‘Innovations in Textiles’ Disrupts Our Assumptions About Fabric Arts and Artists

 In Culture, Interviews

You’ll never have a closer encounter with a piece of art than with a textile. Fiber arts are all around us, from the clothes on our backs to the upholstery that brightens our living rooms to the soul-stirring conceptual fabric art pieces that call to us from museum podiums. And this fall, if you spend any time at all in the galleries of the St. Louis metro region, the textile medium will become a bigger part of your world than you might realize.

That’s because of “Innovations in Textiles,” a colossal quadrennial event dedicated to bringing the cutting edge (no pun intended) of the fiber arts world to our corner of the heartland. Seriously: Name a gallery, museum or art nonprofit in your neighborhood, and there’s a good chance that over the course of the next four months it will be host to at least one “Innovations in Textiles” exhibit, workshop, artist talk or mega-colorful, yarn-bombed outdoor installation. Events begin on Aug. 21 with a make-your-own fiber sculpture night at Laumeier Sculpture Park.

Guided: St. Louis spoke with artistic director Robin Hirsch-Steinhoff about why you should check out an “Innovations in Textiles” event or show near you and why the fiber arts are so easy to get wrapped up in.

Guided: Most people hear the word “textile” and just think “cloth.” How will the work in the “Innovations in Textiles” disrupt our assumptions?
The word “textiles” includes basically everything you can imagine, from basket weaving to contemporary art quilts to embroidery to tapestry to weaving to soft sculpture … I can’t even name them all! There’s just so much to what fiber art is that it’s challenging to even think about it.

Textiles are a part of our everyday lives, but artists have always elevated the everyday into art. [That’s why “Innovations in Textiles”] brings in national artists, curators, speakers, even collectors, to show St. Louis the full range of what the medium can do.

Guided: So we know the work is cool. What’s special and unique about fiber artists themselves?
Fiber artists are the kind of people who congregate and create together more often than maybe some other media; the very nature of a lot of fiber art, especially quilting and weaving and other traditional crafts, is that there’s a lot of partnership involved. And it’s not just a female-centric medium. There’s a great number of artists of all different representations, and they’re working in all kinds of media using the processes associated with textile. [You might meet] somebody who’s making huge beaded pieces or someone who might make quilts out of bottle caps. If someone is making at textile out of found metal, that’s still fiber art, because it’s that technique.

Guided: It seems like the fiber arts are home to a lot of outsider artists, or at least really huge, fascinating personalities.
Totally! So just to give one example, at Duane Reed Gallery, we’re showing the work of a woman named Sun Smith-Foret, [who’s primarily a quilter]. If you have family quilts, there’s a good chance they’re all in a log cabin pattern, there are some flying geese, that kind of thing … but Sun expands on that. Her pieces are usually gigantic, like, eight, nine feet tall, using all kinds of unfamiliar shapes and colors. And she’ll often quilt and watch contemporary movies at the same time; she has a whole body of work where each one is inspired by a film or an actor.

Guided: I’m looking at her website right now—she has a “Zoolander” quilt! The Vin Diesel one is so beautiful and crazy.
I know! But here’s the thing; Sun also recently started making baskets. She does a traditional knotting technique with basket-making, but then she adds to all of that all sorts of ephemera, whether it’s natural stuff like found wood or a ton of beads … and she has hundreds of these, I’m sure. Anything she picks up, she sees it as a resource to make something. And it’s the same with people; she’ll meet people along the way and she’ll just envelop them into her practice and invite them to help her make a textile.

'Innovations in Textiles' Disrupts Our Assumptions About Fabric Arts and Artists

Image of Ethan Meyer’s “Bearer of Strange Fruit” (2019), in fabric and mixed media, courtesy of “Innovations in Textiles.”

Guided: So where should people start if they want to dive into the “Innovations in Textiles” experience?
Well, there are a few special events I’d love to point out. Quilt National has been coming to St. Louis for decades. It’s run out of a dairy barn in Ohio, and they put on this international quilt exhibition every other year, in addition to other events throughout the year. St. Louis was lucky enough to have been one of the venues for the traveling portion of it. It’s always a fundraiser for Safe Connections, [a non-profit dedicated to reducing the impact and incidence of domestic and sexual violence]. That’s a good one to support.

There’s also an organization called the Surface Design Association, and we’ve been working with them to bring their “Beyond the Surface” conference to St. Louis. That’s actually a big deal; they’re really, really contemporary when it comes to the art making and non-traditional [forms of textile design]. And that benefits all of our artists.

And then I’d say, I’d just go on the website and search for a venue that’s near you; there’s a good chance they’re hosting something. Then maybe search for a venue you’d like to explore.  There’s a good chance there will be an innovative textile artist showing there.

Featured image of “Volcano,” a 3-D sculptural object by Sun Smith-Foret, courtesy of Ray Marklin.

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