The Event of a Thread

Mai-Thu Perret

In this Lab.Zone we will look at the craft of weaving from a practical, historical and more theoretical perspective. Textile has played an important part in my work for a long time, but I have only recently started to learn how to weave. This Lab.Zone is an attempt to share some of this process.

Weaving is one of the oldest crafts developed by humans, and in the Western tradition since the Greeks it has always been associated with the labor of women. In the Odyssey, Telemachus famously tells his mother Penelope “You should go back upstairs and take care of your work, / Spinning and weaving, and have the maids do theirs. / Speaking is for men, for all men, but for me / Especially, since I am master of this house.” (1.376-9) When she arrived as a student at the Bauhaus in 1922, Anni Albers, from whom I have borrowed the title of this Lab.Zone, wanted to join the glass workshop and only reluctantly enrolled in the weaving workshop because it was one of the few ateliers where women were allowed to work.

We will look at some key artworks, figures and concepts in the history of weaving’s often contested inscription in the fields of technology, craft and art. While paying attention to the gendered valences associated with the practice of weaving, we will also look at other implications of the loom technology, including the relationship between the invention of the jacquard loom and that of the first computer program by Lady Ada Lovelace in the 1840s.

In the practical part of the Lab.Zone I would like to introduce the basic concepts of a woven fabric and to look at different types of looms, in order to construct some basic looms ourselves and to weave our own fabrics / tapestries. As an introduction to the Lab.Zone we will visit the exhibition of Magdalena Abakanowicz and Elsi Giauque at the Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts on Friday, September 22nd.

Together with Clovis Maillet, we will travel to Angers, in France, to see the Tapestry of the Apocalypse, a monumental set of medieval tapestries from the 14th century depicting the story of the book of Revelations. During the trip we will also visit a tapestry workshop.

Guests : Sadie Plant, Ida Soulard

Part of Decolonising Identities
This Lab.Zone is held in French and in English. Course credit is given based on attendance and participation.