Artistic residencies at Contextile 2022
Report by Johanna Stella Rogalla, Julie Bénédicte Lambert, Tina Marais Struthers
Detail of a work by Johanna Rogalla, photo by the artists
CONTEXTILE – Contemporary Textile Art Biennial, will take place between September 3rd and October 30th, 2022. In Guimarães, Portugal.The Biennial is recognized as an international reference in contemporary textile art. But, it is also an unique cultural and artistic event, the epicenter of a process of interaction and connection between artists, creators, communities, industry and territories, thus contributing to the strengthening processes of the identity of the place, encouragement to creativity and innovation and valorization of the textile culture.
For this edition the theme is : RE-MAKE
One imagines in this contemporaneity (here and now) a willingness to re-make, based on critical thinking. The title is a constructed and polysemic term, resulting from the “space in between” the action and the reaction.
But what changes can we, then, propose? How can we re-make? What are the new materializations of that making that acts in a “space in between”, based on an urgency for new significations of the actions and thoughts?
As part of the diverse programming the Biennial hosts artistic residencies, for this edition 9 artists were selected to conduct artistic residencies having as objective the creation and production of artistic works from the concept proposed by the Biennial: Jiaxi Li, Johanna Stella Rogalla, Lars Preisser, Paloma de la Cruz (Call), Julie Bénédicte Lambert, Tina Marais Struthers (BILP), Adelina Ivan e Indrė Spitrytė (Magic Carpets), and Portuguese artist Pedro Bastos.
During the residencies all the selected artists have had the unique opportunity to visit local Portuguese textile industry, but also to learn of the cultural heritage, and traditional textile richness of the region, and how the textile industry shaped the development of the city. The artists receive artistic and installation support from the dynamic Contextile team, under guidance by the director of Contextile Joachim Pinheiro and Curator, and Artistic Director, Claudia Santos Melo.
For an inside look of this experience of a few ETN Members, Johanna Stella Rogalla, was selected in the open call and Tina Marais Struthers and Julie Bénédicte Lambert where selected in the Partnership program with the BILP, Biennale Internationale du Lin de Portneuf, Quebec an initiative to connecting textile territories - this initiative is now in its 6th edition. Both biennials promote arts and culture based on heritage elements and offer activities that promote dialogue between the creator and the community. Since 2016, the BILP has developed with its Portuguese counterparts a partnership and an exchange network of artists in creative residency. The agreement established with Contextile helps to facilitate the journey of artists associated with the BILP with respect to their participation in an international event outside Canada.
Coming to Guimarães, the historical traces of the former textile industry and the use of linen are still very present and partly visible. During the Contextile residency, I had the opportunity to work with the Têxteis Penedo factory - a factory that mainly produces jacquard fabrics and is based in Guimarães.
The medium of jacquard weaving in particular offers a multitude of possibilities to create interdimensional textiles that explore the space between layered fragments and (un)defined forms.
The subtle use of materials such as uneven linen and the recently created cork-a-tex fiber, woven in separate layers, creating points of interconnection in different directions. Each of the five layers is defined by a different type or color of thread: I chose three different types of linen fibers, the cork-a-tex fiber and a delicate blend of Tencel and silk fibers, which also serves as a connecting material to the cotton warp. By collaboration, I was able to access a jacquard loom with a width of 3 meters and a single repeat. The division of the warp into five layers creates sheer and transparent layers that almost give the impression of being a textile themselves.
The delicate and fragile moments contrast with the often appearing harsh textile industry, which is characterized by loud and huge machines. Nonetheless, the textile industry is one of the most labor-intensive industries. Creating a contrast of fragility, followed by the given parameters of the looms, unfolds to the connection and interaction between textiles and the human being. Collaborating and the use of a common source of knowledge when it comes to weaving greatly defines the process of making.
My intention in relation to weaving is defined by an unusual use of jacquard weaving, especially when it comes to art works created with this technique, often appearing as a painterly image of a photograph. Exploring the jacquard weaving itself as a process of undoing and rethinking. Representing a metaphorical immersion within the weave: the pattern created by the intersections between weft and warp. The structure of the fabric follows a systematics of different possible entanglements of the five layers that create a space to be explored by the visitor. The layers create moiré effects that are meant to encourage one to dive deeper into the fabric and discover the playful moments. The changing lighting and the different angles of the work are one of the main factors that encourage a change of perspective. The movement within the installation is part of the process to interact, to feel the texture and most importantly to integrate and complete the work.
All photos: work by Johanna Stella Rogalla, photo by the artist
For this residency, I wanted to work with a local artisanal technique. First, because I am interested in encouraging interactions. Second, because for several years I have been drawn to the process of basket weaving, alongside my textile work. I am fascinated by the way in which a piece of soft vegetable matter can, once woven, become a rigid three-dimensional structure. During my short stay, I had the pleasure of working on the braiding and assembly of rye straw with a community of artisans at the ethnography and design museum (Museu da Palha) in the city of Fafe.
