Sunday, April 30, 2006

Deadbeat Blogger & Other Things I've Been Called

Hi Everyone,

Sorry to have been such a deadbeat blogger. Last weekend Doug and I went to San Francisco State University to the MFA show and then to Oakland, CA to a party given by our friends Quang Dang & Donald Williams. I met Quang 13 years ago -- he was an acquaintance of a person I shouldn't've been dating. My friendship with Quang has lasted a lot longer than that love affair. I hadn't seen Quang for over 10 years, and when we got together it was very easy -- we just fell back into the rhythm of our friendship.

Quang & Donald had the party to thank their friends for sponsoring them as they participate in the 2006 AIDS Lifecycle (
Click here if you'd like to contribute to Quang & Donald's ride & also to take a peek at their training blog.) I'm very grateful that Quang & Donald are participating in this ride, not only because they're raising money for AIDS research, but these events remind the public that the worldwide phenomenon of AIDS hasn't gone away just because some people in the US don't have the same visible manifestations as the AIDS patients in the 1980s. (I vividly remember in the 1980s seeing people my age -- at the time in my 20s -- walking with canes and dying; I cannot explain the lasting impression these images have made on my psyche & the occasional survivor's guilt that I feel.)

This experience has reminded me of the
AIDS quilt, a portion of which I saw in the late 1980s in Philadelphia with my friend, Melva Hightower. I remember thinking how subversive it was to use a medium associated with domesticity and comfort, a quilt, and to associate it with such a controversial issue. I later learned that quilts have a whole history of being associated with the subversive (e.g., quilts being used to guide slaves to freedom). The AIDS quilt is incredibly moving, as it humanizes AIDS. (As a side note, I haven't seen Melva for years, but she is a textile artist, and I've learned that she's heavily involved in the wonderful ArtQuilts at the Sedgwick show. Click here for more info on Melva.)

This thought about the AIDS Quilt reminded me of an abandoned project from last year. A few years ago the Loom & Shuttle Guild in San Francisco had a nametag competition, as a way to get members to create nametags to wear. I had intended to create a card-woven nametag similar in style to those nametags with the text, "Hello. My name is..." The project turned out to be too involved for me to finish in time (there were ~200 cards), so I decided instead to do some nametags with names I had been called in my past. While I was weaving the first nametag with the words, "Hello. My name is Faggot," the cord holding the warp stick to the loom broke, and the cards went all over the place; I then abandoned the project. An image of the unfinished project is above. Note how only the word "HELL" is woven at the top, which is an appropriate word to describe the whole project.

Next weekend is the
Conference of Northern California Handweavers in Modesto, so I'll be blogging again in a few weeks.


Sunday, April 16, 2006

Something Old, Something New & What's in a Name?

Hi Everyone,

Thanks for the comments to the last post. Sara & Judy left interesting comments about their experiences with labels & labeling. Sista Sledge shared an experience that forced her to take her textiles out of storage. (Sista Sledge actually is my sister, Mary Kay, who creates wonderful costumes for theater productions. FYI My mother is a quilter; so there is a tradition of textiles in my family.)

I'm going to deviate a bit from the text-textile connection in today's posting. I've been lucky enough to have been invited by the fabuzoid wedge weaver, Deborah Corsini, to appear in a master/apprentice show as her apprentice. Deborah is also influenced by international textiles, and she has been very influential in the dyeing and quilt fabric design communities. Her work is in many collections, including that of US embassies overseas. One of her wedge weaves actually was the image used in the publicity for the event. The show is sponsored by the Baulines Craft Guild, and is called Inspired by Marin -- the Spirit of the Baulines Craft Guild. Here's that image of Deborah's that was used for the publicity:

