The two previous chapters highlight the richness and diversity of crafts practice throughout Europe from the Middle Ages to today. Now, through the portraits of four contemporary visual artists, these two chapters explore crafts from an artistic and contemporary angle. These four people have seized upon the knowledge and techniques of traditional crafting heritage and reuse them in their own unique contemporary artistic creations.
They bring light to and explore the material and immaterial dimensions of crafts, not only in their technical dimension but also in their historical and social dimensions.
Brankica Zilovic: weaving worlds and stories
Brankica Zilovic (born in 1974) is a Serbian-French artist currently based in Paris. With yarns, fabric, threads and fibres, she weaves the stories of a changing world, shifting identities and past memories.
She identifies as an artist whose main medium is textile. Through Brankica's portrait and words, we are made to understand how textiles have progressively become part of artistic practices, moving away from being solely a craft.
At first, Brankica combined the use of textiles with a variety of media: beads, paper, concrete and paint, in hybrid techniques such as embroidery, tufting and sewing.
I have always liked to navigate between 'traditional' textile techniques, such as hand tapestry, and new techniques such as wall installations.
Brankica recounts that, in the 1980s and 1990s, a reconsideration of the textile medium began in the art world. At that time, textile was more closely associated with crafts culture. Since the 2000s, textiles have become more commonplace in artistic practices. While some artists use it for political, social or even aesthetic purposes, others choose to tell personal stories and delve into more intimate worlds, underlining the great diversity of textile art.
Her work integrates several approaches. Coming from former Yugoslavia, the artist addresses the issue of fragmented identities, movement, and borders, but also of healing, renewals and bodies. She integrates these moving borders in her artistic creation, focusing on cartographic creations and re-interpretations of geography.
Cartography [...] voices my experience and represents this trauma which is the motor of my work. Threads allow me to weave synaptic links, repair memories, to maintain the world as it is. Landscapes and cartography help me to depict the world, inside and outside, according to personal geopolitics where the intimate meets the collective
Although there is a strong autobiographical dimension to Brankica's work, the artist also chooses to talk about issues that cross the world today, such as the environment and its changes. By creating cartographies that she calls ‘no man's land’ the artist wants to create ’places of intellectual and political projection’. In other words, she creates artistic creations in which the viewer is invited to reflect on political and societal issues.
For instance, in the work ‘Golden’ she addresses climate change and ice melting. With the golden colour, she gives the fragile ice pack a sacred quality.
We must weave our capacity to live together, and textile is a way to express this: by its elasticity, its colour, and its resistance.
Céline Tuloup: making embroidery political
Céline Tuloup (born in 1980) is a contemporary artist whose main medium is textiles, and favourite technique is embroidery. Strongly committed to gender equality, she uses these traditional textile techniques to talk about feminism and contemporary political issues.
Embroidery and textile work in general have long been linked to the domestic space, formerly reserved for women and passed down from mother to daughter
Céline explains that she has inherited her mother’s techniques and know-how in textiles, embroidery and sewing, acknowledging that domestic textile craftsmanship is strongly linked to the confinement of women in private spaces.
Céline uses this medium, traditionally related to the feminine and private spheres, in the service of her committed, political and feminist art.
Her series ‘Les Combattantes’ takes up scenes from history in which women fought for their rights. Céline chose to represent historical feminine figures such as Dorothy Counts - one of the first black students to enter Harding University High School, the British suffragettes Emmeline Pankhurst and Emily Davison, the ‘first lady of civil rights’ Rosa Parks, American marathon runner Kathrine Switzer, and the radical feminist activist group FEMEN.
She contrasts these examples of women's strong stance in public space, and the associated moments of violence, with various soft fabrics in pastel colours and decorative patterns. The Toile de Jouy, for example, is a printed fabric depicting pastoral scenes, and holds an important place in the history of decorative arts.
This contrast between the media she uses and the topics she tackles allows Céline to create a bridge between public and private spaces, showing that they are both political places, particularly concerning the condition of women. She brings together what she calls ’small history’ and ’big history’.
Take as an example her series ’Nos étendards flotteront au vent’ ('Our banners will float in the wind'). Here, Céline Tuloup plays with the stereotypes of embroidery and textile work. She affixes graffiti usually seen in public spaces to the household linen of the domestic sphere.
I think my practice was implicitly feminist from the beginning, as soon as I made these textile and embroidery techniques my own. But then afterwards, I made explicitly feminist pieces, like ’Bashing’.
Céline’s work extends to other themes such as ecology, migration and current political issues. She also creates with other materials or techniques and runs workshops with different audiences. Her textile work shows us not only how her mastery of traditional know-how serves her artistic expression, but also how she has been able to seize the imagery and memories associated with this domestic craft to make it a tool of political expression.