A Philosophy of Textile
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A Philosophy of Textile

Between Practice and Theory

Catherine Dormor

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eBook - ePub

A Philosophy of Textile

Between Practice and Theory

Catherine Dormor

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About This Book

Textile is at once a language, a concept and a material thing. Philosophers such as Plato, Deleuze and Derrida have notably drawn on weaving processes to illustrate their ideas, and artists such as Ann Hamilton, Louise Bourgeois and Chiharu Shiota explore matters such as the seam, the needle and thread, and the flow of viscous materials in their work. Yet thinking about textile and making textile are often treated as separate and distinct practices, rather than parallel modes. This beautifully illustrated book brings together for the first time the language and materiality of textile to develop new models of thinking, writing and making. Through the work of thinkers such as Roland Barthes, Hélène Cixous and Luce Irigaray, and international artists like Eva Hesse and Helen Chadwick, textile practitioner, theorist and writer Catherine Dormor puts forward a new philosophy of textile. Exploring the material behaviours and philosophical language of folding, shimmering, seaming, viscosity, fraying and caressing, Dormor demonstrates how textile practice and theory are intricately woven together.

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Information

Year
2020
ISBN
9781472587251
Edition
1
Topic
Design
1
Folding
According to the dictionary, to fold is to bend something such as paper or cloth so that one part of it lies on the other part. A fold is also the fenced area on a farm where sheep are kept during the night; -fold as a suffix acts as a multiplier as in threefold (OED). Folding bends towards, encloses and multiplies at the same time and as such can be thought of as an ambiguous activity of secretion and revelation, excess and restraint. As a structure and an action, folding resists occupying a singular space, preferring a space that has the capacity to stretch, fold and inflect. Folding establishes a new dimension upon the cartesian surface – a dimension based on form and excess. If the potency of the fold lies in the interplay between formation and its undoing, folding is inextricably caught up with unfolding. The temporary bend in the cloth relies on its opening out, its movement, to reveal itself and that which has been caught up in the fold. In many ways it is unfolding that announces the presence of folding.
When momentous events take place, analyses of the situation most commonly begin with the words ‘as events unfold . . .’ The phrase is used in an attempt to express the beginnings of a linear narrative, to organize and set out the stages that led to, and follow from, this current situation. However, the term unfolding reveals the complexity of events and hints at a more processual situation within which elements become uncovered, hidden and recovered by parts, not necessarily in any chronological or logical order. Events unfolding establish a map of what took place rather than a singular, linear narrative, thus implicating broader temporal events within. The fold and unfolding of events create a simultaneity of differential elements and integration.
Such events occur within a complex system in which previous events and new factors could be said to collide. The architect Bernard Tschumi states that ‘an event is a kind of accident, one that arises from the unlikely collision of generally uncoordinated vectors’ (Virilio and Rose 2000: xi). Thought of in this way, it makes sense then that the presence of an event is usually felt through its aftereffects.
To think of folding from the viewpoint of folded or pleated fabric focuses upon the interplay of folding and unfolding as a multiple and complex space. While the seemingly flat fabric hangs somewhat austerely from the hips, the slightest movement of the body causes those pleats to unfold and reveal their excess fabric secreted within but also the curvature of the hips, the waist and the legs that are implicated in the movement. In their unfolding, the pleats reveal their formation, in their formation their unfolding is created. This is the temporal field of the fold. It holds within itself an unfolding event: folds within folds.
An unfolding of making
In The Fold (1988) Gilles Deleuze takes the idea of temporality and multiple fields in considering the materiality and concept of folding and unfolding through an analysis of the role of the Baroque within the work of the mathematician Leibniz. Here he proposes the Baroque to be both identified by the fold and productive of folds and thus sets the fold in terms of a relationship with itself. This positions it within a schema of reflexive temporality in which there is no beginning and no end.
The Baroque refers not to an essence, but rather to an operative function, to a trait. It endlessly produces folds. It does not invent things . . . the Baroque trait twists and turns in its folds, pushing them to infinity, fold over fold, one upon the other.
(Deleuze 1988: 3)
In this model such reflexivity enables folds within folds – relations within relations – and the very process by which an event occurs becomes clearer and yet increasingly intricate and complex. As the wearer moves, so the pleats open and close, fold back into themselves and over each other to create a swinging, undulating pattern of movement and excess.
