PhD Creative Research Journals

October 2022 : The Work begins

 My month started out with my first supervisor meeting. I have two advisors through trans art, Leah Decter and Lynn Setterington. In this meeting, we introduced ourselves, the work we do, agreed to work together and it was suggested by both of my supervisors to alter my research focus/ questions. They suggested that my intended research into non-western protest textiles would not be a good topic for a PhD, though it might be used in the future. So then I was left with what are my research questions and what will I focus on, the plan was to stay with protest textiles, but re-frame it.

I was also applying to a Canadian SSRC scholarship at the time, so I wrote up the following proposal that includes my new thinking. The proposal makes no mention of the practise based element of my research as this was recommended to me to be the best method. The methodology of research through practise, or knowing about protest textiles by making protest textiles is therefore not mentioned in this write up.

My main objective is to categorize different types of protest art, something that as far as I can tell, has not yet been done, though I will mostly be doing this with textiles which certainly has not been done.

Britta Fluevog’s PhD Proposal Subversive Textiles: A Look at Protest Fibre Art
 

Introduction to My Research Questions
In September 2022, I started a three-year Doctorate of Philosophy program in Fine Art at Liverpool John
Moores University. My supervisors are Dr. Lynn Setterington, Dr. Leah Dector and Dr. Lee Wright.
My research aims to answer the questions: What are protest textiles? What are the different ways that art
and fibre functions as protest? And, how do protest textiles and art relate to broader social movements?
Our current era will likely be remembered as a period of civil unrest and mass demonstrations
throughout much of the world. Along with these protests are many artworks, playing different rolls. Now
is the time to investigate how art has functioned within a protest or political movement. Within my
research I am focusing on fibre art or textiles, such as the pussy hats at the 2017 omen’s March in the
USA. What are the strategies protest textiles have used and what does art have to offer to the field of
protest that is unique to art. What are subversive textiles and how are they used?


Existing Research
The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine (1984) by Roszita Parker is the first
recognized text that frames textiles within a political or activist lens. Parker’s research does not garner
much further writing until the do-it-yourself (DIY), internet, craftivist movement starting around 2002,
which can be traced through writings of Betsey Greer, the main founder of the movement. The deeply
political aspect of textiles is explored in The Empire of Cotton: A New History of Global Capitalism
(2014), by Sven Beckert, which explains the large roll textiles had within colonization. Activist and
protest textiles are discussed in Julia Bryan-Wilson’s Fray: Art + Textile Politics (2017). The most
similar research to my own work is Julie Decker and Hinda Mandell’s book, Crafting Democracy: Fiber
arts and Activism (2019), but this text is more of a historical framework than my research will be.
 

Craftivism as Key Cultural Context
My research examines the relationship between craftivism and protest. While craftivism is the
portmanteau of the words of craft and activism, I am viewing it through Tal Fitzpatricks’s reframing of
the term, specifically the changing of activism to DIY citizenship or civic engagement. So, while
craftivism can be found at intersections of ideology, history, educational guides, etc., it runs more
parallel to protest textiles rather than residing within or overtop of it. Certainly many activist (rather than
simply DIY citizenship) textiles have come out of the craftivist movement, but most craftivism is more
concerned with civic engagement than protest. Craftivism is very important to protest textiles, but it is
just a small facet to a much larger discipline that I am researching. My research will define and trace the
history of craftivism and discuss why not all textile protests fall within field of craftvisim.
 

Objective
The texts of existing political activist textiles will be threaded into general protest art ideology such as
found within TV Reed’s book The Art of Protest: Culture and Activism from the Civil Rights Movement
to the Streets of Seattle and Stefan Jonsson’s article The Art of Protest: Understanding and
Misunderstanding Monstrous Events. The this amalgamation of protest theory of the textile art will be
interspersed with various cultural theorist, when pertinent. Intersectional ideology will come from of
Kimberle Crenshaw and Bell hooks. Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein will provide ideology on our
current western governance system and the necessity of activism, the artworks themselves can be
disseminated using Adorno’s aesthetics theories.


