Two excellent shows hang at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts right now. Interplay is on the second floor. On the first, the Fiberarts International 2010.
A particular work at the Fiberarts International is an exemplar for the visual tradition of painting vs. quilting. This particular work of art speaks to the historical fractures around material choices, gender, artmaking, creation, and what kind of art is publically valued.
When I saw it, I said out loud, “This work is really important.” Its a benchmark, it captures the moment between painting and quilting.
Quilting has a complex abstract vocabulary and history, with visual results competing with the highest of abstract paintings. However, quilting is rarely provided the public and social rewards … In this work, Ms. Tabancay says it all without saying it. Tea, that feminine drink. Embroidery, that feminine craft. The design resonates with traditional hexagonal garden quilt patterns. Ms. Tabancay points to the design history with the work’s title.
Painting and sculpture remain prioritized as modes of cultural expression in part because historically they have only been used to be art. We can sleep under quilts. Their familiarity makes them deniable as having meaning. They are connected to our bodies, through the act of sleeping. They are connected to our day -to-day, covering our beds.
Objects need to be foreign in order to have power. They also have to maintain the illusion of uniqueness. A painting may be a painting, and may be a part of a series, but it is still foreign, not familiar, not stitched with leftover clothes and thread.
Both quilts and paintings are constructed skins. An oil painting an even skin of pigment built by touches of brush and curing oil. A quilt, a skin patched together of bits and pieces of fabric. In this case the painting a surface composited of used teabags tinted with paint.
Creativity making with refuse, refusing to allow used teabags to become garbage.
Objects have value because we assign them value. A painting housed in a museum (in general) has more value than a quilt housed in a musem. On a frigid winter night, a quilt in a house has more value than a painting in a house, when watching one’s breath frost in the air.
This painting quilted together of what would otherwise be valueless, and hung in a gallery. The refuse becomes a carrier for meaning. It becomes a part of visual language. It becomes art, like a painting.
Can that collage be painting? A collage of objects stained with paint? Why parse all this about making? For classification purposes, to answer to the burden of history? To catalogue the object, the artist? To provide it with the right price for the collector?
Boundaries. Categories. What is valued? Which is more important?