Weaving Data
Faig Ahmed, Gautama, 2017, handmade woolen carpet. Photo: © Faig Ahmed, Courtesy of the artist and Collection Majudia.

Weaving Data

Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at Portland State University, Portland, OR - To Apr 29

by Joseph Gallivan

This must-see show makes the connection between the old punch cards of the Jacquard loom of the 19th century and to- day’s digital methods of making patterned fabric by weaving. Many of the nine fiber artists showcased here used the Thread Controller 2 (TC2), a digital/analog loom from Norway that has swept the discipline in the past few years. It allows digital image input but still demands human decision-making and manual dexterity to produce woven art.

Faig Ahmed’s Gautama, 2017, is an imposing piece that faces visitors as they enter. The handmade woolen carpet rises like an eagle on the wall, but dissolves in its middle and seems to melt across the floor, like an LSD hallucination. Ahmed takes a traditional Azerbaijani carpet and turns it into a candy-colored barcode, which turns into a swirling pool.

Shelley Socolofsky takes high-altitude drone shots of glaciers and coastal formations and creates ghostly silks, part shroud, part Hermès head scarf. She uses the data of the world of melting ice caps to summon the images of body parts on a dead man’s body wrap. Meanwhile, the anarchist artist Vo Vo presents a tapestry depicting scenes from the Everett Cotton Mills strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, in 1912. The black-and-white iconography reminds one of clip art, or stick-and-poke tattoos.

The diversity of weavings is impressive, from shy, quiet abstracts to bossy, loud portraits. There are dozens of interesting works, breaking weaving out from its conservative roots. Kayla Mattes presents one Technicolor extravaganza that shows overenthusiastic air dancers “working it” at a gas station somewhere tropical. (She also does Tinder for cats.)
Charles Babbage’s early computer, the Analytical Engine (1834), borrowed the punch card idea from Jacquard. With Weaving Data, curators Theo Downes–Le Guin and Nancy Downes–Le Guin highlight the connection between weaving and technology. They write: “Through analysis, metaphor, aesthetics, and humor, the artists in this exhibition interrogate and prod at the history and soul of high technology.”

In-gallery artist events April 13, 5-6:30pm, & April 18, noon-1pm pdx.edu/museum-of-art.

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