Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

Textiles Today: a global survey of trends and traditions

Textiles_Today_book_coverBY JESSICA HEMMINGS

Textiles Today: a global survey of trends and traditions
Chloe Colchester
Thames & Hudson 2007

This handsomely illustrated text introduces readers to the breadth and diversity of contemporary textile practice today. Examples are drawn from numerous sectors including fashion, textile art, technology and sustainable design, using an effective but increasingly familiar interdisciplinary model for textile research. Far more interesting is the way in which contemporary textiles are defined, early in the text, as “one of the most and least localized of the arts”. In other words, textiles represent international, universal networks, but are also the product of specific cultures, economies and traditions. This observation seems to signify a shift in our understanding of textiles away from the idea that textiles are massive (but somehow universal and therefore generic) networks. In its place is a growing recognition that textiles are also rooted in the local and specific and deserve to be recognised with individual contexts in mind.

Rather than provide readers with yet another study of textiles and technology, this book proposes that “our relationship with textiles today is not exclusively forward looking, but means looking sideways, to other parts of the world, and also behind us to the legacy of the import and export of ideas, patterns, fabrics and garment types over time.” This fascinating observation is played out to a certain extent in the images shown, but is not apparent in the brief text that accompanies many of the latter sections. Nor does the refreshing idea that textiles are “one of the most and least localized of arts” get much mention beyond the introduction. Instead this already text-light book often repeats itself. Lengthy image captions recycle information found nearby in the body of the text in a slightly smaller font, wasting the opportunity to expand on the fascinating ideas proposed in the introduction. In several instances illustrations do not match the text and the decision to use crooked type is irritating, not clever.

These editorial problems become more frequent the further into the book you read. The book cover and introduction refer to a “global survey” and a “world wide survey” but Nigeria and the Pacific Diaspora are the only two regions singled out for discussion. The text for the section on textile culture, which begins on page 168 and is illustrated with work by Julie Graves, Bob Boyer, Marie Rose Watt, Ruben Ortiz Torres, Marcus Amerman, Yinka Shonibare and one un-attributed image, makes no mention of Graves and Torres work. A few pages later Sarindar Dhaliwal’s “Curtains for Babel” is used as the opening image for a chapter on conceptual craft but not mentioned in the text. Nor is Tracey Emin’s “Helter Fucking Skelter”, which occupies a full page, discussed in the text despite it being the product of a context far removed from the South African memory cloths shown on the following page. It is moments such as these where this text fails to tease out the specificities and cultural particularities the introduction so engagingly proposes as a way forward in our understanding of contemporary textile practice.

Dr Jessica Hemmings is a Reader in Textile Culture at the Winchester School of Art, England

Surface Design Journal (winter 2008: 66)