The first artist who came to mind was Yin Xiuzhen. I saw her work in the Groninger Museum last summer and it was truly amazing. Yin Xiuzhen started as a traditional oil painter and switched to working with second-hand clothes in 1989. One thing that I find really inspiring is the fact that she uses her artwork to reflect the environment around her. She considers artwork as a means of communication to convey aspects of individual experiences in life in relation to global transformations. Since the mid 1990s Yin Xiuzhen has created artwork in response to the massive destruction and reconstruction in Beijing.
The installations she creates are quite big. Her artwork ‘Weapons’ is made out of clothes and everyday objects and is 231.5 x 80.5 x 66.5 cm. It hangs suspended in the air. But not all of her installations are that big.
In her ‘Portable cities’ series, she has recreated cities inside suitcases. The buildings and landmarks are created from the clothes of residents of the cities in question. Yin Xiuzhen first got the inspiration for this series when she was in an airport. Waiting for her luggage, she felt like she was travelling with her home. In her ‘Portable Cities’, Yin Xiuzhen represents the ease with which the modern man is able to travel from one city to the next.
One of my favourite installations by Yin Xiuzhen is ‘Thought’. It is made out of clothes and steel and it is 340 cm x 510 cm x 370 cm. From the outside, different shades of blue are visible. Once you look inside, you see all different kinds of colours. Not only blue, but also pink, green and purple.
Yin Xiuzhen uses a lot of colour and texture in her artwork. Sometimes the colours are really subdued, and sometimes the colours are really bright. But they always work really well with the theme of the installation.
Another textile artist whose work I find really inspiring is Sandra Meech. She is trained as a graphic artist and designer. She uses image transfers, painted and dyed fabrics and collages in her work.
The reason I that I find her work inspiring, is because she often uses nature as the inspiration for her artwork and I love her collages. For instance, she used the Arctic landscape and the textiles and clothing of the Caribou Inuit in Northern Canada as her inspiration for her series of work called ‘Arctic Expressions’.
Even though she does not make large installations such as Yin Xiuzhen her work is still quite big. From as small as 40cm x 70cm to large pieces of artwork measuring 1.7m x 2m.
In her more recent work, ‘ Meltdown’, Sandra Meech uses her fascination in melting ice, the movement of glaciers and how this might slowly influence the world’s climate.
The reason that I chose the two textile artists is because they both draw inspiration from their living environment. Yin Xiuzhen has used donated clothes and shoes to convey her message. In ‘Cemented shoes’ she hung 25 pairs of shoes, once worn by men and women of all ages in a row by hemp rope from the ceiling, to express her concern with her living environment and society. Looking at these shoes, you can see the changes that the Chinese society has gone through over the last few decades. Even though Sandra Meech no longer lives in Canada, she still uses it as an inspiration. She uses image transfers, machine quilting and stitch to express the concepts behind her work.
How do you view textile art?
I definitely think about textile art the same way as I do about other artwork such as paintings and sculptures. The medium might by different, but they are all used as self-expression or to make a statement.
I find the question ‘how far do you feel textile art has been accepted as a medium for fine art by the fine art establishment’ a difficult question. I will try to answer this question based upon the situation in the Netherlands, since that is where I live. Textile art has been looked down upon for years, but that is slowly changing. Knitting and crocheting is no longer something only old women do. More and more young people are interested in textile art and combining traditional techniques with new materials. I recently went to the Textielmuseum (textile museum) in Tilburg. This museum has a Textile lab (conveniently called ‘TextielLab’) with different kinds of machines such as weaving machines, knitting machines and embroidery machines and different studios for dying, printing and tufting. Product developers, students, designers and artists can work in the TextielLab and are sometime commissioned to create artwork here. But this is not the only museum in the Netherlands that is all about textile art. We also have for example Museum the Kantfabriek in Horst. This used to be a lace factory. You can still see the old machines but there are also exhibitions about the textile art in Horst and its surroundings. Two years ago a saw an exhibition of textile art made by art students. And last summer I saw the amazing exhibitions of textile art by Yin Xiuzhen and designer Iris van Herpen in the Groninger Museum in Groningen.
As part of the project ‘Art quilts in Nederland’ (art quilts in the Netherlands), a book with the same title has been published. It is collaboration between 56 art quilters and 8 fine artists. It features 110 art quilts and 5 essays by art historian Henk Lijding. One of the essays is about the question whether art quilts are art or not. I a have not yet read the book, but I am interested in reading it.
I think all of this shows that textile art is definitely being taken seriously now. It is no longer just something only old people do. Textile art can be seen in museums alongside paintings, sculptures etc. It may not be as widely accepted as the aforementioned fine arts, but it is getting there.