Fashion, Carpets and Contemporary Art

Editorial for Norwegian Crafts Magazine 3/ 2014: Flexibility

In this issue of Norwegian Crafts Magazine, we take a look at various forms of textile art. In the first article, Cecilie Tyri Holt, editor of the Norwegian magazine Kunsthåndverk, has interviewed the Danish fashion designer Henrik Vibskov, who recently made costumes for A Swan Lake, held a solo exhibition at the Design Museum in Helsinki, and showcased his new collection at Paris Fashion Week.

Vibskov embodies the post-modern paradigm in his disregard for purity. He loves bending genres and crossing over into other fields of expertise and ‘aesthetic systems’. While the expansions of disciplines like painting, sculpture and textile art are not new in contemporary art, Vibskov treats fashion as yet another expanding field, adopting and appropriating from design, popular culture and the world of mass-media. He works from within the fashion industry, making dresses, installations and performances that seem like spectacular art shows in the spirit of Matthew Barney.

I label Vibskov a fashion designer, but Vibskov himself would reject this category – or any category for that matter – as he says in his interview. He wants to elude delimiting categories and definitions, and he works as much with music and film as with art or fashion. Perhaps the best way to describe him is to call him a ‘maker of worlds’, or even a ‘creator of universes’, as Tyri Holt suggests in the title of her article. This is because Vibskov really is making ‘worlds’ or conceptual frameworks where the clothes function like costumes in a theatrical play. Vibskov’s works are also noted for the quality of handicraft that goes into their production, making him a fine hybrid between a conceptual designer and a craftsman. His works point to a shift in the fashion industry as well as in contemporary art, towards a new respect for making and materials.

«Vibskov´s works point to a shift in the fashion industry as well as in contemporary art, towards a new respect for making and materials »

In my view, Vibskov operates in much the same way as a contemporary artist, but from the perspective of fashion, showing his creations or ‘works of art’ not in the white cube and art world, but on the catwalk for fashionistas.

Textiles are significant for shaping our identity and outward expression of ourselves, but they also serves important functions in interior design. In the exhibition Decorum: Carpets and Tapestries by Artists at the Musee D’art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (October 2013 – February 2014) and at Shanghai Power Station of Art (June – August 2014), carpets and tapestries are dealt with from the perspective of art.

This large survey exhibition combines works by contemporary artists as well as artists from earlier centuries, famous makers like Picasso and Le Corbusier but also many whose names are not generally known. It certainly adds force to the argument that materiality and craftsmanship are gaining renewed recognition within the field of contemporary art. As Caroline Achaintre – one of the artists participating in the exhibition – makes clear in her essay, Decorum shows a great variety of working methods within contemporary textile art. This field seems to have both a conceptual and a material flexibility that have appealed to artists for at least a century. Among the many artists in the exhibition, we find two Norwegian artists: Hannah Ryggen (1894-1970), a strongly political artist who participated posthumously in Documenta in 2012, and Marius Engh (b. 1974) a contemporary artist associated with a neo-conceptual, post-disciplinary tendency in recent Norwegian art.

Another textile exhibition featured in this issue is Play and Decay, recently on show in Lithuania. The exhibition featured works by Kristina Daukintyte Aas, Karina Nøkleby Presttun, Hilde Frantzen and Gro Gjengedal Navelsaker. Lithuanian art critic Monika Jašinskaitė describes these artists as presenting ‘some of the possibilities of modern, conceptually grounded textile art’, although not all of them actually presented textiles in the show. Discussing the exhibition from the perspective of her own practice as a textile artist, Jašinskaitė shows how textile art is an expanding field. This realization is also taken into account in the Decorum-exhibition, where one of the carpet works is actually made of coffee beans.

I will not dwell on Rosalind Krauss’s concept of an ‘expanded field’ here, but make due to mention that ever since she wrote the article ‘Sculpture in the Expanded Field’ in the 1970s, the concept has come to dominate certain areas of contemporary art. When referring to textiles as an ‘expanded field’, there may be confusion over what we are actually referring to. We could easily say that Vibskov belong to ‘fashion in an expanded field’. Textiles are of course so flexible as materials, but the idea of textiles is also amazingly flexible. Textiles inhabit so many different environments and are connected to so many different disciplines that it has been difficult for them to break out of the conceptual boundaries they have inhabited for centuries. My aim with this issue of Norwegian Crafts Magazine is to show some of the diversity that exists in within textile based practices, be it fashion, contemporary art or contemporary crafts.