Protest art is usually categorized by medium, or different political movements, or what is being
protested. My research will also categorize different types of protest textiles in terms of how they
function within a protest: Personal or Community identity as a form protest like the Molas created by the
Kuna indigenous people of Panama’s San Blas Islands; artwork used within traditional protests such as
the banners at the Greenham common women’s peace camp; artworks where the art is the protest like the
arpilleras the Chilean women made against the dictator Pinochet; art that is the theoretical underpinnings
of a movement such as Khadi cloth was for Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian National Congress; artwork
that sits somewhere between political and protest, where the protest is more subtle like Kawira
Mwirichia’s Kangas celebrating African LGBTQ heroes; and peripheral artwork like artwork made about
protests or artwork from protests that is subsequently exhibited in new contexts and what these
peripheral actions can mean.
 

Methodology and Expected Outcome
My methodology and expected outcome are somewhat commensurate. My research will find, categorize
and analyze different types of protest textiles with the intent of being informative to those who wish to
study the subject and elucidating to those that want to create them. Categorizing will allow parallels to be
made on how the different textile art functions within a protest or a political movement. My research
uses Empirical Analysis and Exploratory Analysis to understand differences between the different
categories.


Within the categories my research will provide examples of around two five different artworks or art
series or connected art that demonstrate the particular category of protest art well. The artists or groups
researched will be varied in many ways, with the intersectionality being an integral foundation within the
research. Some art will be well researched, with large bodies of literature to draw upon while others will
be relatively obscure where the artwork will be required to speak more for itself. A global approach will
employed with textiles from diverse countries and communities within them.


Many of the books on activism and textiles are edited collections of essays and as such have a very broad
viewpoint as well as broad definition of activism—this promotes inclusivity, but it does water down the
notion of activism or protest. Lots of research, such as most craftivism, has focused on political textiles
that are quiet, polite fibre works, which admittedly is something that fibre excels at, but is not the
exclusive usage of them. My research will focus more on the brash and unapologetic textile work,
because as I aim to shown, there is value in being loud while protesting like Marianne Jorgensen’s pink
yarn-bombed tank, Pink M.24 Chaffee Tank (2006).


The main argument of my thesis will be that these categories exist and that dividing protest art into
different categories will be useful. My research will analyze and compile previous analysis, but a main
focus of my research will be to initiate further artwork and research within the field of protest textiles.
 

My Motivation
My research reflects who I am as a person and that is why I do the work. I am a textile creator and an
activist. Through the work of my research, I aim to improve both of these aspects, both for me personally
and for my peers.

 

*******end of paper*********

 

This month, I have also started doing some writing on craftvisim, ordering and reading literature.

I have also been working on a very large waffle weave. I built/set up the loom  and am in the process of spinning and warping it. My re-framing of my thesis has been useful because it led me to a greater understanding of this piece. The last few works I have been making are about personal identity as a form of protest.

 










 

 

 

August/ September 2022: PhD Proposal: Subversive Textiles

Introduction
Within my PhD I aim to ask what are protest textiles and who creates them? How can we use the history of textiles to further destroy notions of the art cannon and create a web of interconnections? I plan to have a practised-based PhD of political and protest textiles paired with academic research into non-western protest textiles.

Non-Western Protest Textiles
As a Caucasian European/ North American Artist narrowing down my field of research to non-western textiles might seem disingenuous, particularly as part of my stated aim is to place my work within a movement. My art practise looks at global imbalances, particularly within the textile industry—addressing the same imbalance within academia is a natural progression. My hope is that, a text of non-western practises coming out in an emerging sector sets a precedent for future research.

My practise includes both political and protest textile works. My choice to narrow down my academic research to contain only protest textiles is a deliberate one. The concept of fine art, and the theorization that is contained within the ideology, is a western construct. The nature of protest art-work is irrefutably fine-art by western ideology—in that it is symbolic, intended to be interpreted and meant to be powerful. Julia Bryan-Wilson aims to distort the binary of fine art and craft or folk art in her book Fray. “Though I employ words such as amateur and artist, I also aim to pick at, worry, and put pressure on their mutual borders until they, too, unravel (p 5 Bryan-Wilson).” The blurring of the lines between fine art and craft is one of my aims in looking at protest textiles. Created by both those who consider themselves fine artists and those to whom the idea of fine art does not even exist, protest textiles bleed this dichotomy. The need to blend these ideas is largely based in Economics.


