We are all aware here that the art of embroidery is experiencing a magnificent comeback! Traditional or modern, it is part of our landscape and even slips into universities!
Amanda Goicovic, a young plastic arts student, uses embroidery as a support for her thesis on current social struggles, on the importance of creative gestures and on our memory.
Text by Amanda Goicovic on questions from Claire de Pourtalès
Photos protected by copyright – thank you
My mother and grandmother were seamstresses, but they did not pass their skills on to me. My mother did not want me to become one because this social status is too precarious. However, I have observed and played with their sewing materials a lot. At home, fabrics overflowed the cupboards. My interest was more in tools and accessories than in fabrics. My grandmother once gave me a little bag full of buttons. It was my treasure, they shone like jewels!
I have never felt a sense of belonging to Chile, my country of origin. I always felt like a foreigner, largely because the identity of Latin American countries is a bit problematic as it was the Spanish settlers born on American lands who demanded independence of the Spanish crown, to the detriment of the indigenous peoples.
I decided to finish my studies in France, studies that had nothing to do with my background as a textile artist. Unlike Chile, in France you can reorient yourself and that has allowed me to set off on a completely unexpected path.
So I started a master’s degree in Fine Arts when I had never embroidered or knitted. I became interested in textiles when I discovered the work of Violeta Parra. This artist works in several artistic fields. She is famous for showcasing popular Chilean music. She is also known for her arpilleras. These are embroideries of wool on burlap. They represent scenes of life loaded with metaphors. Later, the art of arpilleras was a tool of struggle for the wives of detainees who disappeared during the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1989). The message carried by the burlap fabric and the embroidered stitches aimed to denounce the violence of life during the dictatorial regime. It was with the arpilleras that I began to realize the political dimension of textile art.
I don’t know why, but I have a special sensitivity with textile art, it’s a kind of cocoon where I can fully blossom. I like to take a needle, touch a fabric, repeat the same gesture, either on an embroidery hoop or on a frame. With my needle, I construct a speech, the essence of which is found in the gesture. I believe that repetition is a humble and selfless gesture that opposes contemporary logics where we are always looking for novelty, where our lives are carried by the perpetual flow of events and images. Stopping on an embroidery, on a weaving thus becomes an almost political and poetic gesture, because we give up a rhythm to let ourselves be carried away by slowness.
I embarked on a doctorate because I was able to realize during my work for my Master degree that it was necessary to be interested in returning to the crafts. A lot of people have reoriented themselves towards manual trades. I believe that lately social struggles have diversified (feminism, racism, post-colonialism, LGBT +++, etc.) and our identity is no longer attached to our profession, as was the case of the proletarian class during the advent of industrialization. But the problem is, we have a hard time finding a common ground in order to unite.
For me, a return to manual trades means a return to collective struggles, because we can identify with what we create, rather than what we buy. There is a kind of solidity in craft trades, which is opposed to dematerialization and contemporary fluidity, (read La vie solide, Arthur Lochmann’s essay on the ethics of doing). Finally, if I got involved in a thesis in Plastic Arts, it is because I believe that the message is no longer enough and that social demands must go through a reflection about “doing”, which is why my thesis deals with the political dimension of craftsmanship.
I have divided my thesis work into three parts and each of these parts comes with a final plastic production.
For the first part, I embroider photos of the 19th century silk industry in the Cévennes. These embroideries will be part of an installation in the Cévennes museum La Maison Rouge in Saint Jean du Gard. For this installation I will work in partnership with the college of Saint Jean du Gard, as part of an artistic residency funded by the department of Gard (Artist in college).
For the second part, I am thinking of working with postcards from the textile industry in the north of France (Roubaix-Lille), where they mainly produced linen and wool. The goal of this part is to create “wallpaper” style canvases filled with patterns made up of postcards, “Jacobin” or “Crewel work” type embroidery and weaving of needles. Indeed, the idea of reactivating the “industrial” past of France (or the West in general) makes it possible to reestablish links with the present of the textile industry. The conditions of workers in European factories at the end of the 19th century are not far removed from those of workers in factories today in China or India. In my productions, there are usually two ideas or thoughts that I try to develop:
1 – The arrival of the machine devalues artisanal work. But more deeply, all the repetitive gestures during the manufacture of an art or functional object loose all of their value. Repetition, linked to tradition and therefore to memory, is no longer a desirable horizon in a society which embraces technical progress. “The degree of slowness is directly proportional to the intensity of memory; the degree of speed is directly proportional to the intensity of forgetting ” (Milan Kundera in Slowness). At the beginning of the 20th century, artists questioned the usefulness of art when machines could reproduce the visual to perfection. They then broke with traditional techniques. My designs combine photos, embroidery and weaving of the technical tool I use to do this work. It is a challenge to this art which has now become the norm and which is taught in art schools. For me, idea and form are inseparable from the work of art, just as repetition in making is inseparable from the experience of making.
2 – It is necessary to reactivate the proletarian memory, because today it is hidden, invisible, absent from the stage and from public debate. This is why the repetition of a pattern on a linen canvas is a form of claim. Back then, the actions of the workers were despised, guided by the machine. Activating this past makes it possible to show this problem which is still real in “poorer” countries. Reactivating this memory also means reactivating certain struggles of the workers against the machines which threaten to steal their work, like those of the Luddites in England. These struggles are evoked in my work by diverting an image from chronophotography. On the photo, I superimpose images of machines visible on the postcard. Chronophotography is the example that illustrates technical progress, because it is with this technique that we began to rationalize the gestures of workers in the factory.
