Oct 27, 2011

TREND | String In Contemporary Art

Carolle Benitah, The Disguise  
Fiber, thread, yarn, filament, string, call it what you please but this simple material of just a few deniers and relatively weightless is making a statement throughout many new works of contemporary art. Above is a photograph by Carolle Benitah who won second place in the portfolio category in the 2010 Lens Culture International Exposure Awards. Benitah revisits her old family photos and embroiders how she feels about her past into this collection by making two-dimensional photographs three-dimensional. She says, “With each stitch I make a hole with a needle. Each hole is a putting to death of my demons. It’s like an exorcism. I make holes in paper until I am not hurting anymore.” 

The other day as my fingers became a pincushion I couldn’t help but think how back in the day sewing and embroidery was a skill women had to know and do. Benitah hit it spot on when saying, “Embroidering is primarily a feminine activity. In the past, the embroiderer was seen as a paragon of virtue. Waiting was tied to this activity: women embroidered, hoping for the return of the man to the home. Embroidery is intimately linked to the milieu in which I grew up. Girls in a "good family" used to learn how to sew and embroider essential activities for "perfect women."”

Tina Modotti, Hands of the Puppeteer, 1929, gelatin silver print, 19x23.7cm 
As I was fumbling through a book I own, The 20th Century Art Book, I found a photo by Tina Modotti named, Hands of the Puppeteer. This photo dates back to 1929 where it was shot in Mexico City. String can symbolize whatever you make of it in your work but in this piece she says, “The string of the puppet recalls binding chains... a symbol of social repression and the control of the government.”

I found this wildly ironic because I recently finished a photo assignment with my theme being about control and how your mind controls your hands and tells your hands what to do. Once shot and developed I sewed string into my fiber prints from the top of the hands upward to the edge of the frame to have the illusion of a puppeteer. When I found this piece by Modotti today it made me feel extremely discouraged knowing what I thought was my brilliant idea wasn’t as original in the end. With that said it goes to show that a lot of work has already been produced using the media of string and this will forever reoccurre but it’s our job as artists to show others how you’ve made it your own and what your personal relationship to using this media holds. 

Maurizio Anzeri, Round Midnight, 2009, embroidery on print, 62x45 cm 
Sculptor, drawer and crafter Maurizio Anzeri has the ability to sew breathtaking designs onto old found photography.  Anzeri is very cautious while working with one of his pieces, his direction of where to go is pulled from simple elements found in the photo itself then he spends a great deal of time drawing out these meticulous lines in a geometric pattern and begins to sew using varieties of colorful thread which really pop in contrast to the black and white or sepia photo. Anzeri says, ”It’s what the photo is telling you and what you want to read in the photos. I get my ideas from many different sources: it could be theatre, or someone dressed up on the tube, a tribe in Papua New Guinea, or Versace. It’s never one specific thing.” From this description alone you get the sense that this is for decorative motif and it’s your prerogative to make it what you want. A lot of string work can be loose and free handed but it’s amazing to see what could come from planning your approach and the patience and time given into this repetition.

David Wojnarowicz, Untitled (Bread Sculpture), 1988-1989, bread, string, needle, 13 x 3 x 6 in. 

Although David Wojnarowicz’s, A Fire In My Belly, wasn’t created in the last decade but in 1986-1987, we spent a class discussing this so I want to readdress its significance with string here. You can read into many of the points being touched throughout this video but overall it implicates the suffering of those with AIDS. In the video it shows Wojnarowicz sewing a broken piece of bread back together with red yarn. The bread indicates giving your body to Jesus as he did for us and the fact that it is broken shows sacrifice. The red string may symbolize the blood of Jesus and having to mend something back together that has been broken. Just the hue of this yarn can speak for itself. Then the performance of Wojnarowicz sewing this same red yarn in and out of his lips signifies the pain and suffering and the silence some homosexuals may feel they have to undergo. This is such an overwhelmingly powerful piece in art and shows just how simple string and the act of sewing can raise such controversy, awareness and attention through performance art and sexuality 25 years ago up until today.

Contemporary artists I have found in our class’ blog alone that use string throughout their practices are Jean Shin, E.V Davis, Maurizio Anzeri, Sybille Hotz and April Gertler. Just through using string in instillations, photography, performance art, collage and crafting can signify control, restrain, decorative motif, political, sexual or religious statements or whatever your heART desires.

-Amy Hughes


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