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Pragmatics of Attachment and Detachment: a Constellatory Re-inscription of Textile.

The invitation to contribute a chapter to A Companion to Textile Culture by its editor Dr Jennifer Harris followed on from my previous exhibition project ‘Concordance’ at the Whitworth Gallery Manchester (29.7.13 - 1.9.13) where Dr Harris was the Deputy Director and Curator of Textiles.

My chapter sits within a section entitled ‘Contemporary Textiles: Conceptual Boundaries’ which explores how the medium renders the boundaries of academic discipline elastic and some of the reasons why textiles have traditionally been marginalised in histories of 20th century visual culture. 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.

The research takes as its point of departure my own boundary position and the creative, critical and professional 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 this dynamic tension between assimilation and differentiation, together with a wider philosophical and phenomenological interrogation of the consequences of this process of centring and decentring. 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’.

Within this expanded (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 that has the capacity to mobilise multiple, complex and often contradictory sensuous and semantic resonances. Here hierarchical disciplinary distinctions become untenable, meaning is suggested but unable to settle and categorical divisions between subject and object are destabilised. I argue that it is this state of what I describe as ‘productive indeterminacy’ that paradoxically accounts for both the cultural ambivalence and cultural significance of textile - and arguably its potency and artistic pliability as a medium.

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