Above & Below
Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Los Angeles
Through August 21
I assure you that there’s a lot involved in compositions with figures…It’s like weaving…you must control and keep an eye on several things at once.~Vincent van Gogh in an 1882 letter to his brother Theo
Written by Betty Ann Brown
“Above & Below” at Shoshana Wayne Gallery presents twelve artists whose works relate, in one way or another, to the practice of weaving. The exhibition title refers to the way horizontal elements (wefts) are passed above, then below vertical elements (warps) on fabric looms. The practice of interlacing two distinct yarns or threads (or photographs or strips of, well, anything) at right angles creates a new “woven” surface. Weaving is the basis of textile production…but it is also linked to technology. The Frenchman Joseph Marie Charles, known as Jacquard (1752-1834), invented the first programmable machine to produce two-layered fabrics. His punched-card programming led to the development of computers in the 20th century.
That textile/computer connection is pertinent to the art in “Above & Below.” Several of the works echo traditional fabric forms: Frances Trombly’s cotton and silk scarves, Terri Friedman’s mixed media tapestries. Other works employ beading and embroidery (Yveline Tropéa and Madame Moreau). Gil Yefman combines wet and dry felting to produce a large white sheet covered with a bouquet of black, white and gray flowers. The technological element is seen in works like those of Dinh Q. Lê, who “weaves” strips of two distinct photographs in order to create complex new images and Sabrina Gschwandtner who combines polyester film and polyester thread to create an abstract diptych.
Some artists expand weaving to include remarkable new materials. Max Colby builds eccentric tchotchkes with plastic beads, flowers, and sequins. Jeffrey Gibson constructs a quirky hanging ornament from an Everlast punching bag, adorning the large canvas cylinder with everything from glass beads and metal studs to Mongolian goat fur. And Anina Major “weaves” stoneware and sea glass to create unconventional vessels that break open to reveal their internal anatomy.
Although the process of making the art dominates much of this oeuvre, conceptual content is important as well. Elaine Reichek’s Sampler (A blurred region) juxtaposes a quotation from Stanislaw Lem’s science fiction masterpiece Solaris (2001) with a reproduction of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam (1512), thereby contrasting two narratives of human creation. Dinh Q. Lê’s woven photographic scrolls similarly oppose two versions of cultural representations: murals of an ancient Cambodian poem based on the Sanskrit Ramayana epic are opposed to images of the Cambodian Civil War. Gil Yefman’s felt work titled God Full of Wombs uses the image from a Nazi condolence letter that originally incorporated statements by both Hitler and Goebbels.
Weaving has a long tradition of community engagement–think of quilting groups, embroidery circles, the groups of women working in textile factories during the early years of industrialization–and some of the exhibition artists work collaboratively. Yefman’s wall hanging was produced in collaboration with the Kuchinate collective, a group of women refugees from Africa now settled in Israel. Yveline Tropéa collaborates with a group from Burkina Faso now settled in France.
Vincent van Gogh, who produced numerous drawings and paintings of weavers in the early 1880s, thought of painting as labor like weaving. He used colored yarns to plan his compositions. (A Chinese box containing his yarn balls is preserved in the Van Gogh Museum.) His description of weaving sounds remarkably like the “flow” process of art production described by Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
A weaver who has to direct and to interweave a great many little threads has no time to philosophize about it, but rather he is so absorbed in his work that he doesn’t think but acts, and he feels how things must go more than he can explain it.
The repetitive acts of weaving, beading, embroidery, felt work, etc. all invite the absorption of “flow.” The labor-intensive creations of the diverse artists in “Above & Below” document how the “flow state” of quasi-hypnotic repetition produces images that fascinate and enchant. Van Gogh wrote, “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” Such “small things” can be layered threads, tight stitches, tiny beads, and/or densely layered ornamentation. Certainly, they constitute a great exhibition.