Stitches that bind

The opening of the Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile’s spring exhibition had already been postponed for a week due to Covid-19.

It closed again, albeit temporarily, a day later.

Unconstrained Textiles: Stitching Methods, Crossing Ideas had been scheduled to run for three months until June 14.

However, for David Medalla, one of seven artists featured in the exhibition, the public health crisis may lead to more impressive artistic experimentation.

Medalla formed a floating textile workbench by suspending nearly 10 meters of white canvas under colored coils. The work, A Stitch in Time, allows the audience to sew whatever they want on the canvas.

As the work is not complete until the exhibition is over, its meaning changes throughout the exhibition, said Takahashi Mizuki, curator and center co-director.

“There may be concerns about hygiene, especially in the present circumstances,” said Mizuki. “But it’s okay. Through this, we can see how people are afraid of viruses and touching.”

Textiles as an experimental means is one of the themes of this exhibition. The artists in the exhibition do not identify as textile artists.

Instead, they discover materials, subject matter and techniques through their artistic practice to show creative adaptations.

Byron Kim’s works are about intimate relationships and the pain they bring.

Inspired by Carl Phillips’s poem Alba: Innocence, which describes the poet’s thoughts on the bruises on his lover’s body, Kim uses dyeing techniques to interpret bruises in 13 abstract paintings.

Drawing on pigment from natural materials and dyeing them on canvas or linen before framing them, Kim wants the audience to feel the intimacy the poet conveys in the bruise and skin-like colors in the paintings.

The other artists use textiles to make political statements.

Kawita Vatanajyankur’s works, for example, consist of performance and video pieces representing her interest in the exploitation of labor by industries and consumerism.

The 2013 Savar building collapse in Bangladesh, which killed 1,127 people, inspired her to mimic a machine in a fashion factory as it makes clothes. In Dye, she was hung upside down while suspended from a frame and propelling herself downward and causing her head to dip into a colored dyeing liquid.

Her six videos on display, which at first glance look like television commercials, show the exploitation of workers in the repetitive, mechanical machinery of industrial production. “As consumers, we pay attention only to the goods in our hands. We don’t know who the ones who produce them are, and we don’t care about their endless day-and-night labor and poor working conditions,” said Mizuki.

South Korean artist Ham Kyungah’s works are reminiscent of the hit Korean drama Crash Landing onto You.

In 2008, Ham received a propaganda flyer from North Korea, which inspired her to start the embroidery project.

For a decade, she has been producing designs on her computer that are printed and smuggled into North Korea through intermediaries in Russia or China.

Then a group of artisans, whom she has never met or spoken to, are paid to convert them into embroidery.

Phrases such as “big smile” and “are you lonely too” are hidden in the embroidery to connect with people in the north. Hidden codes can also be found in the descriptions of each work.

“Generally, descriptions will mention the medium, such as acrylic, thread, or silk,” said Mizuki. “But Ham wrote ‘middle man,’ ‘smuggling,’ ‘censorship’ and ‘ideology’ to describe the process and emotion of creating the works.”

Mizuki said the exhibition aims to make the collision of textiles and art give the audience a different way of thinking. “These are worrying times, but these are also times when everyone’s minds are tightly knit.”

(This article was published at The Standard on April 24, 2020: Weekend Glitz: Stitches that bind )

200424 Stitches that bind

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