Report on the 17th International Textile Symposium, Graz, Austria 2001

by Pamela Hardesty
Article for TEXERE newsletter

I was a very fortunate participant in this event, held at the Bildungszentrum Raiffeisenhof in Graz from 9-13 July of this year. I represented Ireland within a group of 12 textile artists spanning a wide range of disciplines, cultures, stages of career. It was a very successful event on many levels, with a high standard of organisation and representation.

For the benefit of TEXERE members I will offer an outline of its structure: Firstly, the mix of participants was very well chosen by the chief organiser, Prof. Renate Maak. Language problems were minimised by ensuring that each participant shared some common language with at least one other. English and German were the main operating languages, with a translator always on hand for group discussions. The 10 days were strictly organised, but always allowed space for personal needs and interests. We arrived on a Thursday to settle in; Friday was a day of sight-seeing and generally getting acquainted, with a morning tour around Graz, an afternoon bus tour of the Styrian wine region with a generous sampling of the wine; Saturday and Sunday we installed our exhibition within the Raiffeisenhof (each participant submitting a selection of works). The exhibition was opened formally and with great festivity on the Monday evening. From Monday through Friday mornings we each had a scheduled presentation of our work to the group, and sometimes to interested guests. This took the form usually of slides, but some artists brought videos and extra samples of work, of materials, and various catalogues to give an intensive focus and understanding. A few artists also provided slides of other textile artists from their countries. Afternoons of this week were spent in a group studio, working with our various materials and methods. Some artists responded directly to the space and situation with experimental samples; others brought their usual tools and materials to demonstrate their own way of working.
On Thursday of this week we hosted an open day to the public. Several dozen artists, teachers of art, students, etc. paid a fee to attend the morning presentations, a luncheon, and observe the studio session. Friday afternoon we packed the exhibition. Saturday we departed.

Textiles processes and approaches varied widely within our group. A strong grounding in classic structural processes such as woven tapestry and lace was evident in the artists from Eastern Europe. Andrew Schneider (Ukraine) works in complex woven tapestry featuring stylised pictorial or graphic themes rendered with sophisticated colour blends and twill overlays; Jiri Holek (Czech Republic) also weaves large-scale pictorial Gobelin but in a looser, playful, highly coloured weft composed of strips of cloth or plastics; and Iveta Mihalikova (Slovak Republic) employs a stitched lace structure in wire with accents of paper or burned plastic to create delicate traceries of organic, plant-like lingerie forms shaped to the female body. Meticulous wire work also featured in the concentric woven copper spheres of Jean Pierre Cogels (Belgium). He also exhibited subtle grids of dried teabags, and his slide talk revealed another more conceptual strand of enquiry using simple materials from nature or collections of functional materials in time-based, ephemeral works. Another artist exploring conceptual issues was Helmie van de Riet (The Netherlands) who uses a huge variety of materials in highly embellished, embroidered forms from the world of domestic design and fashion (tables, handbags) to convey many layers of meaning in attitudes and mythology surrounding the Virgin Mary. Lizzy Mayrl (Austria) works in large-scale, elemental, and highly symbolic felt forms referencing body/earth connections. Vito Capone (Italy) explores handmade paper in linear compositions of string and sticks held in wooden frames, dipped in pulp and dried. These varied units are joined in free-hanging panels, spare and elegant. He also exhibited denser paper works of layered pulp in book images embedded with fine threads and fibres, textured with among other methods, an electric drill! Delicate threads in free panels were also shown in the work of Dorit Berger (Germany) working in double-weave transparent blocks with insertions and interesting materials such as horsehair. The work of the two Korean artists, Ku Jeong Min and Cha So-Lim shared a strong sensibility for organic material (Korean paper fibre and wood) and a poetic, symbolic force. Ku Jeong Min exhibited work in repeated units of collaged handmade paper, with details of fragments of text, fibre, and tiny x-ray figures on plastic. One large piece was composed of joined translucent segments of these hung so that light could penetrate and convey the layers. Her other large work was composed of a large rectangular arrangement of label-sized paper units each affixed separately to the wall in a precise grid. Cha So-Lim works mainly in wood, embedding rough chunks of it with metal tracks cut from zippers that then emerge into woven structures. Small nails and other bits of metal further texture her wood surfaces; clear epoxy resin is also used to coat the wood and then emerge as pure cast resin extensions. My own contribution also used “hard” materials not typical to textiles. I exhibited two metre-square structures composed of small cut units of clear and stained glass and some stone, bound with wire into fabric structures, tightly pleated into relief compositions based on aspects of the Sacred Heart. Renate Maak, our organiser, participated as the 12th artist, representing a varied body of work ranging from experimental woven pieces through sensitive embroidery over photographic prints or the subtle natural stains of wine filters.

As fellow artists we shared our experiences in developing, exhibiting, and marketing our artwork. Quite a lot of the twelve also teach; it was interesting to compare curricula and methodologies with the different approaches of, say, the Korean or Slovakian systems. Many of the group had also experience in organising conferences or symposia in their own nations. Lizzy Mayrl was leaving just after the Graz Symposium to attend her own project in Central Asia, an exciting gathering of European felt artists with artists of the nomadic culture to travel and work together for several months.

Certainly this Symposium and others like it are vital in creating cultural links across textiles traditions and in promoting innovations across the textile art scene. Although we can easily now communicate by net, exchange images freely as well as words, nothing can replace real contact with process and material. For me the most significant benefit of Graz has been the human contact with other such different artists who yet share such a similar working language. It was enriching, supportive, and challenging to reveal one’s work amidst an audience of such insightful peers. Real friendships have resulted. It seems likely that for each of its 17 years the Graz Symposium has been generating many threads of continuing fertile contact between textile artists worldwide. This network is a tribute to the vision and drive of Renate Maak and her organising team.


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