Show me a needle and thread and I’ll probably run the other way – thanks to a Lucille Balle like affinity for taking simple diy projects and making them explode.
So when Krista Bard invited me for a Saturday tour of the Philadelphia Art Alliance‘s current show LTextile: Contemporary Textiles from Lithuania, it was with a fair amount of trepidation that I accepted her offer.
It was here that I’d find the patience that continues to elude me, woven into tiny figures in the shape of mugs and sickles, or painstakingly crocheted in the surface of metal watering cans and ladles. It’s stitches of time made visible, with the work of Lithuania’s agrarian society finding expression through its artists.
The centerpiece of the exhibition is a piece by Vita Geluniene based on a famous series of tapestries from the Middle Ages: The Hunt of the Unicorn. But it was the video behind the making of the tapestry that kept me glued to a seat for 15 minutes. (The video itself was much shorter.)
The video begins as an explanation of the whimsical husband and wife characters that appear in the tapestry, and then turns into a series of women discussing the confusion of first love and bucking against societal pressures to have children. There’s something immediately and fiercely identifiable in these women. It’s girl talk that could just as easily fit into a lunchtable discussion with the Pink Ladies or drinks with Carrie Bradshaw – except with frolicking demons providing a backdrop.
We stumbled upon a family kind enough to help us translate the text in a piece by Jurate Petruskeviciene, “Lithuanian Press Ban (1864 – 1904).” The embroidered text, written in the Lithuanian language yet using letters from the Cyrillic alphabet, reflects the Lithuanian people’s resourcefulness in keeping their language alive during the Russian Empire’s attempts to eliminate all instances of Lithuanian nationalism.
“Life like one moment passes quickly,” the red letters read. The concise poetry hidden in this one line reflects the mood of the entire show: strange beauty, poignant humor, ageless truth.
We parted ways over dinner – a carpeted dinner by Egle Ganda Bagdoniene. I was transported immediately back to childhood, when countless hours were spent grazing plastic horses on the thick green carpet in my bedroom, or finding the mermaids hidden deep within the blue carpet in my sister’s room.
There are worlds of imagination trapped within the textures and colors of fiber. Sometimes it just takes an artist to help remember that.