In search of a language textile and text in contemporary women's art
O’Mahony, Sarah Ann
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This research uses the textile/text axis concept as a conceptual tool to investigate the role of textile and text in contemporary women’s art practice and theorizing, investigating textile as a largely hitherto unacknowledged element in women’s art practice of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Textile and text share a common etymological root, from the Latin textere to weave, textus a fabric. The thesis illuminates the pathways whereby textile and text played an important role in women reclaiming a speaking voice as creators of culture and signification during a revolutionary period of renewal in women’s cultural contribution and positioning. The methodological approach used in the research consisted of a comprehensive literature review, the compilation of an inventory of relevant women artists, developing a classificatory system differentiating types of approaches, concerns and concepts underpinning women’s art practice vis a vis the textile/text axis and a series of three in-depth case studies of artists Tracey Emin, Louise Bourgeois and Faith Ringgold. The thesis points to the fact that contemporary women artists and theorists have rounded their art practice and aesthetic discourse in textile as prime visual metaphor and signifier, turning towards the ancient language of textile not merely to reclaim a speaking voice but to occupy a ground breaking locus of signification and representation in contemporary culture. The textile/text axis facilitated women artists in powerfully countering a culturally inscribed status of Lacanian ‘no-woman’ (a position of abjection, absence and lack in the phallocentric symbolic). Turning towards a language of aeons, textile as fertile wellspring, the thesis identifies the methodologies and strategies whereby women artists have inserted their webs of subjectivities and deepest concerns into the records and discourses of contemporary culture. Presenting an anatomy of the textile/text axis, the thesis identifies nine component elements manifesting in contemporary women’s aesthetic practice and discourse. In this cultural renaissance, the textile/text axis, the thesis suggests, served as a complex lexicon, a system of labyrinthine references and signification, a site of layered meanings and ambiguities, a body proxy and a corporeal cartography, facilitating a revolution in women’s aesthetic praxis.