Stunted Economic Renumeration of Craft
While there are many repercussions to the art/craft divide, none is as overarching as the economics involved. A textile work can be sold at a higher price if it is viewed as fine art and not craft. As most industrial textiles are sewn on machines by hand, this divide should be seen as fine art on top, then craft followed lastly by industrial makers. And these divides are rankings because, particularly when the global situation is considered, there is a stark economic and power divide.

Because of the low renumeration and amateur associations, there was a push by educated textile artists, starting in the 1960’s, to have their works viewed as fine art. This meant that rather putting energy into changing how our society values all textile workers, the people who most understand the skill in textile creation wanted to side with fine art and thus widen the gap further between the different textile makers.

As a textile artist who makes only fine art textiles, I feel it is part of my duty to ensure that the economic gap widens no further. I hope that academic study in textiles will help increase the economic renumeration and value for all textile makers.


Existing Critical or Theoretical Research
There are some publications that analyze textiles, particularly political textiles that will aid my research. First is The Subversive Stitch, by Rozsika Parker from 1985. The next major publican is 22 years later in 2007, Thinking Through Craft, by Glenn Adamson; it includes textiles into other crafts in a critical and art historical context. The first textile focused theory book, String, Felt, Thread: The Hierarchy of Art and Craft in American Art, by Elissa Auther, is from 2009. 2014 marks the change in texts and from now on they published regularly starting with Betsey Greer’s Craftivism: The Art of Craft and Activism, a coffee table style book that is connected to the internet DIY craft subculture. The Empire of Cotton: A New History of Global Capitalism, by Sven Beckert in 2014 is a re-looking at the history of colonization and industry depicting the political roll of textiles. Fray: Art + Textile Politics, by Julia Bryan-Wilson in 2017 is pivotal work, as this textbook only discusses a few artists, but really in-depth, which was new. The Textile Reader, 2019, edited by Jessica Hemmings is critical essays from multiple view points. Also in 2019 is Crafting Democracy: Fiber arts and Activism edited by Julie Decker and Hinda Mandell. One of the most important texts in terms of similarity my research is P.L. Henderson’s 2021 book Unravelling Women’s Art: Creators, rebels & Innovators inTextile Arts, which came out only two months ago. It is a mix of everything— it covers a lot of everything everywhere textile related, but briefly, sometimes only two to three sentences, without much critical analysis.

My research will look more in depth than the Henderson book and focus on fewer movements and look at what conclusions can be drawn from them akin to Byan-Wilson or some of the texts in Mandell’s volume. Though a lot of the texts in my list’s titles proclaim their political nature, a lot of them lack radical political ideology and are vaguely political. I aim to show that our current conception of fine art has always existed and is not a western phenomenon.


Research Methods and Timeline
Finding international protest textiles of note will be challenging. It may be that the P.L. Henderson’s book Unravelling Women’s Art: Creators, rebels & Innovators inTextile Arts that came out in march, which I have looked at, but not read will be a very good starting place. When I envisioned this research I was unaware of this book, however, rather than compete with my research, it may be a perfect research starting point as the amount of political textiles it references is massive and many are from non-western countries, but very few have any in-depth analysis, more just brief introductions.Much of my research will come from establishing connections and networks with arts schools, artist collectives, guilds or cooperatives internationally.


Hypothesis and Expected Outcome
What are protest textiles and who creates them? The answer to this is both very simple and very complex, I have a definition and I am one of the creators, but beyond that, who makes them and why. What circumstances draw them to it. What similarities are there and what conclusions can be drawn. One of the main reasons I expect to find protest textiles is because making textiles is something many women know how to do and are already doing, though in the case of the Arpilleristas that was not the reason for protest textiles. I also expect it to be mostly women as textiles have been largely a female occupation, though not in the case in India and of Gandhi. It may end up being that more differences than similarities are discovered.

How can we use the history of textiles to further destroy the art cannon and create a web of interconnections? The meaning or meanlessness of fine art may or may not end up playing a significant roll within my research. The prestige, economic renumeration, and power that come along with the fine arts term are important to bring to non-western protest art, the term itself is perhaps incidental within this research. The occidental implicit bias of the intellectual rigour and thus superiority of fine arts within the western tradition needs further reminder that art within our current conception of it, other than association with institutions, has always existed.