Deleuze sets out four elements inherent to the Baroque fold:
1. Folding is an activity of continuity rather than completion
2. The active and relational interplay between folds is vital in maintaining the integrity of the fold
3. The fold does not unify but brings elements into relationship
4. Unfolding is implicated within folding and its temporal field
(Deleuze 1988: 111)
Taken together, these four elements offer a way for thinking through, and about, relationships between textile practice and theory. It is in the encounter with the other within the space of the fold that an expression of that other is created. As one element folds onto its other self, its multiplicity and capacity become revealed. Martin Heidegger believed that artworks should always be considered in terms of the event of their creation. Here, ‘origin’ is understood as ‘that from which and by which something is what it is and as it is’ (Heidegger 1993: 143). To think of it in this way is to have in mind multiple vectors that loop forward and backward within the temporal field. As with the pleated garment at rest, Tschumi’s collision and Heidegger’s origin hold meaning and process within the folds of fabric, extending their temporality. Process and meaning are always present and always integral parts of the whole. This greater volume becomes animated in movement and thus completes the garment through being what it is and as it is.
To conceive of folding fabric as a way of approaching the capacity for exchange between textile practice and theory also involves thinking of folding as form of deconstruction. To deconstruct and set out the constituent parts held within each element enables meaning to be exchanged at a structural level. The fold and folding is capable of establishing multiple and altering permutations – it is a process of exchange. In folding between textile practice and theory, meaning is transferred through layering and pleating, which enables an extended sense of meaning through the temporal to-ing and fro-ing between and within the folds. This recognizes the processes of meaning-making that take place between words as signifiers of meaning. Such multiplicity and metamorphosing together mean that folding involves a repeated and ongoing sending out and bringing back of meaning; it is reflexive and duplicitous.
This duplicity, together with the inherent reflexivity, is what Luce Irigaray refers to, in her discussion of the production of female subjectivity, as an enfolded process involving self-touching. In this she draws upon female anatomy and the configuration of the vulva as two lips, which are themselves multiple folds.
In order to touch himself, man needs an instrument; his hand, a woman’s body, language . . . and this self-caressing requires at least a minimum of activity. As for woman, she touches herself without any need for mediation, and before there is any way to distinguish activity from passivity. Woman ‘touches herself’ all the time . . . her genitals are formed of two lips in continuous contact.
(Irigaray 1977: 24)
Here, for the woman, the folds are constantly in contact, touching and reconfiguring, creating connections within connections. Irigaray here foregrounds female subjectivity as sticky and as a series of becomings. The fold, like expression, actualizes content, so a female subjectivity as self-folding offers a way for thinking about art-making as a form of continuation of that subjectivity. Patricia MacCormack refers to this as becoming-vulva:
In becoming-vulva new positions open new ideas which could not have existed before – the elements are the model . . . In the fold, alterity is encountered within the self, through the other, and the other encounters the self in ways the self cannot autonomously express.
(MacCormack 2009: 106–7)
Irigaray and MacCormack, taken together, offer non-linear models for thinking about the reality of art-making as an expression of being that echo and extend Heidegger’s ‘origin’ and Deleuze’s labyrinthine internal relationships. They propose a model for the interplay between thinking and making, between the work of art and art’s works, that doubles back on itself, folding and unfolding repeatedly.
Folding, unlike cutting and seaming, is an impermanent act of doubling over that further implies in its turn unfolding, enfolding and refolding. Thought of in these terms, the relational interplay between practice and theory becomes an expression of a continual and processual movement between and within those folds: always in flux, always in the process of exchange and change. Such interplay could be said to be the performance of the baroque arabesque that occurs as one fold momentarily ends and another begins. Thus, performance at the point of inflection within and between folds becomes an expression of the continual movement to and fro and the labyrinthine pathways reveal their unfoldings, re-foldings and new foldings as the folded fabric is animated across the moving body.
Pennina Barnett, in her essay accompanying the exhibition Textures of Memory: The Poetics of Cloth (1999), suggests that the fold offers a way for thinking through textile practice that is built upon an elasticity for thinking practice and materializing theory. Thus, she suggests that as the fabric opens and re-folds, in its volume a blurring of the binaristic either/or framework takes place:
The poetics of cloth are a stretching out: an invitation to leap inside the hollow of the fold, to see what happens. And to think inside the continuity of the fold is to think in a continuous present.
(Barnett 1999: 32)
In this she suggests a methodological mode for thinking about making that foregrounds cloth-based language and behaviours, pointing towards an undulating and folding material matrix within and upon which language is not only used metaphorically but also becomes the medium of practice. Such a framework for thinking about making is constructed through the processes of that making itself, which is an enfolded framework that, like the pleated skirt, opens and flexes.
According to Deleuze, the definition of the baroque is ‘the fold into infinity’ (1988: 122), going beyond itself, enlarging and distending. Thus, folds are constantly in the process of revealing themselves. ‘[A] fold is always folded within a fold, like the cavern in a cavern . . . the smallest element of the labyrinth, is the fold, not the point’ (6). Thought of in this way, folding and unfolding can no longer be taken as opposite actions, but rather they come together generatively. As the fold is unfolded, so it reveals further folds within folds and so ‘to unfold is to increase, to grow’ (8). Deleuze turns to the notion of metamorphosis here suggesting that ‘metamorphosis . . . pertains to more than mere change of dimension: every animal is double . . . just as the butterfly is folded into the caterpillar that will soon unfold’ (9). Like Irigaray’s folded vulva, Deleuze here draws out the process of folding: it allows its elements to exceed and distend beyond a change of state, beyond themselves. In this sense, the fold brings together the structures of layering, but also articulation or reflexivity so that it reveals what lies within the fold: further folds and excess volume.
Thinking of the fold as a way by which to think through the production of subjectivity, folding offers itself as a critique or challenge to models which separate interiority and exteriority. Folding foregrounds the continual and processual notion of such a production, and thus the fold is both figure and ground, process and product, continuously producing itself. The fold, then, models subjectivity as a repeated, reflexive impulse.
Such reflexivity and fluidity of the subject in turn emphasizes the fold as primarily relational. Like the event, it is a mode for thinking that has the capacity to bring together elements without either a temporal or a hierarchical structure. In confounding binaries often erected to separate interiority from exteriority, the fold focuses primarily upon the involuted, and invaginated, encounter. Such an encounter is one that rejects inside and outside as structuring paradigms in favour of a terrain which holds within itself the ability to stretch, to fold and to inflect and in this way proposes itself as an active and fluid multiplicity in which the actions and activities of making are not established either as individuals or as sets of individuated process, but rather take the form of continual pleatings that fold and open against one another to reveal their volume and excess.
The work of the American textile artist Jane Lackey is a good example to focus upon here. Her practice is borne from the interplay of different media, largely textile, sculpture, performance and drawing. She moves between macro and micro approaches: between the ways in which warp folds in and around weft and the ways the body and cloth can be choreographed together. Her installations, then, hover between diagram, origins and finished works. Tangible materials (thread, chalk, felt, cords, tape and cloth) become points of inspiration, drawing materials and articulation of that practice. As the woven cloth relies on warp and weft being held together for its existence, so Lackey’s practice requires all of its elements, its macro and micro concerns, to be held together: diagram, articulation, installat ion and points of origin fold and unfold around one another.
The notion of connectivity through repeated foldings and pleatings within foldings and pleatings suggests that otherness, or alterity, is generated within the self and revealed through the other as an enfolding and unfolding process of the creation of subjectivity. As a model within Lackey’s textile practice, a mode for thinking and making, folding opens up each element’s otherness within the others at the same time as recognizing their differences from between and within a seemingly endless series of unfoldings or becomings. This interplay, held within the folds, means that as the one folds together with another, the two (or even three or more) do not involute or elide, but rather from within that folding together emerges a form of meaning-making that is, like the fold itself, about volume. It is labyrinthine, elastic, pliable and multiple. Further, given that folding is foregrounded upon notions of affectivity, it operates as a model for thinking across the terrain not in terms of what each element is in relation to the others but in terms of what this matrixial structure, in its volume, pliability and fluidity, does.
Enveloping Space: Walk, Trace, Thin...

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