Saturday, August 30, 2014

Musings of a Textile Tragic - Venusian Men
September, 2014 - Issue 115
Art Essay (TFF Column)

Co-Editor: Marie-Therese Wisniowski

The largest selling textile magazine in Australasia is Textile Fibre Forum (TFF). I am the co-editor of the magazine (its founder - Janet de Boer - being the other co-editor). Hence I have created a column within the magazine titled – Musings of a Textile Tragic. This column will appear on this blogspot together with a link and contents page of each new issue of the quarterly magazine once it is available from magazine outlets and on the ArtWear Publications website.

Front Cover of Textile Fibre Forum (September, 2014 - Issue 115).

For your convenience, I have listed links to other Musings articles:
Musings of a Textile Tragic
Co-Editor of TFF
Of Fires and Flooding Rain
Lost in Translation
The ArtWork of Youth
Textile Tasters from My Workshop
Be Brave, The Rest Will Follow

Contents Page of TFF - September 2014 Edition (Issue Number 115)

Musings of a Textile Tragic - Venusian Men
In the early weeks of pregnancy, the default brain for both sexes is the female brain. After twelve weeks of pregnancy, hormones swamp the brain (testosterone for males and oestrogen for females), heralding the beginning of the divergence between wiring of male and female brains and moreover, paving the way for the significant difference in the manner in which women and men think and learn.

Researchers have shown that any three-year old boy locked in a room with his toys feels like he is in Nirvana, whereas a three year-old girl in a similar situation thinks she is being isolated and so punished. The reason for this is complex, although neuroscientists suggest that whilst the male brain is always larger than the female brain, the female part of the brain that is responsible for communication is far more sophisticated than the corresponding male region. Hence, robbing a girl of company is more significant for her than would be the case for a boy. This also explains why women are better at networking and achieving greater verbal skills at a much younger age than men. Women also study the left side of a person’s face to gauge their moods (as dogs do!) Ask your partner how his day was (since his left side looks peeved) and he will normally answer with a primal grunt! How sad - remember, bigger is not always better!

Of course, in times gone by women were the gathers and men were the hunters, and so we gathered the “good” stuff, cooked, washed, made and mended clothes, and taught our daughters our co-operative skills. The boys played until they were “initiated” and then hunted with the men.

Now this brings me to the point of today’s musing about Venusian men; that is, men who come from Venus since they choose an art medium such as thread, yarn and cloth to generate artworks. Generally, most men are not interested in fibre arts since they are too busy hunting (e.g. playing sport, playing with toys etc.) rather than gathering (e.g. learning house making skills etc.) Yes, there are some Venusian men as there are Martian women (i.e. women who come from Mars). However, go to any Fibre Forum and there is a multitude of women and only a sprinkling of men who are interested in learning skills in order to create fibre art and craft. Nevertheless, today’s musing will concentrate on Venusian men - they are the ‘trail blazer’ men who have taken up the challenge to work with textile/fibre media and are as rare as hen’s teeth!

Ken Smith, Fantasy Bark, Lichen and Bracket Fungi, 2013.
Technique: Freehand machine embroidery (including work on dissolving fabric and the artist's own signature stitches) on the artist's own hand-painted silk (including mount); some hand embroidery; commercial stabiliser and batting; silk lining.
Size: 18 cm (length) x 12.5 cm (width) x 8.5 cm (depth, including mount).
Photograph courtesy of the artist.

Troy Emery, Sun King, 2013.
Technique: High density taxidermy foam, polyester pompoms, resin horns and artificial rock.
Size: 112 x 105 x 60 cm.
Photograph courtesy of John Brash.

Nowadays, we are the throw “away” society. We no longer need to darn our socks, make, mend and embellish our clothes. We don’t need to dye cloth, crochet, tat lace, sew, embroider or knit. Countries such as India and China have spared us from needing to teach our sons and daughters any of these skills. In fact, nowadays we are very careful not to stereotype children’s learning patterns based on their sex (e.g. boys learn to knit and girls learn to play soccer!)

My theory why there are so few men in the fibre arts and crafts is simple - most men come from Mars and so follow the money trail, whereas most women come from Venus and so don’t. That is, there are lots of men, past and present, sculpting, oil painting, printmaking, water colouring, drawing, sketching etc. (It has really been only in the last hundred years or so that women have become renowned in these fields.) Of course, men are well represented in Haute couture (e.g. Versace) as well as in costume design (e.g. Leon Bakst) - money making areas - and in the crafts there is no end of men making shoes, wood turning and fabricating saleable items. The one common trait in this modern era is that all arts/crafts, where Martian men clearly dominate, are areas where one can earn a living. Fibre art and craft is not so endowed. Sure you can make a living sewing, knitting and making clothes etc. but few can make a living from the fibre art itself (for example, as oil painters do).

The men who interest me are the Venusian men. Some who readily come to mind are - Brett Alexander (textile installations), Thomas C. Chung (knitted sculptures), Tony Dyer (wax resist master), Troy Emery (soft sculptures), Tim Gresham (tapestry weaver), Lucas Grogan (embroidery), Douglas McManus (soft sculpture installations) John Parkes (found cloth), Jude Skeers (hand knitting), Ken Smith (dying/machine embroidery) and Anton Veenstra (tapestry weaver). Their fibre art is as impressive as any of the Venusian women. However, in general you will not find a gathering of men in a “Men’s Shed” knitting - unlike discovering a group of women knitting in a textile gallery. Sure it will be interesting to see whether the next generation of men - the Y generation (birth years 1980s to 2000s) - will suddenly make a mass appearance at Fibre Forums and the Y generation women - who were not taught textile skills from the mothers but rather soccer - thin out. I doubt it!

Brett Alexander, Business Bear shoes (podophilia version), 2012.
Technique: Spun paper (unbleached), fibre reactive dye, found objects.
Photograph courtesy of the artist.

Thomas C. Chung, "These Are The Colours I See In You......", 2013.
Technique: Plexiglass, yarn & acrylic stuffing, art installation (dimensions variable).
Photograph courtesy of Bo Guo.

Lucas Grogan, THE BOMB, 2013.
Technique: Cross-stitch.
Size: 40 x 40cm.
Private Collection. Photograph courtesy of the artist, Martin Browne Contemporary Sydney, Hugo Mitchell Gallery Adelaide, Gallerysmith Melbourne.

I believe that once Venusian men sell their art for squillions of dollars then all of a sudden it will be a “heads up” for those Martian men to stampede into the fibre art field - a sure sign that fibre art has become mainstream and now is firmly rooted in the consciousness of the public as any other art medium.

Jude Skeers, Autumn Leaves, 2013.
Technique: Hand knitting, tencel and acrylic.
Size: 118 cm diameter.
Photograph courtesy of Michael Ripoll.

Jude Skeers, Autumn Glow, 2013.
Technique: Hand knitting, wool.
Size: 110 cm diameter.
Photograph courtesy of Michael Ripoll.

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