The Event of a Thread. Global Narratives in Textiles
What information do textiles store? What stories can fabrics tell about their origin, their meaning, their use, their particular material and their immaterial claims? Under which economic conditions and social structures have patterns and formal languages developed over time? How do they change when transferred across cultures? How can artists expand our understanding of textiles? Which techniques do they appropriate, transpose and revive?
Textiles have always been a product of technology and a key material of our global economy. The history of trade and the working world resonates within them. Textile crafts are among the oldest of all branches of industry: fabrics reflect changing production conditions and the invisible framework of globalisation in its material form. At the same time, they provide insights into local forms of expression, experience and social practice. As such, they are an aesthetic space, capable of adopting patterns and influences from a wide range of sources, constantly outgrowing their boundaries. In this way, they are the physical embodiment of strategies and forms of inclusion, rather than exclusion.
The history of modernity has constantly fluctuated between the mental and technical possibilities of socioeconomic modernisation and its cultural programs. The Bauhaus, founded in 1919, took the idea of the interplay between art, craft and industry from the
Through study, the Bauhaus artists drew inspiration from the millennia-old craft of weaving. In the 1920s and 1930s, textiles were collected in Germany, notably at Berlin’s Ethnological Museum. They were immortalised in Andean textiles and illustrations, eventually becoming the ideal for the modern eye. For example, the textile designer, weaver and artist Anni Albers dedicated her 1965 book, On Weaving, to the female Andean weavers. She described the woven works of ancient Peru as a crucial medium for an observable vocabulary, owing to the haptic and visual recollection of the weavers. This in turn entwined the profound relationship between individual style and collective memory, nature and culture, technique and sense of belonging. At the same time, these woven objects are the medium for complex traditions and ritual testimony. Weavers translated woven cosmologies into abstract images: “The use of colours and their relation to each other, the emergent rhythm, followed a musical schema, accentuated by complementary contrasts.“2 In this way, rhythm played a similarly important role at the Bauhaus, alongside theories of perception. The lessons taught by Gertrud Grunow—a musician and one of the Bauhaus “masters of form”—also had considerable influence. Gunta Stölzl, later the head of the textile workshop, recounted how the completion of a woven piece was celebrated with a large ceremony: the students sat in a circle around the carpet, singing in honor of the finished work. When the Bauhaus moved to Dessau in 1925, the school’s structure changed: less attention was paid to holism, rather a greater emphasis was put on the economic viability of individual workshops. As director, Walter Gropius demanded a fresh union of art and technology. In his eyes, everyone should be capable of creating well-designed objects. This central idea sparked growing interest in the development of products for serial manufacture. Collaboration with industry intensified and the women of the textile workshop developed materials for commercial production, keeping changing modern housing requirements in mind.
The history of the Bauhaus textile workshop plays a particularly significant role in the exhibition. At the request of Elke aus dem Moore, we invited Berlin based artist Judith Raum to closely examine the workshop with the intention of incorporating it into the exhibition. Although the Bauhaus workshop was already extremely well researched, Raum made astonishing discoveries outside of Germany. In six chapters, the installation, titled Bauhaus Space, recounts the workshop’s history, using fabric reproductions and records from important figures such as Gunta Stölzl and Otti Berger, from Weimar and Dessau.
Raum, who always allows economic and social contexts to flow into her paintings, dedicated herself entirely to this part of history. She has created a space that exceeds mere documentation. It encourages the spectators to touch and feel the materials, allowing them to appreciate their artistic qualities. Working in collaboration with architectural duo S.T.I.F.F. and graphic designers Jakob Kirch and Pascal Storz, she has re-realised the structures of the historical weaving mill.
The transcultural back and forth of textiles should not only be understood within the context of the history of the Bauhaus; rather it is inherent to the sources, structure and life of fabrics. One constant is the juxtaposition of craft and industrial practices. Within individual works of art, crucial roles are played by the narrative forms, by the aesthetics and meaning of craftwork, and the working conditions associated with such work. The exhibition’s title—The Event of a Thread—is a quotation from Anni Albers, who included the following outline in the preface to her influential book On Weaving: “Just as it is possible to go from any place to any other, so also, starting from a defined and specialised field, can one arrive at a realisation of ever-extending relationships. Thus tangential subjects come into view. The thoughts, however, can, I believe, be traced back to the event of a thread.“3 In her essay “The Event of a Thread,“4 T’ai Smith reflects on the history and present day of textiles, how they constantly adapt and alter, moving alongside different geopolitical moments. The title of Smith’s article impressed us with its actuality and poetic invocation of the contexts from which such textiles emerge. Without the event—taking place on material, spiritual, visual and economic levels—without an active doing, the thread would remain a single thread, never going on to form a complex construct. So, it is no surprise that context, in linguistic terms, comes from an idea of weaving together. It is the back and forth of image and text that informed the works, what the works narrate, what unifies them, and the way in which they foreground their own narration.
