Few art forms present an explicit sense of intersection like weaving. Its fundamental constitution being made up of parallel elements organized in a function of perpendicular collaboration ground that sense. Warp on the one hand, weft on the other, and when brought into tension the two marshal a cohesive gesture as intellectually engaging as their functional application. One of weaving’s most important practitioners and theorists, Anni Albers tells us in her now-classic, On Weaving, that the practice is one of the most ancient crafts and has been part of human societies for 8,000 years and is, in essence, the practice of “building a whole out of smaller parts.” Indeed, weaving is arguably a well-developed articulation of a minute social apparatus, reminding us that two disparate entities can be systematized, with limited difficulty, to produce an economical and familiar model of sociality.
In the Chicago Cultural Center’s Garland Gallery, a version of the social was bound up in the economic and political realities of contemporary life as artist Monika Neuland understands and articulates it through looms, literature and personal engagement. Neuland is the current Artist-in-Residence at the Garland and constructed an ambitious social space within which the public may directly engage with the artist and her artwork and even try their hand at the loom or other modes of weaving available in the gallery.
She re-imagined the space as an open studio where she worked but also where the public was invited to use weaving equipment, free of charge, as well as a library that sat atop a large communal table at the back of the gallery. Such sharing of resources is representative of Neuland’s approach to art making, where housing and access to vital resources were concerns raised in the space. One of the work’s strengths is drawn from the fact that it makes no overt gestures indicting regimes of power, but rather it focuses on the work of making work, constituting a social haven in a public space.
A self-proclaimed “social practice artist,” Neuland’s approach is a negotiation of commitments to the social and the aesthetic, but it would be misleading to say that her attention is equally distributed. The social aspects of her work are immediate and primary to its aesthetic trajectory. That is to say, expect its art to be found in the full articulation of the project’s arc and not in the quality of the textiles it produces.
A pure aesthete like Anni Albers might be put off by such a hierarchy of concerns, but Neuland’s aim and practice is the articulation of a broader set of aesthetics, geared less toward maintaining a presence of its own and more toward inclusivity and public engagement. There will be no masterful textiles derived from the Garland Gallery with this show, but Social Fiber might be remembered as an exquisite social text of engagement and artistic practice composed in real time.