Before I was a fabric shop proprietor, I was a grad student. For part of my academic career, I studied contemporary art history. In the art/work series, I’d like to profile various artists who utilize media that are traditionally considered to be part of the craft paradigm (embroidery, weaving, sewing) instead of the fine art paradigm (painting on canvas, sculpture, etc.) I can’t say that I’m too fond of the high art/low art distinction, but changing an object’s location or provenance can certainly change its meaning. Embroidery on my pillow means something very different than embroidery hanging in MoMA because we evaluate and understand objects according to their environment.
The craft-as-art movement began with feminist interventions in the 70s, which reworked traditional handicrafts in order to support a radical feminist agenda. Womanhouse, led by Miriam Shapiro and Judy Chicago, for example, was extremely influential across the art world.
A contemporary artist who works in a similar vein is Sabrina Gschwandtner. In her series Film Quilts, she takes 16mm footage from feminist documentaries and sews it together in the form of a quilt.
Gschwandtner holds a BA in art and semiotics from Brown and an MFA from Bard. Her background in semiotics (the study of what things signify) is apparent in her work; her quilts play with the meanings and history of words and objects.
One of my favorites from this series is entitled The Enchanted Loom.
The luminous strips of film stock play deftly with light and shadow, shifting and glowing. The loom is enchanted, not by some otherworldly presence, but by the real, skillful labor of women’s hands: quilters and filmmakers and Gschwandtner herself.
Another evocative title is What is a Dress? from 2009:
Quilts in Women’s Lives, 2009:
I’ve pulled these images from the artist’s website. For more information on this artist, take a peek at this article from The Villager, a post on MoMA’s PS1 site, and even a post on the Etsy blog! One zine that studies objects at the intersection of art and craft is knitknit. Now get out there and shake up some paradigms!