“The Splendour of Textiles”: a splendid precedent


“The Splendour of Textiles”: splendid precedent

Silvia Piza - Tandlich.

Silvia Piza – Tandlich

In 2013, Poland became the stage for dozens of textile art activities, most of them associated with the 14th International Triennial of Tapestry in Łódź, while other independent shows also took advantage of the textile atmosphere already prevalent, to make their mark.

Presented from March to mid-May in Warsaw, “The Splendour of Textiles” stands out as an independent landmark exhibit not only for being a Polish retrospect of the past 70 years, but also for its display approach that allowed a better rapport and understanding of what the audience should be expected to experience. This exhibit is, also, representative of the struggles and accomplishments of textile creators in Poland, thereby becoming a very luring thread to touch and be touched by. Staging the exhibit at The Zachęta National Gallery of Art (short: Zachęta, one of Poland’s most notable institutions for contemporary art), ensured a certain prestance and status before the public, while inserting textile art in the Arts and Crafts movements of today, and serving as a model to other leading museums and galleries to incorporate textiles into their regular programs.

Barbara Levittoux-Świderska, "Esperanza" (Hope), 1981, tela espacial (spatial fabric)

Barbara Levittoux-Świderska, Hope) 1981, spatial fabric

Warsaw is a city where its population can immerse in history and cultural events, while enjoying the greenery and beauty of more than 80 parks and recreational areas—each with palaces and monuments honoring personalities of present and past. For me, however, arriving on May 3rd (Constitution Day), allowed me the opportunity to witness parades and ceremonial acts which, together with a long city tour into historic and quaint parts of town, walked me through the annals of decades of oppressive persecution and unrest, and brought me back to Polish textile perspective.

With art being an expression of the soul, it is only natural to expect a big spark of creativity stemming from all the turmoil of constant invasions, the Warsaw Ghetto and Uprising, the horrible Nazi concentration and massacre camps, and the duress of the Soviet mandate: Prussians, Nazis, Swedes, Austrians, Hungarians, Turks, Soviets… it is wonderful that Poland could be so prolific in all matters of artistic creation despite only having peace and freedom since the fall of the USSR in 1991. Quite unfortunately, however, four years later in 1995, the Lausanne Biennale—responsible for integrating textiles into contemporary artistic expressions, and also responsible for bringing us the so-called Polish school of textile art—ceased to exist, thereby reducing textile links to mainstream art trends, venues, and markets. Bear in mind that in many places, textile art has recently suffered a setback as far as the attention received as an art genre, along with all forms of art and culture being sadly neglected by governments. This lessened interest in textiles affected Poland as well as the rest of the world, combined with the world economic crisis of late.

Mother Earth Sister Moon

Mother Earth Sister Moon, Joanna Malinowska and Chrisatian Tomaszeski

The Splendour of Textiles is a magnificent compilation of Polish works dating from way back, and including “textile-behaving” contemporary expressions. Not having had the pleasure to attend any of the Lausanne International Textile Art Biennale shows where the famous Polish works were originally presented, the splendor of textiles before my eyes seemed to be a hallucination! “There are no words to describe it!” “Here is the most prestigious gallery of art in Poland, showing the most prestigious examples of textile art from the glorious days, plus what could now be considered…the School of Polish textile art of today!”

The exhibit occupied all eight halls of the Zachęta Gallery, hosting also a current version of the installation and performance, “Mother Earth Sister Moon” by Joanna Malinowska and Christian Tomaszewski, which shows a huge dismembered spacesuit modeled after Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova’s, and alluding to the Cold War space race between the East and the West. Futuristic fashion designs accompanied this show, which, of course, feels a bit outdated if we don’t think of the Challenger and Columbia explosions, and other space disasters.

Needless to say, I so enjoyed being able to see the collection of tapestries from the 17th to the 19th century, followed by those “classic” Polish tapestries of the 1960′s and 70′s. The powerful, industrial and political textiles, and the less restrained People’s Poland Era next door included vast illustrations of folk art as well as war insignias. Rather than being a strict chronological account of Polish textiles, curator Michał Jachuła explains, “…[the exhibit] demonstrates the ideological and semantic potential of art fabrics, bringing together many works that convey a clear message, be it historical, propaganda, critical, religious, or patriotic…”

Interesting contrasts between textiles and “textile behaving” works were seen throughout the show, as well as “references to textiles”. For example, Teresa Murak’s video, “Nunnery Rags” (1988) showed the artist cleaning the floor of a nunnery while a few yards away the rags were displayed in plexiglas cases. In the same room, the film “Spycifestum 2010″ by Kobas Laksa, showed the community preparation of a flower carpet for the traditional celebration of Corpus Domini, bearing the inscription “Lord, save us: we’re going to drown!” heard often during Poland’s independence struggles.

Leon Tarasewicz, "Diseño de alfombra, 2013", producido por la fábrica Agnella Carpet Factory en Białystok.

