Intelligent Textiles

Intelligent Textiles

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Rachel Wingfield
Loop Biowall, 2007. ;ace-like three-dimensional textile, woven of fiber-glass rods {dimensions variable}.

Linking the computer to the loom.

Center for Craft, Creativity & Design
Inspired Design: Jacquard & Entrepreneurial Textiles
May 20 - August 22, 2008
and January 2-9, 2009
Hendersonville, North Carolina

"Inspired Design: Jacquard & Entrepreneurial Textiles" surveys five 21st-century creative growth areas of innovative textiles and digital technologies. Designed as such, the curatorial frame was neither restrictive nor conceptual but a representative sampling of the use of technological means to both technical and conceptual ends. The premise of the show was not the aesthetics or the content of the weavings but rather a look at production methods accomplished by the linkage of computer to loom. While this resulted in an exhibition experience that felt slightly random when work was not separated into the five groups, it was clear that the show was one vehicle within a larger project.

The exhibition, which is traveling around North Carolina, its accompanying international conference and the faculty training at the Jacquard Center in Hendersonville, North Carolina, are intended to encourage textile design and production in new technologies, most previously unavailable on a small scale. The five textile design growth areas are defined as Smart Textiles, Performance and Interactive Textiles, Boutique Clothing Textiles, Exclusive Interior Textiles and Public and Private Textile Commissions. The exhibition had work in each area with varying definitions of "function," although not all traditionally defined functions of cloth, such as Christy Matson's innovative weavings with copper wire that conduct sound when touched. While process is still central to all of the work, some shared language of artistic intent made the boundaries between areas seem quite permeable.

As might be expected, Smart Textiles and Performance and Interactive Textiles overlap. Barbara Layne's Lucere, 2006, is a Jacquard-generated image of a tornado with two lightening bolts and a second panel of a woven circuit board image combined with actual LED lights that respond when the viewer moves closer. Revealing the microcontroller and sonic sensor to the viewer is sympathetic with current art practice, while its location within the landscape suggests that earth responds to our presence, and this may unleash nature's wrath. Joanna Berzowska's Krakow: A Woven Story of Memory and Erasure, 2006, employs conductive yarns and thermochromic inks (an active pigment that changes color with temperature changes, such as the viewer's body heat) with custom electronic controls to generate resistive heat, creating dynamic patterns that evolve into new image configurations. A historic Krakow street scene, woven on a Jacquard loom from Photoshopped images, includes pedestrians that fade until they disappear, a haunting reminder of the loss that migration creates, whether by choice or political upheaval.

The artists represented in Public and Private Commissions address equally topical content, with Patricia Mink's Farm Ghost 1, 2007, another meditation on loss and displacement. A complex surface and visual structure of Jacquard-woven damask, inkjet printing, embroidery and quilting conjoins material and image into a phenomenological experience. Sara Clugage creates an ironic Warhol re-mix, weaving pop culture icon Britney Spears in seductive poses in front of a background of holy text and the words Adam Kadmon (God in material form) on her chest and forehead (_Adam Kadmon 1_ and Adam Kadmon 2, 2006). Kari Merete Paulsen also depicts our cultural era in her 22-foot-long weaving 20.02.2002-a contemporary picture, 2002, that documents one special day in her life, with imagery of computer circuit boards, architecture, trains and the ubiquitous rolling chair at the computer desk.

The work in the Boutique Clothing and Interior Textiles categories reminds you just how drop-dead gorgeous a piece of cloth can be, particularly those designed to drape on a body or enhance the architectural environments we occupy. Pauline Verbeek-Cowart's cloth in the exhibition included extraordinary textile structures that allow for not only the usual interlace of fibers, but dual layers that loosely interlace a second time, giving the cloth a dynamism that is in tension with the softness of the extra-fine merino wool and monochromatic palette (_Felt Lace X-Change,_ 2008). Tim Parry-Williams's work demonstrates a refined and minimal aesthetic, influenced by his year in Okinawa. He begins by handweaving exclusively with unusual natural fibers such as nettle, banana and paper yarns that are then incorporated with synthetic yarns on a power loom to create exquisite subtleties in the hand of the cloth. Collaborators Leslie Armstrong and Anke Fox use alpaca for sensuous coats and jackets, where an open pattern in the cloth is created relative to the drape and cut of the garment. While designing beautiful textiles for interior spaces does not involve how cloth reacts on the body, other artists consider how the work interacts with the body in architectural space. Ismini Samanidou uses a digital Jacquard loom to recreate photographs of peeling walls as woven wall fabrics or screens, using Photoshop to intensify the qualities of impermanence and beauty found in decaying surfaces (_Hidden,_ 2006).

Beyond the poetics of the work, a fascinating part of this exhibition is how these artists propagate the evolution and survival of textile forms by looping back with another technological iteration. Jacquard looms are considered the precursor to the computer and brought complex structures to mass-produced cloth in the last century. As these technological descendants cross-pollinate again, the possibility of beauty and quality affordable to more than the wealthy reinvigorates an ideal of the Arts and Crafts movement, even more needed today, in the age of Wal-Mart.

_The exhibition is at the Fine Art Museum, Western Carolina University, Cullowhee,
January 22-March 8, and travels to the Canon Gallery, Gregg Museum of Art & Design
at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, August 20-October 5. The 55-page catalog is
$6 from the center._