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Medium (un)specificity as material agency – the productive indeterminacy of matter/materialIn this article, I consider some of the debates brought to the fore by the proliferation of recent textile focused exhibitions; namely the tension between a continued allegiance to medium specific conventions and the richness, hybridity and heterogeneity afforded by the post-medium condition of contemporary art. Through a new body of sculptural and installational practice I propose a constellatory opening up of textile in which the medium specific can be (re)mapped in a fluid and fragmentary way. Drawing particular reference from Adorno’s conception of the constellation and mimetic comportment, this model of practice involves a mode of behaviour that actively opens up to alterity and returns authority to the affective indeterminacy of the sensuously bound experiential encounter. This is manifest through a range of practice strategies - “thingness”, “staged (dis)contiguity”, and the play between “sensuous immediacy and corporeal containment” - which mobilise a precarious relationship between processes of attachment and detachment. Acknowledging the critical currency afforded to textile through feminist and poststructuralist critique, the work moves away from “a rhetoric of negative opposition” and predetermined discursive frameworks, returning authority to the aesthetic impulse, privileging the ambiguous resonances of an abstract sculptural language over more overt strategies of representation.
Pragmatics of Attachment and Detachment: a Constellatory Re-inscription of Textile.Like no other field of cultural studies, the study of textiles renders the boundaries of academic discipline elastic, and defies geographic and chronological borders. Previously dominated by empirical methods and writing, it has come of age as a field of interdisciplinary research during the past decade. 'A Companion to Textile Culture' aims to be an innovative, lively and authoritative collection of new writing that will embrace the historical, contemporary and cultural dimensions of textiles. While anchored in the history of art and visual studies, it will bring together approaches from many different fields of scholarly research, including anthropology, archaeology, literary studies, world histories and art and design, to reflect this new, expanded field of writing about textiles and the multiple viewpoints of its specialist contributors. Essays by leading experts in this broad interdisciplinary field of study will address the current state of scholarship and point to emerging issues. (Jennifer Harris volume editor: A Companion to Textile Culture) ‘Pragmatics of Attachment and Detachment: a Constellatory Re-inscription of Textile’ sits within a section of 'A Companion to Textile Culture' entitled ‘Contemporary Textiles: Conceptual Boundaries’ which explores some of the reasons why textiles have traditionally been undervalued in histories of 20th century visual culture and the shift in cultural values that moved them from the margins to an increasingly central role. My contribution provides an artist’s perspective that draws on a body of work that emerged out of a period of practice based doctoral research entitled ‘Pragmatics of Attachment and Detachment: medium (Un)Specificity as Material Agency in Contemporary Art’. It takes as its point of departure the creative challenge of how to acknowledge situated experience and communicate the particular richness and complexity of textile’s material and semantic conventions, whilst embracing the heterogeneity and creative freedom afforded by the post-medium condition of contemporary art. In the chapter I outline a conceptual framework and series of practice strategies that revolve around a dynamic process of assimilation and differentiation. Through a new body of sculptural and installational practice, I propose a constellatory opening up of textile where medium specificity is re-inscribed in terms of material agency and the cultural ambivalence of textile is re-envisioned as a productive indeterminacy. Within this (inter)relational re-mapping of textile’s complex somatic and semantic codes and conventions, textile is seen to be a medium of convergence and divergence where hierarchical disciplinary distinctions become untenable, meaning is suggested but unable to settle and categorical divisions between subject and object are destabilised.