M.A. Anne Röhl

Text and Texture - Gendered Discourses of Textiles in Art since 1965

Since antiquity, textiles have been connected to female work. The manifold relations of textiles and femininity have in art history lead to what the art historian Silke Tammen describes as the “inevitability of gendering.”Especially in the last two decades, textile techniques have been ubiquitous in contemporary art, a phenomenon reflected in a number of recent exhibition- and research projects. With regard to this new prevalence of textiles, questions have been posed as to what shifts and changes the gendered connotations of textiles have undergone, especially since last being reexamined by the feminist art of the 1970s. It is the aim of this research project to trace and describe shifts in the discourse surrounding textiles and textile techniques.

The study has a thematic approach and will be conducted using different case studies on artists and artworks from Europe and the US. The project does not seeks to regard textile artworks as flat images or static objects, i.e. painting or sculpture, but rather to approach the objects in terms of the process of their making, thereby drawing upon concepts of materiality, craft and authorship. Apart from the importance of the objects, the project is based on a corpus of (para)texts that explicitly or implicitly reflect on the status and gender of textile materials and techniques by artists, curators, journalists, and scholars. This includes not only exhibition reviews, catalog essays, and curatorial concepts, but also interviews and artist statements, which of course have to be treated accordingly. Thus, in this project discourse is understood a created by objects and texts alike. Additionally, the project raises questions regarding existing gendered connotations and their deployment, handling, and shiftings. Connected to these are questions about the iteration of myths regarding materials and the process of art making.

The project is divided into four parts. The first part serves as an introductory basis to the following chapters and briefly recalls the feminization of textiles in the social realm as well as in Western art and art history. It traces narratives of metonymic and metaphorical relation between textile workers and the techniques and objects, as well as the relation between textile work and female virtues. The second part dealing with 'Spectres of Textile Myths' engages with the thematisation of textile crafts by feminist artists and how the construction of a 'feminine aesthetic' evolved to a new discourse that not only deconstructs but also reactivates old myths. In this connection also the reoccurring allusion and reiteration of ancient myths, as well as the recapitulation of Christian iconography related to textiles and gender are examined. While the second part relates to textile history outside of art history, the third part is concerned with the textile repetition of canonical art historical works. Artists such as Mike Kelley, Rosemarie Trockel, Francesco Vezzoli, and Elain Reichek repeat by means of loose wool, knitted images, embroidery, and tapestries well known episodes of art history. In this chapter, from the vast field of image appropriations from pop culture or contexts of the history of art and culture with textile media, only artworks repeating art historical works and thus commenting on an art-historical discourse will be in focus. 'New Media' in relation to textile handicraft and techniques are the focus of the fourth and final part of the dissertation. Reacting to discussions of virtuality and immateriality triggered by the broad emergence of digital images and the internet in the 1990s and 2000s, possible analogies between textile techniques and computers or the internet are stressed. In order to investigate the change within the rhetorics concerning the relation of textiles and technology, the last part of the dissertation will include an analysis of the relation of the two media in the 1970s.