Green: The Color and the Cause Exhibits At The Textile Museum in D.C.

Green is a complex issue as illustrated in this new textile exhibition in Washington, D.C.

There is no doubt that new directions in fiber and textile art are influencing the recent crafting and handwork surge in contemporary fashion. Makers are always swapping ideas between the realms of art and design, so it is inevitable that a collective unconscious of sorts permeates shifting style and color trends. The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. is on to this creative phenomenon with their latest exhibition, Green: The Color and the Cause, on view through September 11, 2011. This call-to-artists showcase features a diverse spectrum of wall pieces, sculpture, and site-specific projects — all celebrating the role of green as an influencer of rising eco-consciousness as well as a hue that is evocative of change.

Green: The Color and the Cause has unified artists from diverse backgrounds and disciplines in conjunction with thirteen textile examples of historical precedents from the museum’s own extensive collection. To assemble the group of artists represented, The Textile Museum issued a call for entry to contemporary fiber artists across the country and around the globe. Exhibition co-curators Rebecca A.T. Stevens and Lee Talbot reviewed more than 1,000 works of art submitted by nearly 300 artists. From this group, the co- curators selected 32 contemporary artists—representing 18 U.S. states and 6 countries—to participate in the exhibition.

A Woman of Substance basket coiled from discarded silk blouses by Jackie Abrams (photo: Liz LaVorgna)

Materials and methods featured include the innovative recycling of household textiles and threads, sewing and embroidery, cast papermaking, green typography, as well as a lace vegetation arbor. Several of the show’s pieces reference craft and women’s work as an indicator that the resourceful use of fabric and cloth bits has always been a natural expression of green as an eco-friendly studio methodology. As an environmental fiber artist, I would never make the claim that women are crafters first and environmentalists second just because they opt to pick up a needle to get the job done. What I do know, is that crafting a green vision is a total process and something that flows between the head and the hands with some serious input from the heart.

Hand-sewn and hand-embroidered ‘Swing Coat’ by Alabama Chanin

Some of my favorite artists and crafters are featured in this exhibit, and one of the most intriguing observations made by designer Natalie Chanin is the irony that true green dye is not any easy thing to produce naturally. “Despite the prevalence of green in nature, no single plant produces a color-fast, deep green dye. Until the invention of synthetic dyes in the nineteenth century, people around the world typically combined indigo blue with various yellow dyes to create green textiles.”

Chanin’s contribution to the show is a show stopping cotton jersey ‘Swing Coat’ hand-sewn and hand-embroidered by her team at Alabama Chanin. As the exhibition’s curators highlighted: “Incorporating organic and repurposed materials, Alabama Chanin garments are hand-sewn using traditional quilting and stitching techniques by women who live and work near Florence, Alabama. These women, ranging in age from their 20’s to their 70’s, work together in circles reminiscent of quilting bees to create socially and environmentally responsible fashions.”

Treatment?, 2009, hand-painted silk quilt by Linda Gass

The subversive quilting spirit is alive and well in Green: The Color and the Cause, as illustrated by the work of Linda Gass. Her quilted reproduction of an aerial photograph of a water treatment plant on the San Francisco Bay, calls our attention to “the engineering wonders that have made contemporary lifestyles possible, but also questions the wisdom of our long-term strategies for sustainable development.”

Estuary: Moods and Modes, 2007, Nancy Cohen (photo: Ed Fausty)

Nancy Cohen’s handmade abaca paper sculpture of the ecosystem of coastal New Jersey emulates the ebb and flow of the artist’s study of the New Jersey Pine Barrens ecosystem—a million-acre tract of largely undeveloped land in the nation’s most densely populated state. Her wild topographical melding of marsh grasses and cast paper is perhaps a more revealing way of conducting an environmental impact study while also creating allure with undulating folds.

Arbor Lace, 2002-2011, live vegetation installation by Michele Brody

One of my personal favorites is artist friend Michele Brody’s Arbor Lace (2002-2011) project, an outdoor installation assembled out of synthetic lace, grass seeds, copper pipe and water. Brody has been working with live vegetation in sculpture before green design or eco art became trendy, and her site-specific projects create structures, which she calls “passageways,” for both rural and urban dwellers. The grass seed planted in the arbor will sprout, grow, and die in approximately six weeks time. New seed will then be planted and the cycle will begin anew. You can watch the seeds grow over time at the following link. Brody’s work is the perfect metaphor for understanding the life cycle of textiles and the precious resources required to sustain life and beauty as we desire it.

Gyöngy Laky’s ALTERATIONS,  featured on the cover of the New York Times magazine in spring 2008

There is so much visual fodder in Green: The Color and the Cause that the exhibition is obviously something to be experienced more than described. As a participant, celebrated artist Gyöngy Laky humbly shared, “I am interested in making a small dent in changing attitudes about the environment and our relationship to it.”

Detail of Gyöngy Laky’s sculptural typography work

Green as a color and marketing phenomenon is increasingly a part of our daily lives, but for me, the transformative aspect of this hue is the fact that it’s deep range urges us to see green in those things that also lie at the other end of the spectrum. Craft, innovation, and renewal is often about taking something seemingly mundane and transforming it into something life supporting and wildly complex. No formula exists and no pattern need be duplicated.

Green: the Color and the Cause is co-curated by Lee Talbot, Associate Curator, Eastern Hemisphere Collections, and Rebecca A.T. Stevens, Consulting Curator, Contemporary Textiles. The exhibition will be on view at The Textile Museum April 16 through September 11, 2011.

image: “Hothouse Flowers” by Maggy Rozycki Hiltner via The Textile Museum