Finally, for the third part, I completely abandon the use of the image and I work with threads, weaving of needles and embroidery, with the aim of making a sort of canvas (100 x 200 cm) wallpaper type. I have to stay in the same tones, because color is something that I have not yet experienced in my work and I prefer to train myself in natural textile dyeing before applying color to my compositions. I have planned three compositions with needle weaves They are part of a series called: “Artefact: measures and excess of technique”. I would like to convey a message using only the formal characteristics of the textile.
There are several patterns that are recurrent in my embroidery:
1 – The “crewel work”, “Latticework” and “pulled-threads” (white embroidery) embroidery patterns: what interests me in this embroidery are the artictic notions linked to the structure and the connection between textiles and sculpture. With crewel embroidery, we play on the notion of adding a structure to an existing structure. Embroidery needs a ground fabric. We are building on what is already there. It’s the same with our speeches. With the pulled-treads (= jours in French, which also means Days) of white embroidery, the meaning is more poetic. “Jours” are a metaphor: seeing through something, seeing the days or hope to come.
2 – Postcards from textile production: I either embroider a fabric like a woven fabric, creating types of patterns on postcards where you can see spinners (crafts), or I embroider structures on photos of the textile industry. Why the postcard? Because it is an object that helped build the imagination of the past and it is something that we no longer make. The postcard is the bearer of memory, either of artisanal trades or of the industry of the 20th century.
3 – Needle weaving has two meanings:
- Highlight technical tools that do not impose a rhythm on the body, which lose their place and their strength during mechanization.
- Underline the metaphor linked to our relationship to technology. Indeed, I take the metaphor of the social fabric. I think we have to admit that technique is part of our culture. The problem lies in the level of autonomy that technology has been given to colonize every space of our lives. The fact of inserting the technical tool of sewing or embroidery in the weaving on linen fabrics means that our social fabric is built with the technical tools, but that today they are also so integrated into our lives that they shape the social fabric.
4 – Fragmentary shapes: the composition of my embroidery evokes the notion of fragment because my work revolves around memory and memory is never complete, is never intact, it always comes in pieces, woven in an almost capricious way.
5 – The motif occupies a very important place in my work. It also functions as a metaphor for the repetition and reproducibility of objects in our post-industrial era. I could say that all of my work revolves around a desire to compose non-reproducible, unique patterns. For example, in my productions with needle weaves, even if I repeat the same composition several times, it will never be the same: on the one hand, the weavings deform or change over time, on the other hand, even if I weave each strip in the same place, I could never make exactly the same shape: everything is in the gesture, and the gesture is unique.
What links do you make with textile art today?
I have observed that textile art has taken a new place in cultural and identity issues, a subject which in my opinion monopolizes contemporary production. This is why I would like to discuss other topics concerning the textile world. There is an increasing awareness on the part of textile artists regarding the textile industry. The production of fabrics plays a very important role in the ecological crisis and this is one of the effects of capitalism and the overconsumption that goes with it. Returning to artisanal techniques on photos of industrialization or integrating industrially made elements such as needles, is a way for me to contrast these two universes which remain in textile creation and in general in our lives, because we all wear clothes.
Where are you in this research, in this story? As a woman, as an artist? What are your plans ?
I am more on the side of the people who work in the artistic world, who try to erase the person behind their achievements. Nonetheless, I cannot overlook the feminist heritage of textile art. I think this is an art like any other and I’m happy to be a woman and to wield a needle. I was once told: “Why don’t you take a brush instead of your needle? Do you do textile art because you are a woman?” I think we all have different sensibilities about artistic practices, and I don’t feel the same way throwing paint strokes as I do picking up a needle. Too bad this is seen as something dictated by patriarchal codes. Nevertheless, I am also attached to the notion of profession in our society. According to Richard Sennett, the culture of craftsmanship can really change our relationship to the world, the logics on which we base the way we structure society.
I admire some textile artists, such as: Annie Albers, Sheila Hicks and Lenore Tawney (the classics). I also love Tanya Boukal‘s work. She inspired my thoughts a lot. I started using archive photos when I saw the series she made as part of a residency in the DMC archives in Mulhouse. I learned “Crewel Work” / “Latticework” from a distance with Bugambilo (Sol Kesseler). She is an excellent textile artist who works mainly on the notions of line in portraits. I greatly admire everything she does. At the moment I am collaborating with an artist who weaves texts: Ilann Vogt. I am very happy because I admire his work so much – it is so poetic and so melancholy. I am a huge fan of Michel Landel who machine embroiders photos. Finally, I appreciate all the embroidery and weaving of all the women I know. I go from time to time in the Cévennes to join a group of spinners. They are like lights of life for me! In this group I met Christiane Pinet with whom I followed a weaving course at La Couvertoirade a few months ago.
My projects for the coming months: write my thesis and finish the corresponding productions, during this year! I also try to do more personal things, including machine-embroidered and hand-embroidered photographs. These are photos of strangers and I try to build woven fictions. I have a little obsession with the notion of memory and how we construct our memories, which are the source of our construction as individuals. Our lives, ultimately, are only a set of fictions, woven by a capricious memory …