The exhibition was accompanied by a lecture performance, on the 5th of September, harmless entrepreneurs, by Berlin based artist Judith Raum. Harmless entrepreneurs, examines the political meaning of economic improvisations within the context of the German economic advance in the Ottoman Empire, focusing on the construction of the Baghdad Railway. Through text, images and lecture performance, Judith Raum took the audience into a journey to 19th century textile producers in Bavaria and their intricate connectedness with the outreach of imperialist machinery via the textile trade and business connections with the Ottoman Empire as part of the Baghdad Railway project.
- T'ai Smith. Bauhaus Weaving Theory: From Feminine Craft to Mode of Design. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014.
- Hamid Sadighi Neiriz. "Paul Klee und die Kelims der Nomaden," in die textilwerkstatt am bauhaus. das bauhaus webt, eds. Magdalena Droste and Manfred Ludewig. Berlin: G&H Verlag, 1998. 12
- Anni Albers. On Weaving. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1965. 15
- T'ai Smith. Das Ereignis eines Fadens, in Textiles: Open Letter. eds. Rike Frank and Grant Watson with the Museum Abteiberg and the Generali Foundation. Berlin, Sternberg Press, 2015. 36–47
Inka Gressel and Susanne Weiß
How the textile industry generated a vibrant women’s movement in colonial Cyprus
by Thekla Kyritsi
At the beginning of the 20th century, Cyprus was slowly transitioning from a traditional and patriarchal framework toward a modern—yet male-dominant—industrial society. Within these conditions, women were massively employed in the first textile mills. Although the transition from a home-based agricultural economy to industrial production created the historical preconditions that would eventually lead to women’s emancipation, the industry was oppressive and brutal toward its workers. In this context, the textile factories were largely recruiting women and children as cheap labour, paying them half the salaries of their male co-workers. In 1938, women workers went on one of the longest strikes that ever occurred in Cyprus causing an unprecedented movement of solidarity across the island.
Local attire as the sum of memories and beliefs of the local population in Cyprus. How dress is connected with the political environment.
by Noly Moyssi
Modes of dress are determined and influenced by considerations such as the economic structure and prosperity of a place, the moral and spiritual values in a society. Fashions do not arise on their own, but result from broader changes, e.g. urban, economic, social or cultural. Nevertheless, fashion does not remain stationary but changes through the years, following the trends of times. In this sense it is pertinent to briefly review certain events that occurred during that time and shaped dress in Cyprus which became property of various nation states who left their mark on the local culture and dress. After the Lusignans (1191-1489) and the Venetians (1489-1570), Cyprus became part of the Ottoman Empire (1571-1878). For the three centuries that followed, the island was transformed; new administration, new systems of taxation, different use of land, resources and economy. As such, material dress culture can function as a testimony for both style of the local population in Cyprus and as reflection of the political environment.
Ulla von Brandenburg, Kyriaki Costa, Noa Eshkol, Andreas Exner, Uli Fischer, Zille Homma Hamid, Heide Hinrichs, Olaf Holzapfel, Christa Jeitner, Elisa van Joolen & Vincent Vulsma, Eva Meyer & Eran Schaerf, Karen Michelsen Castañón, Judith Raum, and Franz Erhard Walther
Performance: Judith Raum;
Presentations and discussion: Noly Moyssi & Thekla Kyritsi
Susanne Weiß and Inka Gressel (ifa), for the Limassol Edition in cooperation with NeMe.
Clea Laade (ifa).
Photography: Nicos Avraamides
Exhibition video footage: Nicos Avraamides and Xanthos Avraamides
Performance video footage: Nicos Avraamides and Sebough Albert Edwards Voskeritchian
Seminar video footage: Nicos Avraamides
Cyprus Ministry of Education and Culture, Medochemie, AlphaMega
The Pattichion Municipal Museum – Historical Archive for allowing the use of their space for the seminar
The traffic wardens of the Limassol Municipality for their coordination of the delivery and pick-up of the artworks