Emily Oliver
“Weaving as Ritual and Art”
On display July 5 – September 3, 2017

Emily Oliver: Weaving as Ritual and Art

“Process becomes ritual as I repeat the steps endlessly: pick up the warp threads, run the shuttle through, check the edges, beat down the yarn, repeat. Repetition of shapes, the satisfaction of watching them line up perfectly, the calm of their simplicity against an uncomplicated background, all emulate the feelings I experience while weaving.”

It might seem unusual to encounter a display of weavings in a gallery devoted to (and named after) photography.  However, The Dark Room has always been dedicated to the conversation about photography’s relationship to other art forms, as is evident in the space’s incorporation of live music, its rotating menu of delectable food preparations, and expertly selected wine and drink offerings.  For photography, which has traditionally had to overcome biases against its acceptance as art, these comparisons to other art forms are important and necessary.  For those of you reading this that are used to visiting the Gallery to see photographs, consider the ways that weaving might be similar to photography (which I will partially outline below), and perhaps imagine a time not too long ago when a photograph on the wall of an established art gallery might likewise be in question (a past relevant to weaving as well).

Traditionally, the practices of weaving and photography each contend with many of the same issues when presented as art, though for different reasons.  For example, as two-dimensional planes, both have a unique relationship to three-dimensional reality that painting, for instance, does not.  A photograph is the literal distillation of three-dimensions down to two; a weaving is the literal rending of three-dimensional components in order to make a two-dimensional expression.  A photograph requires reality both for its composition (the actual horizon becomes a line, whereas in painting, a line can reference the actual horizon) and execution (light fixation).  Likewise, in weaving, the three-dimensional composition of the thread continues to be relevant, even after the composition is ordered and the threads are woven together (in a light breeze the entire piece or its components can blow around, over time knots can loosen or threads can shrink/expand, etc.).  In weaving as in photography, the practitioner has a physical relationship to the materials necessary for the art object’s creation, and must organize those components in real space in a way that is distinct from other forms of art.

In terms of Oliver’s work, the geometric abstractions make reference both to the tradition of repetitive pattern-making found on decorative textiles throughout history, and to the formal experiments of early modernist painters like Malevich and the De Stijl group.  Ms. Oliver maintains that the forms themselves allude as well to the complications of weaving, “where a singular shape may interrupt the symmetry of a composition, or one element of a repetitive pattern might be slightly out of line.”  No matter how you interpret them, her compositions are arresting, inspired and will hold their own on a wall with other work, not as decorations, but as declarations of art, as pure and true as painting, sculpture or photography.

-Jason Gray, Curator