September 2016 Within the art world, textiles have never been seen as especially sexy. Rarely do headlines flash with record-breaking sales of Renaissance tapestries. Hardly ever do we hear of the discovery of a lost trove of fabric in some countryside chateau. And yet, there is something comforting in the accessibility of the textile, a humble medium concealing value, practicality, and splendor. This depth, and its cultural significance, is the subject of Edel Assanti’s current exhibition METATEXTILE (on view through August 12th). With historic and contemporary examples, METATEXTILE endeavors to explore hierarchy, status, and global narrative as represented through cloth.
Interrogating the textile itself is a running theme throughout the exhibition, and the definition here is expansive. Leah Dixon knits together hand cut yoga mats while Adrian Esparza’s “threads” are actually wood, nails, and enamel woven together in a rainbow of colors. Particularly strong is Nevet Yitzhak’s “War Rug #3” which, as an animated video, has no material presence. At first peaceful, bombs slowly begin to explode and set off fires in the center of the “rug.” In spite of its cartoonish and playful appearance, the video is haunting and fills the gallery with echoes of blasted mortar.
A relatively sparse exhibition, METATEXTILE is shown over two floors giving the works the room they require to be seen and felt. Certain pieces included in the exhibition were obvious choices: an exhibition about globalism, globalization, and fabric would be incomplete without a Boetti map. Ditto Jeremy Deller’s banners made by Ed Hall — here, “A Double basement being built in Hampstead” (2013). Nonetheless, these always lift the spirits and are thought-provoking especially when considered against the backdrop of national and international politics today. More surprising were Pio Abad’s silks. Dyed the colors of the famed Hermes scarves, Abad decorates his squares with knives, hammers, hooks, and shivs to create “Every Tool is a Weapon if You Hold it Right XXXVI” (2014).
Key to the exhibition’s ethos is that textiles are found throughout history and across geographic regions. Given the emphasis on a global narrative, I wish the curators had included greater (and actual) diversity: there is not a single Latin American, African, or Indigenous culture represented. Nonetheless, METATEXTILE makes the argument for an international inclusivity. That the exhibition opened just two weeks before the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union is uncanny. The use of and need for textiles unites us all, and METATEXTILE is a reminder that though the threads connecting us may be colorful and tangled, they are extensive and full of strength.