrase as it often resembles little of the original. With the pattern in mind, San Diego based artist Candy Kuhl conceived of an exhibition based on a visual version of the “Telephone” game. As curator, Kuhl elected to lead off the project with a piece of her own making which was then passed to another artist who, through visual interpretation alone, made a work which was in turn passed to another. Twenty-five southern California artists were involved with the project over the past year, working in a variety of media from woven and printed textiles, to basketry, beadwork, and book arts.

The concept of the exhibition was welcomed with such enthusiasm that two strands of volunteer artists were established, each having one month to complete a work in response to the visual whisper they received. This practical demand for two strands – the project would otherwise have taken over two years from conception to completion – was a fortuitous one, for one of the most engaging aspects of the exhibition are the comparisons that can be made between the two strands and how differently they developed from one common inspiration. While one strand largely engaged with the formal elements appearing in the works, the second seemed taken with the conceptual, growing more and more abstract as the chain evolved. Several motifs appeared consistently throughout the exhibition, undoubtedly influenced by the themes present in the original work but possibly also at the forefront of the artists’ minds for they embody the nature of the “Telephone” exchange. Space and travel as well as concealed or disrupted communication while established in the first work are also vital concepts of the game.

The exhibition is a study in visual language and the varying importance artists grant the visual over the written. While each piece remained untitled when delivered to the next artist, some script did sneak into the bodies of the works. While examples where limited, the influence the snippets of written text had on the next artist receiving the piece was dominant. No text went unnoticed or ignored, despite the premise of the “game” being a chain of visual communication. But ultimately, this is far from a story of the written triumphing over the visual. For, unlike the spoken version of the game, each final work in this visual study made an almost uncanny loop of reference back to the initial work. I, for one, think it is time to start another chain and watch again.

TextileForum 3/2003: 6