The show's opening was Thursday, April 13, 2006, and I'm going to show a few pieces that I have in the event. The first one is a new piece called Shibori Strip Weaving #2, which is a strip weaving of plain weave white dumpster rayon strips shibori dyed in indigo. (The rayon is called the dumpster rayon because my friend Amanda Snedaker retrieved the rayon from the dumpster when the Berkeley yarn store, Straw into Gold, closed a few years back. The rayon was left over after the final sale ended, but the employees couldn't give her the rayon. The employees put the rayon into the dumpster, and then Amanda had to retrieve the rayon from the dumpster. Maybe the employees weren't allowed to give away merchandise?) This piece is 116"H x 49"W (including fringe), when it's not wrapped on a dress form. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my camera to the opening, but Asoke Thapa graciously agreed to take images of my two new pieces & e-mail them. Thanks to Asoke. Here are images of the full piece and a detail of the train:

Another new piece I had in the exhibit was Shadow Weave Strip Weaving, woven from l0/2 tencel. Here are two more images by Asoke:

Also in the show was that triple-weave strip that I mentioned a few posts ago, as well as three older pieces: Oh Kuso, which I mentioned in my first post, as well as Spaghetti Strap #2 and All American Cock Ring.

Spaghetti Strap #2 was created for the
Conference of Northern California Handweavers 2004 exhibit gallery entitled The Body Adorned. It is a sleazy basket weave of spaghetti with a card-woven label of double-faced tablet-woven lettering saying "Noodle & Co." (Thanks to
Linda Hendrickson who taught me double-faced tablet-woven lettering. Check out her site, especially the table-woven pangrams in her gallery.) Here's an image of the spaghetti strap taken by Sarah Wagner:

The final piece is All American Cock Ring, which is a double-faced tablet woven cock ring, with the words, "Does size really matter?" on it. A cock ring is a device that a man wraps around certain parts of his body to keep one part of his body engorged with blood. I also included images of a house and car, which are two other American male fertility symbols in which size seems to matter. I created this piece because I am mystified why there is a preoccupation with size in American culture and why many Americans cannot be happy with un-supersized things. Also, as a member of the gay community, I am mystified by gay culture’s glorification of giant phalluses. It seems to me that this preoccupation with bigger things is a result of people not being happy with what they have and not looking within for happiness. Of course, the commodity culture of the media plays a huge role in people’s unhappiness because people are told by the media that they are not “good enough” if they do not have the latest, greatest, and biggest thing. Also, there is peer pressure to acquire bigger and better things. Which force drives which – do the media drive people to be unhappy and consume or does peer pressure drive the media or is it circular? On another level, the placement of the handwoven cock ring on the industrial mill bobbin can be viewed as representative of the male/female realms and the tension between the two. Historically in America, females have been relegated to the handicrafts realm, but when textiles became industrialized (and money could be made), men managed the mills. My placement of this handwoven (i.e., female realm) piece on this industrial (i.e., male realm) bobbin actually was an accidental a tongue-in-cheek gesture that ended up having symbolic meaning. Another take on this is the idea that the lowly-status woman is supporting her flaccid man. To tell you the truth, I didn't have all of this in mind when I put the ring on the bobbin -- I just thought it looked good. Only after the fact did I realize the significance (if any). Here are images taken by Sarah Wagner of the full piece & detail:

Finally, to adress the question: "What's in a name?" At the opening of the event, my friend & mentor, Marlene Golden, told me that I needed better names for my strip weavings. I thought about it, and I realize that I don't have exotic names for my strip weavings because I'm fascinated by process & documentation of my process. Naming a piece Shibori Strip Weaving #2 may be boring, but it helps me keep track of the placement of that piece in my creative process, i.e., that's the second strip weaving in that style. I notice, however, that on the one-offs, or pieces that won't have a follow-up (e.g., the All-American Cock Ring), I do use more creative names. Lots to think about.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Yes, I owned Jordasche jeans

Hi Everyone,

I'm getting interesting comments on my blog. I hope you'll take some time to read them and learn about other fiber people's journeys. In response to my last post, Cathy & Stephanie have told stories of textiles that have meaning for them, and in response to my earlier posts, several text-textile people (e.g., Linda, Laura, Ozweaver, Neki desu, et al.) have explained how they have come to enjoy the text-textile connection.

