Stefano Catalani on “Working with Artists Working in Fiber”

(For those of you who were unable to attend the recent Surface Matters Symposium, we have asked fellow SDA members to write about about the various presentations. In this post, Lorraine Edmond writes about Stefano Catalani’s presentation, “Working with Artists Working in Fiber.” )

Photo by Jennifer Nerad

Stefano Catalani has been a curator at Bellevue Art Museum for 5 years, and Artistic Director of Curatorial Affairs for the past two.  His talk opened with a couple of statements that got the audience’s attention. The first was from Nietzsche:  “We have art so that we may not perish by the truth.”  The second was all his own:  “Most of you won’t ever have art in my museum. But it might not be because it isn’t good. Maybe it’s good and I just don’t like it!”

He described his work with fiber artists at BAM as fitting into the following four themes:

Abstraction, Surreality, Freedom from Reality

He likes maps because they collect data, then dish it out with combinations of color and line. Fiber art does the same, dishes it out in a different form, abstracted. Fiber reminds us of the domestic (the stereotype, the castoff. Fiber is something women take/took care of in the domestic environment. This theme was illustrated with slide of doilies with masculine symbols.

Performing the Body

Fibers have a special connection to the body, they define our identity, our persona. The softness reflects the softness, fragility, and resilience of the body. It offers the artist the ability to create an installation that reflects the body. Making an installation on site offers a distinct way of engaging with the audience. In an installation that takes place in the museum over time, the public can see the generation of the art from its early stages.

The Theater of Fiber

He has invited artists to come and take on a large space for an installation. “Fiber is the best medium for transforming a room into another world, a stage.” This theme was illustrated with slides of a Janice Arnold installation and a Mandy Greer example that occupied a 1000 sq ft room. Such installations “allow the audience to be immersed in another world in a way only fiber can provide.”

The Missing Touch: (The conundrum of craft as art)

This theme was illustrated with an example of a bullseye quilt that was made to be used and was used as a quilt before being donated to the museum. Stefano said that because it became a piece of art, it left the status of craft and “became an untouchable object, placed in suspended animation.”  He believes there is a drawback to this transformation:  “Now, their display can no longer emphasize the trueness and reveal the object–because it is a museum piece and can’t be touched.”  He offered this advice to the audience:  “Don’t fall into the trap of wanting to be an artist… making a quilt to be seen and not used makes no sense… it’s like putting a car in your living room.” Stefano hopes fiber can remain true to itself, by not becoming untouchable.

He ended by summarizing what he likes about fiber as art: identity, the body, the object. He also appreciates the skill and craftsmanship that is often inherent in the medium.

Stefano’s final message to the group was an invitation to come see “High Fiber Diet,” the BAM Biennial opening next fall.  They received more than 300 applications and accepted  44 artists. “Come see it.”  To learn more about the exhibit, please click HERE.

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