Featured: Holding Space Immersive Community Art Project

We recently came across a cool multi-faceted textile art project by Bay Area artist Angie Wilson that’s seeking funding on Kickstarter by October 5th! Check out how she’s bringing it all together and consider a donation.

“Holding Space is an immersive installation of hand-woven carpets and a place to connect people to the experience of embodied art making - working through social justice issues in community through movement and making together.” 

Kickstarter proposal link here

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The origins of Soft Sculpture

When we’re not plotting the overthrow of society through hand-made community banners, we’re talking about textile art forms– and soft sculpture is a particular favorite. We’ve even developed a full curriculum on the subject! We’re that obsessed! We found this excellent vintage book on the origins of the medium and what with the current popularity of textile art forms and soft sculptures in the contemporary art scene, it’s so fun to poke around art documentation from half a century ago when textile art outside of craft was completely new, and all of the ideas were fresh. Check out some faves below:

A brief and incomplete historical context of an early punk subculture as seen through its clothing

 Chaos Days, Hanover, 1984

Chaos Days, Hanover, 1984

 1980s

1980s

 Italy, 1980, photo by Fabio Sgroi 

Italy, 1980, photo by Fabio Sgroi 

 Italy, 1980s, photo by Fabio Sgroi 

Italy, 1980s, photo by Fabio Sgroi 

 DOA concert at The Starwood, Los Angeles, 1981

DOA concert at The Starwood, Los Angeles, 1981

 Prick up your ears, t-shirt design,  Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood for Seditionaries, 1979

Prick up your ears, t-shirt design,  Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood for Seditionaries, 1979

From its start, punk culture was marked by a rejection of oppressive heteronormative values and lifestyles. It began in the late 70s as a music genre, but was also more than just the sum of its musical contributions. The subculture was as visual as it was aural. Like the audible facets, its visual contributions were embedded with subtle and not so subtle connotations of violence: ransom note inspired graphics, modified military clothing, and the aesthetics of weapons found in chains and spikes. In all forms it embodied a spirit of protest. Its early form was also very much aligned with its queer cultural contemporaries. The two subgenres fed each other and overlapped often. That early punk culture proposed a rejection of the confinements of gendered representation, and most notably, a rejection of masculinity.

 

An analysis of clothing so easily runs the risk of being reductive on one side, or dismissive on the other. Looking at the cultural and economic history of the birth of a movement offers insight to cultural conditions that affected more than one subcultural group. Subcultures form in response to a parent culture, and often from a position of opposition to the problems of that parent culture. It would also be hard to claim a singular narrative to the historical context of punk culture. It emerged simultaneously in many locations, each with their own political conditions: in East Germany punk culture was a radical representation of the angst and opposition to the repressive DDR; the United Kingdom elected the ultra conservative Margaret Thatcher in this era; the United States elected Ronald Regan; and for both the UK and the US, late stage capitalism was in full swing.

 

The shifts that led to the conditions that gave birth to the movement began much earlier, just after WW2. Shifts in socio-economic structures in the US and UK led to the alienation of the working-class. The structures that once supported the working-class were embedded in the layout of the working-class neighborhood: access to extended kinship and the solidarity of the working-class community. As housing redevelopments like high-rise apartment buildings replaced the former self sustaining neighborhood layout, i.e. the cornershop, family businesses, pubs, and communal space, the new working-class was fragmented by its isolation from extended kin and community.

 

This state of alienation birthed new communities, often in the form of subcultures. One such subculture, punk was a leftist working class faction. In its rejection of a dominant consumer culture it was known for its DIY aesthetic. Home made clothing, spray painted band shirts, and jewelry made of household objects like safety pins, upended any reverence to authenticity. A penchant for androgynous style was among the aspects that separated it from the right wing working class skinhead culture. Cloth communicated these differences. It was the signifier for a group of connotations that separated it from its parent culture, and simultaneously explained why. Clothing acted as a visual form of cultural protest.

Emily Jacir's Memorial to 418 Palestinian Villages Which Were Destroyed, Depopulated, and Occupied by Israel in 1948

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Initiated by Palestinian-American artist Emily Jacir in 2001, the tent is a community based project memorializing the Palestinian villages that were not only depopulated and destroyed, but erased from the map altogether, as if they never existed. Jacir stenciled the names of all the Palestinian villages archived in the Walid Khalidi book All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948 onto a family sized refugee tent that she constructed in her studio. Jacir invited people, mostly Palestinian, and many who were from the villages memorialized in this project, into her studio to embroider the names while socializing, exchanging stories, and memories of the villages.  

Rainbows and Triangles

As the Bay Area gets ready to celebrate its Gay Pride this weekend, we would like to reflect on the symbols that make those celebrations so powerful.

The most potent and ubiquitous of those signs, The Rainbow Flag, was designed by San Francisco artist and activist Gilbert Baker, who passed away last year. That first flag was hung on June 25, 1978 in the United Nations Plaza. In Baker’s original design for the polychrome rainbow, the flag included eight colored stripes, two more colors than the flag we know today. The decision to edit the stripes down to six was credited to the cost of reproducing color photographs in those days. Baker knew that the power of this flag would start with the distribution of its documentation. People seeing those images would see themselves in its waving colored stripes. That first flag was hand dyed in trash cans and sewn in the attic of the Gay Community Center on SF’s Grove Street.

There's a good article in the SF Chronicle about Gilbert, the flag, and fabulously enough, his protest drag costumes. A good quote from the end of the article: 

"I'm not sure I'd draw a distinction between the flag and his drag...He takes a nationalist symbol that demands patriotic fealty, that one adheres to a notion of borders, and he rewrites it so it's about everyone and everything. I think he did the same in his drag."

In contrast to the celebratory nature of the rainbow flag, the Aids awareness group Act Up covered the streets of New York with posters that demonstrated the collective anger within the gay community over the US government’s mishandling of the Aids crisis in 1987. The poster repositioned the inverted pink triangle used by Nazi’s as identifying badges for queer men in concentration camps who were sent there because of their homosexuality. This symbol was flipped upside down and reclaimed as an international symbol of gay pride, used in protests starting in the late 1970s. Its use was further popularized by the international direct-action  AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power (ACT UP),who adopted the symbol along with the slogan "SILENCE = DEATH" as its logo shortly after its formation by six gay activists in New York City in 1987.  While reclaiming the symbol, the group also recognized the dark history it embodied, seeing much more than a metaphor in these two historical moments of mass death. These points were made abundantly clear in the group’s manifesto, “silence about the oppression and annihilation of gay people, then and now, must be broken as a matter of our survival.”

 It is oversimplifying to limit the scope of fabric in the fight for LGBTQ rights to these two symbols but this is just where we begin- with empowerment, and inclusion, and taking back the tools of oppression as tools for community building and awareness. This weekend there will be thousands in the streets celebrating Pride with hand-made banners and drag costumes, rainbow flags and probably a lot of branded teeshirts and tote bags from the corporate floats as well. As we kick off this little blog, and the larger project that we hope will bring us together in solidarity around self-determination and the broader struggle for human rights, we invite you to pay attention to the home-made fabric objects of resistance and empowerment around you. The next defining symbol of the movement is going to debut in the streets. Happy Pride everyone!