Against all expectations, I was given access to large quantities of precious straw braids. Three women in particular – Maria Mendes, Maria Ramos and Lurdes Fernandez – braided all the material I needed for my creations. I felt particularly honored and privileged to be able to transform these precious golden braids in my own way.
During my research, one braided item in particular captured my attention and determined the shape of each piece in the series: a very simple bag, a rectangle closed at both ends. Such bags were harnessed to animals’ backs and used for transporting food. Once assembled, the pieces of braided straw are very strong. It is a brilliant design that marries functionality and frugality.
I stitched the braids together both meticulously and urgently. Although I was a little awkward and intimidated by the preciousness of the material, the short production timeline inherent to the residency did not leave any time for hesitation. I determined the dimensions of the pieces by using the span of my outstretched arms, which is equal to my height, as a measurement. Through this choice, my intent was to make reference to a specific characteristic of basketwork. Braided objects are always designed for a precise function. Their size is suitable for holding a weight that can be lifted by an average person. I therefore made a custom model designed for an adult woman.
Subsequently, religious heritage, ubiquitous in the city of Guimarães, became an essential part of the project. Two sites near the exhibition space were particularly moving to me: the church of the Convento de Santo António dos Capuchos and the Alberto Sampaio Museum. Both have religious sculptures featuring women in pious and devotional poses. I gave my shaped straw these stereotypical but universal postures.
I imagine my baskets as metaphorical vessels that mold to the body. They become receptacles for the invisible and for the cultural recollections that inhabit and surround us.
Braided and woven rye straw has fascinating properties. Shapes emerge, then solidify. The material remains transformable indefinitely. What follows is a cyclical process in which I refine the surfaces until the last minute – shaping, folding and redoing the contours until the very end.
All photos: work by Julie Bénédicte Lamber, photo by Johanna Rogalla
Being in Guimaraes, a city that is interlaced with its rich connection and heritage to the textile industry, creates an interesting visual narrative, as you physically transition through these spaces and their history, but also filled with the rhythm of daily life.
For this project I was specifically interested in the inherent link between the industrialization of the textile industry, and the footprint this leaves on contemporary culture. It is also a thread that connects the history of place, its past, present, and future, entangled in the threads of textile making. It is this overlapping flux of time and its imprint on territory that I am exploring, specifically as it relates to Guimarães. Visualizing textile as skin, body traces on bed sheets, a place of healing as it connects to the hospital and the Convent Capuchos, where residencies are hosted.
For my project I had the privilege to work with Linen textile from the Têxteis Penedo factory. The structure and quality of this coarsely woven linen cloth, made it possible to mold, sculpt and shape the cloth in dimensional forms. I also worked with cotton fabric used for the manufacture of bed sheets. Cotton for me represents industrialization, and I always feel the weight of this material's historical and ecological footprint. I am also interested in investigating the collapse of industrial and human structures and how one weak thread can damage an entire section of the “tissue” or cause the unraveling and collapse of multiple social systems.
My intention was to visualize the entanglements of the passage of time, textile industry, ecological impact, and the invisible traces of labor on the body, and thinking of the conditions of textile workers. Early in the residency we had a visit to the old hospital, and the guide spoke with us about the value of the linen cloth used for bedsheets in the hospital. How when they were completely worn out in the middle of the bedsheet by the bodies, they would be cut up to make pillowcases, later smaller pillow cases, and lastly, once the cloth was too worn-out for this to be used for bandages. This idea, of re-making beds, a daily action, of care, and of re-using until the last threads, inspired my abstractions. Interlaced with these concepts I am considering salt as part of this narrative, as an element that preserves, disinfects and protects. Salt has a connection to the cod fish, omnipresent in this environment, with its beautiful glistening salted skin, but also its distinctive smell, salt is also an important element in textile dying.
These three themes, like entangled threads, the material, human and ecological, are underlying in the conversation between the works I created. These thoughts became a metaphor for how we can rethink our shared cushion of protection for the future, as this seemingly becomes smaller and smaller. I am thinking of how I can re-make my daily actions, to leave more positive traces for the future.
All photos: work by Tina Marais, photo by Johanna Rogalla
The value of Artistic exchange:
Partnerships and artistic exchange are crucially important in the development of contemporary artists, but even more so in expanding the presence and recognition of contemporary textile arts on a global visual arts platform.
It is a beautiful moving experience to connect with artisans from the region. To be reminded that fine craft and making connect people beyond the barriers of language, it pauses time, and makes the past breathe and become present through the hands.
This process of making and teaching can create bonds between people, without any words needing to be exchanged. This is the magic of making, and weaving connections through textiles.
For more information on the Contextile Biennial: https://contextile.pt/2022/en/
For information on the Biennale internationale du lin de Portneuf: https://biennaledulin.com/
Tina Marais: https://www.tinamarais.com/
Julie Bénédicte Lambert: https://papiertextile.com/
Johanna Stella Rogalla: https://www.johannarogalla.com/