A Good Life Woven from Women and Handwork
‘with weft, with warp’
Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA)
Apr. 17 – June 3, 2018
written by Lee Jiyoon | materials provided by Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA)
The exhibition ‘with weft, with warp’ opened at Seoul Museum of Art, Seosomun on 17 April 2018. The exhibition, which repeatedly crosses the short lines as if they were sewn one by one, shows clearly and visually the material of yarn. The weft and the warp are the fundamental units of fabric. The elliptical behaviour behind the title should be the weaving. As clarified in the catalogue essay, the exhibition was guided by ‘women’and ‘handwork’ as keywords. Shin Sungran (curator, Seoul Museum of Art) notes, ‘In human life, labour constitutes not only identity but also the fundamental aspects of a person. Therefore, this exhibition considers the keywords women and labour with how to live well’. Then, if we observe the 14 participating artists and groups in the exhibition with these two key concepts in mind, we will be able to read the ‘good life’ woven into the show.
The Decomposition of Woman
The first work of the exhibition starts with Veil I, II of Shin Yoola. At first glance, the fabric draped like a curtain at the entrance seems to be part of the natural decoration for the exhibition. However, when I approached the white velvet cloth with a fresh feeling, the embroidered and embossed patterns began to come into focus. These patterns, which are carefully inscribed using burn-out techniques, vividly illustrate horrific scenes of genocide in the Holocaust, the Nanjing Massacre, the Jeju April 3 Uprising, and the May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement. Depicting events that occurred across different times and spaces, the resonances between them were rarely known or understood due to the horror of ideological control. As such, the exhibition begins by announcing collective and social issues through textiles. This leads to Seo Haeyoung’s Comb’s Grips for 8 Women.
A rounded tapestry frame is located in the middle of the exhibition hall, and combs for making tapestries is placed on one wall. The alternative form of a circle is a tool that reveals the ‘process of collaboration’ in which a plurality of people can work together at the same time, unlike an artwork which emphasises the efforts of an individual artist. However, it does not only highlight the ‘collectivity’ that has been achieved. The combs used to make round moulds are customised to fit the individual’s needs, considering the characteristics of the participants. The artist placed the device, a tool like any other so often considered a symbol of masculinity, in the hands of women and turned them into individuals rather than ‘women’. In the tapestry, there are individual interview videos in which individuals of different personalities confess that they feel unity and dissonance in the process of collaboration, communication, and appellation. In the films, the artist stresses the ‘difference’ between each individual, not the generic qualities of ‘women’.
At this point, the direction that the exhibition wishes to take becomes clearer: things that only seen at a close distance. The weft of the exhibition, ‘women’, is a biological concept as well as a social concept. The Veil I, II of Shin Yoola warns us that we must seek the hidden patterns and not the beauty of woven cloth to find the truth. The truth is also a metaphorical device, meaning that it can be seen not only through the grand discourse and framework of ‘ideology’, but also by approaching and peering. Seo Haeyoung reinterprets the value of handwork as ‘collaboration’ by looking at individuals alive in their differences rather than at a mass of ‘women’ seen through the frameworks offered by wider society.
Creating the Individual
In the place of the disintegrating category of women there remains a creative individual. ‘Love Rub Like a God’ Individual Culture#Design the World by Oh Hwajin creates a mythical creature which is constantly creates something by combining the artist’s body and her sewing machine. In Oh’s work, the work of sewing does not remain in the position of craft, which had an inferior status compared to the fine arts or was thought of as simple labour. The work of textiles and the work derived from it are, for the artist, the creation of the world, and she constructs her identity as a creator and reveals her inner assurance that she has been granted such authority from her conception. Therefore, the craft of textile art is no longer toil or diversion, but vitally understood as a new creation.
