Re-Acting Fibres

by Anne Dressen, Ida Falck Øien, Marcia Harvey Isaksson and Lars Sture

Ramona Salo, Gáivuotna. Photo: Ørjan Marakatt Bertelsen

Re-Acting Fibres is a collective effort, a collaboration between a wide range of contributors. It has been developed by a team of editors consisting of Anne Dressen, Ida Falck Øien, Marcia Harvey Isaksson and Lars Sture. We have commissioned contributions by artists, makers, designers, academics, writers and wisdom keepers who have a vested interest in crafts and material culture. As editors and professionals, we also tend to think and create through craft.

We have built this second issue of The Vessel around an artwork commissioned by Norwegian Crafts: Pitch, Prosess, Produkt by the Norwegian artists Siri Hjorth and Sebastian Makonnen Kjølaas. The three narrative films that make up the work might be seen as satirical inasmuch as the artists, through fiction, convey a plethora of more or less problematic textile contexts. In a world mainly made of textiles, Hjorth and Makonnen Kjølaas introduce us to two artists who work part-time as hotel housekeepers and who share their half-baked ideas for video works about textile art tackling large societal issues about which they unfortunately have far too little knowledge. Another character, a textile artist deeply involved in her own textile process, makes the most of her pastoral existence while conversing with a sentient lump of wool and a sheep harbouring academic interests and an unwavering belief in the contemporary art world. Finally, in the third short film, a silkworm – and titan of industry who is in denial about his crumbling business – strikes up a conversation with an encouraging oyster. Their dialogue quickly descends into a dark fantasy of exploitative capitalism.

Through essays, interviews and conversations by and with the invited contributors, Re-Acting Fibres seeks to examine some of the provocations in Hjorth’s and Kjølaas’ films. Fibre art and textiles exist at the intersection between gender, race and the cultural and socio-economic world, and in this issue we convey stories and initiatives that perform concrete actions rooted in ethical engagement.

As the climate crisis accelerates, we feel an urgency to focus attention on textile artists, makers and thinkers who, through their work, attempt to slow down and repair some of the damage done by imperialistic and capitalistic societies and systems. Textiles can not only be repaired but might ‘help restore planetary health’, as Carol Collet so eloquently argues. In her text she explores ‘new ways of making that shift the agency of textile craft from nature-using to nature-restoring’ by way of examples. She ‘embraces a new mindset of regenerative values where the practice of craft is orchestrated to replenish the natural world’.

The artist/designer Linda Nurk and Natsai Audrey Chieza, the founder of Faber Futures, engage in a conversation that elaborates on the arguments proposed by Carol Collet, discussing their experiences of collaborating with living organisms in design processes, the role of designers within the growing bio-tech industry, notions of scale and mass-production as well as the role which craft can play in proposing a different version of scale-up.

The fashion designer Harald Lunde Helgesen notes that the fast fashion industry’s price war has altered society’s understanding of what clothing should cost, making it harder for independent designers and smaller brands to sell their clothes for fair prices. The global fashion industry demands constant growth – growth that for the designer Anne Karine Thorbjørnsen only resulted in longer working hours in her studio. Knowing this system wasn’t going to change, she made a decision to change: to close her studio in Oslo, move to a farm in rural Norway and rethink her practice entirely.

For a maker, space can hold immense importance, says Adam Curtis, CEO of Nabolagshager, the Oslo-based think-and-do tank that works with the social aspects of sustainable, urban development. For his text Moving Away as Moving Towards, Curtis interviewed five Norwegian designers who have relocated from cities to rural settings. For the designers, the romance of a pastoral lifestyle is heavily influenced by the idea of escaping from the constant commercial push to produce. Meanwhile, their rural contexts also offer new ways of being and practicing in the field of design.

Throughout her many years in London’s thriving fashion community, the designer Siv Støldal’s work centred around the stories built into clothing from the perspective of individuals. However, upon her return to the rural island on the west coast of Norway where she grew up, her focus has shifted towards community, nature and connections.

Tone Elisabeth Bjerkaas’s long-term ambition is to turn her family farm in Northern Norway into a collective and collaborative space where she can share inspiration, access to materials, memories of her family and the harvest of the land; she wants it to be a place to explore self-sustenance and to take ownership through one’s own expression. ‘You need to make your life fit your ambition’ says Harald Lunde Helgesen. ‘In the countryside, what I find amazing is there’s so much skill and craft around.’ For the designer/artist Ramona Salo, who has returned to her ancestors’ land in Gáivuotna on the Norwegian side of Sápmi, the re-location has nurtured a deepening understanding of how her own Sámi heritage encompasses her practice.

The choreographer, dancer, researcher and textile artist Noa Eshkol started doing appliqué work in collaboration with her dancers during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. In an interview which Marianne Hultmann has conducted with Mooky Dagan, a close associate of Eshkol, the two discuss the status of these textile works, called Wall Carpets, within the context of Eshkol’s broader artistic practice.

In another text, Winona’s Hemp, the publisher, editor and writer Dorothée Perret and the artist Oscar Tuazon write about Winona LaDuke, an American economist, activist, environmentalist and hemp grower, known for her work with indigenous land claims, the preservation of indigenous cultural practices and her promotion of sustainable development.

The texts about LaDuke and Eshkol share an artistic and political dimension related to fibre practice as resistance. Even though differing from each other in terms of time, geography and context, the projects are led by two strong women (active in the US and in Israel) and in territories characterised by colonisation histories and wars.

LaDuke and Eshkol transcend gender problematics and the framework of art and craft in the way they put textiles and fibre into a much broader picture, one related to more general and crucial questions about freedom, sovereignty and identity re-construction. Both Eshkol and LaDuke rely on collective actions and practices linked to the tensions of the time and place in which they live. Both produce works that relate to garment and the textile industry. For Eshkol, it was important to recycle the material resources discarded by industry; for LaDuke, it is a matter of producing clothes made of hemp fibre – an ecological alternative to cotton, with its costly production and exploitative history.

We live in planetary emergency. We extract natural resources faster than they can be regenerated. We exploit our mother, the earth, and we exploit our brothers and sisters. We, the editors of Re-Acting Fibres, are deeply grateful to all the contributors for their insightful perspectives on fibre art, craft and design. We hope that the content conveyed will provide you, the reader with the opportunity for potent rethinking and re-action to face the complex challenges we all are living through.

Diving Into Textile
by Hege Henriksen, Norwegian Crafts
Re-Acting Fibres
by Anne Dressen, Marcia Harvey Isaksson, Ida Falck Øien and Lars Sture
Pitch, Prosess, Produkt
A three-part video series by Siri Hjorth and Sebatian Makonnen Kjølaas
Moving Away as Moving Towards
An essay by Adam Curtis featuring Anne Karine Thorbjønsen, Ramona Salo, Tone Elisabeth Bjerkaas, Siv Støldal, and Harald Lunde Helgesen
Winona's Hemp
An essay by Dorothée Perret and Oscar Tuazon on Winona LaDuke
Co-Culturing: Crafting the Living
A recorded conversation between Linda Nurk and Natsai Audrey Chieza