But in my opinion, the most powerful curatorial statement was perhaps, the least detected by Western visitors since the catalog was published in Polish. In the catalog, artist Marta Kowalewska states, “… It is in order to mention a current that has been increasingly present recently on an international arena. Artists of the 21st century turn more and more to broadly construed crafts. We can observe a return to old methods of craftsmanship applied in all kinds of artistic expression. A dialogue of crafts and a modern message is born. On the other hand, skeptics cast into doubt the rebirth of popularity of textile art (which calls for focused reflection), in a world that chases flying time, where an immediate exchange of information takes place. On the other hand, we should not underrate the discipline of long-lasting creative processes seen as an antidote for commercialization, superficiality and mediocrity…”

The Splendour of Textiles was quite splendid in the number and quality of works, which was expected. In addition, since the historic value of the pieces deserved clear identification in the form of museum-like wall plaques offering visitors a lot of historic and curatorial information, the Gallery, purposely or inadvertently managed to be more in touch with its audience—not excluding a live demonstration of Julita Wójcik’s “Braided rug”, made on site by 24 volunteers. The resulting video of this activity made me realize the importance of demonstrating to the general public basic things such as how a loom operates, even in a highly textile country such as Poland. I strongly approve of this approach to offer information and increase the attention span of viewers who may not be familiarized with textiles.
All in all a wonderful experience, The Splendour of Textiles sets precedence in trying to reintegrate textiles into the world of art—the way the Lausanne Biennale did it. It would be great if other prestigious galleries and museums were to take initiative and put together a similar show. After all, the current Artist-Artisan movements should stop making the distinction between “art” and “textile art”, and textiles should not succumb in a world plagued by financial crises.

For more information, please visit the web site here

Plewka-Schmidt, La Madonna de Kruzlowa

Plewka-Schmidt,  The Madonna of Kruzlowa

About Silvia Piza-Tandlich
Silvia Piza-Tandlich was born in Cartago, Costa Rica in 1954 where she studied Music at the University of Costa Rica. She later became a mixed-media manualist textile creator. “Manualism” is her coined term to describe an attitude, with roots in environmental and social responsibility where an ethical and civic conduct gets developed alongside artistic creation. Silvia is self-taught in many creative fields, where she performs with very good critical eye. Her textile work shows impeccable techniques, which she suddenly breaks to go to an unpredictable side of her creative expression. As an educator, artistic creation offers her a limitless field from where to present her philosophies such as rescuing Costa Rican traditions, rescuing used materials, encouraging human diversity in all its forms, improving education, and facilitating community support networks. Within her manualism and lifestyle the artist tries to reduce excessive dependency on machines, television, consumerism, and waste. From the cultural point of view, Silvia’s eclecticism protects and enriches Costa Rican identity and, at the same time, explores and enjoys the global territory. This duality helps her to present a good role model before her students and neighbors, hoping also that its effects are exponential. Presently, Silvia’s gallery and Collective Project embrace eight women and their families, providing them with educational and income opportunities.

Anna Nawrot, Sin título 2013, objeto (maniquí, corbatas)

Anna Nawrot, No title,2013, object,manikin, ties

Recent Work
• 14th International Triennial of Tapestry 2013, Łódź, Poland. Central Museum of Textiles http://www.muzeumwlokiennictwa.pl/aktualna-edycja/                                                        • 10th Art Al Vent Festival 2013 and • 9th Art Al Vent Festival 2012 (Art In the Wind), Alicante Province, Spain, August 2012;  traveling exhibition to Holland in 2013.
• 11th Art Inter/National Exhibition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, http://www.boxheart.org   January 2012.
• 6th WTA International Biennial of Contemporary Textile Art: “Air, A Vital Element”, Salon for Recyclability In Textile Art, Oaxaca, Mexico, 2011.   http://www.wta-online.org
• Radio program: “Let’s Talk About Culture”  http://www.rainforestradio.com     2011.
• Solo exhibit: “Metamorphosis: A New Cycle”. Textile fantasy intervention with 102 works in eleven ambiences. National Museum of Costa Rica.July-September,2010.  metamorfosishabitat.com                                                                                         •Invited artist: Salon for Invited Artists, First International Encounter IberoAmerican Textile Network, Omar Dengo Foundation, Costa Rica. 2010.   http://www.redtextilia.org
• Invited artist: “Costa Rican Textile Creation”. Cartago Municipal Museum, Costa Rica. 2010.
• Collective show: “Affiliates Exhibition”, First International Encounter IberoAmerican Textile Network, Costa Rica. 2010.   http://www.redtextilia.org
• Collective show: “Women In Art”. Sophia Wanamaker Gallery, Costa Rica. 2009.
• International collaborations: “Tree of Interdependence”. Huntsville, Alabama, USA. 2009. “Abandoned Gas Station Wrap”, 2008.      http://www.internationalfibercollaborative.com
• Collective show. Museum Rómulo Raggio, Argentina. 2008
• 4th Textile Art Show – Medium Size Format. Museum of Popular Art José Hernández, Buenos Aires, Argentina. 2008.
• First Conjunctions Visual Arts Biennial, Museum of Costa Rican Art, Costa Rica. 2008.
• 4th WTA Biennial of Textile Art & Design: “Man+Woman=Creation”. 2006.

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