Social Fabric

Fabric is a rich material for contemporary American artists who are engaged with social critique and public engagement. Textiles communicate a range of ideas that reflect personal tastes and cultural identifications; yet, they also carry implications about larger concerns related to labor, global commerce, and sustainability. The emerging and mid-career American artists represented in Social Fabric use their fabric-based art as a conduit to question global economic and labor systems.

The artists featured in this exhibition apply social practice forms of art to create opportunities for interaction between artists and audience members through performances, workshops, and collaborations. The resulting collaborations with art viewers and non-artists expand notions of single authorship for artworks. The Counterfeit Crochet Project by Stephanie Syjuco enlists the work of participants around the world to make crocheted imitations of designer handbags and accessories. She refers to this system of outsourced labor as “improper ways of interfacing with capitalism,” in that the work made by the individual makers belongs to them, and Syjuco does not profit from it.

Artists such as Allison Smith, Bean Gilsdorf, and the Combat Paper Project utilize refashioned military textiles to articulate collective memory around war and histories of nationalism. Combat Paper helps veterans turn their military uniforms into paper, mining the therapeutic potential of art. Smith’s practice of recreating wartime gas masks extends to workshops that simultaneously teach sewing skills and engage veterans and civilians in understanding the war experience.

Performance artist Frau Fiber’s (Carole Frances Lung) mending workshops encourage people to learn sewing skills in order to increase their sense of competence and reduce their dependence on shopping. Her installations of “upcycled” and re-gendered used clothing highlight several collaborative projects she is involved with in the US and H