I originally was going to write about ribbons because yesterday I worked at a conference at which the speakers & volunteers had ribbons attached to their nametags with the words "Speaker" & "Volunteer" printed on the ribbons. I was thinking about how ribbons have come to be mass-produced items, and that there still is a certain status attached to ribbons, no matter how un-hand-made & nonprecious the ribbons are.

What made me change my mind is an e-mail I received this morning. A friend of mine told me that during her recent trip to Japan, she was dismayed because her co-travellers spent a lot of time focussing on the authenticity or lack thereof of designer goods that they saw. Fortunately, my friend was able to bring some of her weaving with her and to have a cross-cultural dialogue with weavers she met. She also was able to see living weaving and dyeing museums & participate in other fiber activities, so she was able to occupy herself while her friends were occupying themselves.

This situation reminded me of two similar situations I experienced in my young adulthood. The first time was in 1982 when somone on my college dorm floor announced to everyone that my Ralph Lauren Polo shirt was a forgery. I knew that the shirt was a fake; I had bought it at a flea market. I felt exposed, though. The second incident occurred during a trip to Amsterdam in 1986, during which my friend seemed intent on announcing in front of vendors that their Delft ceramicwares were forgeries. I know that I'm not supposed to be embarrassed by other people's behavior, but I felt embarrassed to be an American and felt guilty by association.

So, what is it about American culture that undervalues the effort of hand-produced textiles, yet glorifies mass-produced textiles with designer names on them? It seems that people should be glorifying the hand-made items in homage to the time, effort, and love that went into making them. What is it about the culture that makes people point out if a designer good is a fake? Is it a power/social class thing, i.e., a way for people who have the means to put the people who buy the fakes in their place? Does the fashion industry create impossible expectations for people to be au courant, thus fueling the industry for lower-priced fakes for lower-income consumers?

Why do people insist on paying lots of money for these designer goods with the names of the designers readily visible? I must admit that I was guilty of this in my youth with my Polo shirts and Jordasche jeans; most recently I purchased a plaid Polo shirt on discount from Macy's. This most recent purchase was in homage to my fascination with Polo of my youth and also because the colors; however, was I still in the consumerism mode of my youth?

On a related topic, when Doug and I moved last year, I actually found my Penn sweatshirt from my college days. When I was 22, my Penn sweatshirt was more than just a sweatshirt; it was a symbol announcing to the world that I have arrived as an Ivy League student. (My bragging was restrained, though -- I thought it was tacky to wear a Wharton sweatshirt.) Whenever I wore the shirt, I felt better and more confident. I now realize that during those days I was getting my validation from external sources, rather than from within. The sweatshirt was so worn during those days that I actually tore off the worn hood and called the shirt my Flashdance sweatshirt because of its resemblance to Jennifer Beals' sweatshirt from Flashdance. (I probably even saw Flashdance in the theater while wearing this sweatshirt.) When I found this sweatshirt last year, I was taking Linda MacDonald's surface design course at San Francisco State University, and I decided to make the sweatshirt into a strait jacket as a reminder that I felt tortured during my undergraduate days not only as a person seeking validation through external sources, but also as a closeted gay man. On the back of the strait jacket I decided to applique images of my secret college lovers and me and to embroider lines showing how my lovers were connected not only through me, but sometimes through each other. There's a legend on the back explaining the connections, e.g., gold = sex partners, dark green = love triangle, etc. It was interesting contacting these ex-lovers to get permission to use their images. One person, who was in Navy ROTC during college and is now married with a child, refused permission. Here are images of the front & back:

Here's a detail of the back (The legend's in the white box):

Would you write comments & tell me your thoughts about labels, status, or whatever you feel like?

