Line and Language

Note: This is a written and edited version of my final presentation for BLOCK XXIII.

I titled my presentation Line and Language because this semester I read “Fray: Art and Textile Politics” by Julia Bryan-Wilson, in which I found a new language and joined a lineage of artists using textiles as a queer, mutable and time-warping medium. I’m going to be referencing Fray throughout this presentation as it has truly been a source of revelation for me this semester. This book has helped me understand the work I have already been making and guided me towards my next project.

I want to start with this quote from page 34. “Textiles as dense and multivalent sites of inscription help define our relationship to interiors and exteriors.”

This quote especially and really the whole book rang true for me this semester as I continued work on A Suit for Protection and the Universe Blanket. I’m not much of a writer, though Laura August’s exercises have made me much more comfortable, but I am creating a language in my art as much as any words I try to say or write. This art of mine is using and mutating the existing textile language to share my understandings and experience.

And while I started both A Suit for Protection and the Universe Blanket as art about exteriors, I’ve realized that they are also about my own interior self as well. In my application for BLOCK last year, one of my questions was, “How can I showcase the deeply personal aspects of things that seem complicated or far off?” When I wrote this question, I was thinking of the people and histories I wanted to share. I didn’t plan to bring my own story into my art so explicitly as I have done this past year in these projects.

Next up, I am going to use some of the language I’ve discovered this semester to describe the ideas in my work and compare it to art Bryan-Wilson showcased in Fray that use queer handcrafting to explore gender, domesticity, labor, grief, love and comfort. I’m barely going to scratch the surface of Fray, but I highly recommend it to anyone thinking about these subjects.

In the Universe Blanket, I have been stitching myself back together using the scraps in my life to explore a new cosmos of being. This project is still in its youth as I crochet in more stories. By juxtaposing the words universe and blanket, I am trying to describe how I see my mind and my belief that there is a direct connection between the personal and the entirety of our universe.

This is a series called Floorpieces by Harmony Hammond in the early 1970s, which were highlighted in Fray.

In Floorpieces, Harmony Hammond combined rug braiding with painting to create this series of sculptures. While Hammond’s piece layers lesbianism, class and labor, I believe we do share the layer of wider queer worldmaking by utilizing traditional craft. This queer worldmaking is symbolized primarily by display: her art on the floor and the Universe Blanket floating above, forcing viewers to skew their perspectives. We both also do not seek to stick to the dichotomies of art vs craft, utility vs décor, and gender stereotypes.

In A Suit for Protection, I am combining history, my own experiences and a world of my own as a literal shelter for my body and mind. A jumpsuit like this is made of sturdy material, meant to protect the body against external hazards. But this only protects against the physical. To add a mental shield, I have crafted my own symbols, shorthand for stories and people that inspire and fortify me. These layers can be understood from different perspectives to create different readings than my own but the base language is there.

I also want to touch on the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, also discussed in depth in “Fray.” This block shows how different people and groups, with a variety of skill levels, defined, memorialized, honored, grieved and advocated for their loved ones through textiles. Personal clothing to symbols to photos to trinkets were sewn and glued into the quilt. This quilt is a representation of “how cloth, human life, and loss are interwoven” (181).

In A Suit for Protection, the patches and symbols are ways to identify myself to others and a way to honor the trailblazers who came before me. Through reading “Fray” and practicing writing exercises, I have realized my next step is to create another suit. Four and half years ago, I lost my soulmate, and now that my suit is done, she needs one of her own. As a show of grief, love, memory. She’s been in all my art, but it’s time for her to have her own piece. Similar to the AIDS Memorial Quilt, I will be using symbols, clothing and trinkets to honor her life and the time I got to share with her.

So here I am at the end of year one of BLOCK, as weird as it is to say that.

In my broader art practice, I am going to work on how I present my art. I want to highlight domesticity and worldmaking through display. In my application for a second year, I asked, “Can an exhibit space be a portal into an alternate universe? How can I envelop a viewer through multiple mediums to create a narrative between my art?”

Going back to the title of this presentation – line and language – I believe that this semester has led me to better understanding the throughlines of my work and deepen the language I use to describe. My art has lined up with how queer artists have been using textiles. Subconsciously I saw the same things they did in both the techniques and the media. Crafting is the ability to mutate textiles as the artist needs, to create new forms and ways of self-expression.

I’ll end with one last quote from Fray. “Textile craft objects, like queer desires, can be multiple, crossing beyond the high-low divide: they are props, they are surrogates, they are functional, they are decorative, they are frivolous, and they are usable. Mostly they refuse to be any one thing.” I am taking this as permission to continue to explore the ways I can use textiles in any which way I can imagine.


By Alexandra

art + space