Kwon Hyuk and Cha Seungean embolden the new possibilities of the medium of ‘thread’ by using it to cover a wide range of genres. Kwon shows a kind of landscape painting that expresses the aura and spirit of the surroundings through the combination of poured acrylic pigment and sewn embroidered drawings with fine stitches. In the dichotomy between matter and spirit, he introduces spirituality to the embroidery, where it had previously been a feat of handwork. Cha creates a ‘weaving painting’ within a canvas frame. While using the medium and techniques of weaving, her works pay homage to the major painting elements of art history, such as Helen Frankenthaler’s stain painting and the pattern painting of Rhee Seundja. The formative elements of the sense of material of threads and stain are combined as one pigment.
Some artists bring a part of the identity of ‘woman’ into their work. Borrowing the form of the film poster, Hong
Young-in’s Under the Sky of Happiness put the words ‘Under the sky of happiness’ at the centre, the faces of
women remembered from contemporary history on the top of a screen, and the images of anonymous workers embroidered on the bottom. This poster, which seems to take the form of a heroic narrative, has content of women, for women, and by women, but we can analogize the deformed mechanism of society in which they exist from the word ‘happiness’. On the other hand, the work of Koh Sankeum, Nameless One with a Name is the result of the act of a the total number of 8 participants, including the artist, were wrapped up by the maximum size of the belly in pregnancy and subsequently wrote about it.
The general state of being nameless in maternity has a personal and vital narrative in the name of each of us.
Warp Tying Completed by Handwork
The ability of the artist to move closer with the act of creation, to break the mass, to cross the boundary, and to personalise and give vitality, goes one step further and penetrates the notion of ‘labour’, erstwhile thought of as the fundamental value of a human being. Kwon Yongju’s Tying weaves a story about a worker in Thompson extile
Mill in Thailand and the artist’s mother who worked at a textile factory in Daegu. ‘I wanted to protect my child’s future’, a Thompson worker says in a monologue about his life lived with an unyielding will while overlapping with a mother who exits from a factory with a child. And there is labour in the act of being that embodies this will.
The warp tying means a technic of connecting the weft and the warp. As a sticky bond to life, labour as the warp
weaved into the weft called rigours of women’s individual lives and let us observe the ‘life’ placed in front of the members of society.
Women, Handwork, and the Community
Therefore, how do artists create new lives through ‘handwork’? Artists also find values within the community from project-based works and actively suggest alternatives. Store N. and Weaving Life, Weaving Nature suggest the restoration of the relationship and the formation of the bond through art. In Labor Praise of Store N., the nobility of labor is revealed in the weaving of red cotton work gloves by the elderly knitting community. Neighbor Store in Anjeong-ri runs the village art store project working with the villagers to develop artistic products and the brand of the village.
The project suggests the necessary value of a new village after the relocation of the US military base for the residents of Anjeong-ri, who have been engaged in the military-dependent service industry, and to seek closer regional identity links to local artisans and artists.
Touching Yearning by Weaving Life, Weaving Nature is a work of healing and an attempt to forget the suffering of bereaved families that fell victim to the Sewol Ferry disaster through the act of weaving and unravelling pullovers for their departed children. Visitors can also experience collaborative approaches to art through Everybody’s Loom.
Could this community of collaborations be sustainable? At some point in time, it may maintain personal monologues in the repetitive nature of labour, as in A Day of a Tailor of Jun Sojung, or it may have revealed labour to be a repetitive sensory experience, like Jang Minseung’s Four Seasons. Also, this is another attempt to lend special meaning to anonymous labour. However, artists can also transform this into a community that creates new alternative values. Zero Space visualises cooperation and solidarity felt in small factories in an empty place abandoned by a lot of textile factories (Relationship Map 2018), and creates artworks that sustain life such as Leftover Fabric Cushion and Zero Waste Shirts using leftover pieces of cloth discarded in the process of production.
The ‘women’ and ‘handwork’ proposed by the exhibition have been expanded in a more fundamental sense to the ‘individuals who form the community’ and to their ‘existing acts’. The artists cover this place, where hierarchies and borders are pulled down, with close cooperation and solidarity expressed in fascinating and strong ways. It is a good life that the artists have woven.