Thanks, B.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Bible Piece and Getting the Journey Out of the Closet

Hi Everyone,

Here is a picture of the bible piece that I tried to upload during my last entry. As mentioned in the last entry, I created this for
Linda MacDonald's surface design class by cutting out bible passages dealing with the subjugation of women and sewing the pieces together. The block is a traditional one called "Bridal Path." I created this one block, and then thought I should make more. So, I created 3 more. Four blocks together didn't look as awesome as I thought it would. It looked like just a grayish thing. I was talking about this situation with Candace Crockett last semester, and she said that the single block has an intimacy that makes people want to approach it & read it. So, I've decided to go with just one block and to back the piece with garters, since garters have a certain resonance at weddings. I also decided to use garters to frame it. I'm in the process of getting these garters. One vendor wanted over $30 to ship 30 garters. I can't imagine 30 garters requiring $30 of postage unless they were coming from another continent. So, the garter acquisition process is ongoing. I'd gladly hear of any suggestions where I can get black garters on the cheap.

Here's a close-up. I realize that this isn't such a good picture because one can't read the text.

On to getting the journey out of the closet: Earlier today Doug and I purchased this fabuzoid Angela Adams rug. Angela Adams is an innovative designer whose creations have a mid century modern twist. To the left is a picture from her website of the rug we bought. In the past Doug and I have lived in homes with a lot of character; however, we currently live in a sterile condo built in 1980. We realize that we have to dress up the place. Somehow, our having bought this rug was a spark for me to get all of those exciting textiles out of the closet. Over the years I've acquired textiles, but haven't displayed them because I didn't want them to get damaged or dirty, etc. For some reason, today I thought, "I need to bring these textiles out of the closet & enjoy them because who knows how much time I have left?" These textiles that I pulled out today are a record of my journey & friendships, so why not have these reminders visible? Here are a few pictures:

The first piece that I pulled out was this Ewe strip weaving. When I turned 40 in 2004, I wanted to treat myself to a piece of kente cloth. At the 2004 Conference of Northern California Handweavers, there was a vendor selling kente cloth. I had planned to buy the geometric Asante cloth, the image of which has been appropriated to represent all of African textiles, but this piece of Ewe cloth really struck me, so I bought it. (More about appropriation/exoticization of other culture's textile traditions will come up in a future blog entry.) A detail of the cloth is at the left.

I then came across a printed textile that my friend Sandy Ellison brought back from Japan for me. I had been teaching her some shibori techniques, and she found this printed fabric of a shibori pattern. This piece reminds me of my good friend Sandy & the fun lunch breaks we've had manipulating cloth & sharing creative ideas. I've put this piece on the back of my loom chair so I could be reminded of that creative interchange with Sandy every time I sit down to weave.

I also found this wonderful piece that my friend Lary Abramson gave me a number of years ago. It appears to be of a Mezoamerican deity. Lary has been a wonderful friend who helped me through some tough times in my 30s when I was dating someone I shouldn't've been dating. (Haven't we all been there?) I have to find a special place for this piece.

This ikat piece is from Trevor, an ex of our good friend Clark Wilson. I rarely see Trevor any more, but I was touched when he said he had me in mind when he selected this piece for me during his trip to Indonesia.

I also came across this piece that I received when I was living in Japan in 1995-1996. A friend of one of my students created this piece. They tried to explain the process to me, but at the time I had no knowledge of the creation of textiles. Looking at it today, I imagine the piece probably is katazome (stenciling). John Marshall is an American katazome master. There's great stuff on his site.

The final piece has always been out of the closet, but I dusted it while I was in my celebration mode. I bought this cut raffia piece at a flea market in Santa Fe the weekend I met Doug there. (We both were vacationing there at the same time.) So, I initially bought this piece because I loved it, but it also has come to remind me of that wonderful weekend.

My question for you readers is what do your textiles mean to you? What are their connections with your journey?