The academic research into non-western protest art will form a large bulk of my thesis. In keeping with the radical politics of the work, the writings will not live solely in a traditional academic thesis but may instead be free access through open source journals or venues such as wikipedia; may turn into art or semi-art forms of zines, poetry, poetic prose an art exhibition featuring works of the researched protest art; or it might be in ten different languages that all of the groups speak; or an edited volume from the protest artists themselves. The research will dictate the outcome.

Concurrent Art Practise
My aim is to have my academic research supplement my art practise or art as research. Protest weaving is something I have done and intend to continue doing. How the research and art practise will influence each other and intertwine remains to be seen. I envision the thesis to have exhibition component to it. Some of my artworks are radially political, some are protests in and of themselves while others are about protest textile makers. My academic research may influence, guide and otherwise flow with my art practise or it may directly change my practise to be more about textile protest makers than being itself a protest.

Overview of My Practise

My artwork brings a strong aesthetic and material based practice into the realm of social justice. I use weaving, ceramics, performativity and process as manifestations to expand the discourses of textile and political art.

Touch, texture and the handmade are explored in relationship to the maker and the performativity of making. Local, industrial, and Indigenous materials are explored in relationship to their places of origin and the connotations they carry. Strong aesthetic and decorative elements in the work are employed to subvert traditional occidental devaluation of these elements particularly in relation to craft materials and women’s workThe textile-orientated works of contemporary artists such as Sascha Reichstein, Sara Rahbar, Tanya Aguiñiga, Tanja Boukal and Lisa Anne Auerbach, which are politically radical, influence my practice.

Through the lens of social justice and intersectionality, my work investigates borders, refugees, globalism and colonization in relation to textiles and makers. I use the relationship of textiles to social justice and activism to create a working method for my material explorations. The act of making alone can provide a powerful statement that has the ability to reframe the way we view and act within our world.


My Motivation
Pursuing my masters had a profoundly positive impact on my art practise. My hope is that pursuing a PhD will have a similarl impact on my practise, though in different ways. Focused time, frequent readings and critical discussions will evolve the way I view and interact with my art. My masters thesis was 19,000 words focusing almost entirely on myself and my practise, which felt overly self-indulgent, I am hoping my PHD will allow me to contribute more to the wider art-world and less to myself.

While at a textile conference in Manchester, one of the speakers from Mexico deplored the lack of research into non-western textile artists. For someone with an activist background and an interest in anti-colonial practises, it seemed clear to me that this was an area where I could insert myself. I have been doing low-key research and have written thirteen articles on wikipedia on mostly non-western textile art and artists. Doing my PhD would allow me to continue this ideology in a more formal method, with greater resources and incentive to be productive.


Bilibliography
Adamson, Glenn. Thinking through Craft. London : Bloomsbury, 2013.
Auther, Elissa. String, Felt, Thread: The Hierarchy of Art and Craft in American Art. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010.
Beckert, Sven. Empire of Cotton: A New History of Global Capitalism. Penguin History. London: Penguin Books, 2015.
Bryan-Wilson, Julia. Fray: Art + Textile Politics. London: The University of Chicago Press, 2017.
Clowney, David. “Definitions of Art and Fine Art’s Historical Origins.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 69, no. 3 (2011): 309–20.
Decker, Juilee, Hinda Mandell, and Rochester Public Library (Rochester, N.Y.), eds. Crafting Democracy: Fiber Arts and Activism. Rochester, New York: RIT Press, 2019.
Greer, Betsy, ed. Craftivism: The Art of Craft and Activism. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2014.
Hemmings, Jessica, ed. The Textile Reader. London : Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2019.
Henderson, P. L. Unravelling Women’s Art: Creators, Rebels, & Innovators in Textile Arts. Edited by Cheryl Robson. Twickenham: Supernova Books, 2021.
Mandell, Hinda, ed. Crafting Dissent: Handicraft as Protest from the American Revolution to the Pussyhats. American Association for State and Local History Book Series. London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019.
Parker, Rozsika. The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine. New ed. London : I. B. Taurisr, 2010.
Postrel, Virginia I. The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World. First edition. New York: Basic Books, 2020.
St. Clair, Kassia. The Golden Thread: How Fabric Changed History, 2021.

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