THE GIANT LOOM – THE SECRET TENSION – 8’ x 9’ x 3’
Text by Rosanna Albertini
Photographs by Faythe Levine
It was not a warm room with fireplace, nor a group of chatting girls moving their needles in small stitches weaving their feelings, or one would say, waiting for their life to begin. The giant loom was placed outdoor, tied to the strongest trees in a clearing in the woods. The weaving work, performed by young human bodies, males and females, transformed an inert structure into a vibrant machine, almost an animal slightly moving on the ground under the pulling of the ropes, to separate the two layers of parallel threads (the warp) and pass other threads in between. And the weaving proceeded over hours and days until rhythm and sounds became the breathing of the loom, until the machine’s mind got numb, stopped resisting. The woven surface grew like foam on the seashore, completely white, in a regular shape that no water would try to spit out, unless a dream could congeal…
In that wood, artist Ricki Dwyer hung her frustrations in the sky, along with the images of a feminine life locked into frames of intimacy and resilience, tied up by needles and timbers. She moved to the industrial scale of collective collaboration. The days of weaving were the real art piece, hands and legs serving the monumental machine as if it/she/he were the ogre in a fairy tale asking for the right tension, threatening failure at every movement.
The giant loom was the impersonal god setting up the conditions for a piece to be done. The artists, the makers, had to adapt and accept. Oh, isn’t the thread of life very similar to the weaving work? We spend our living time searching for a key to get rid of frames in the slice of history we happen to be in, as if we had unlimited time. Even more terrifying is the accomplishment: it throws the artist into despair. The finished work looks at her from an alien space. Free from her, in the end. The key has disappeared.
It was not death, for I stood up,
And all the dead lie down;
it was not night, for all the bells
Put out their tongues, for noon.
It was not frost, for on my flesh
I felt siroccos crawl, –
Nor fire, for just my marble feet
Could keep a chancel cool.
And yet it tasted like them all;
The figures I have seen
Set orderly, for burial,
Reminded me of mine,
As if my life were shaven
And fitted to a frame,
And could not breathe without a key ;
EMILY DICKINSON, XXXVI. Poems, Third Series, 1896*
The loom itself, or her/himself, is a vehicle, a boat with an horizontal sail. The fabric spread on his legs, at the two sides of the vertical spine, will be a texture of movements helping the human tension to shape, maybe, the motionless memory of the thread: half inch three ply white nylon rope tightly stretched and interwoven. Such fabric could be a transparent wall that allows the light to slip into the woven forms as if light herself would sew, in and out, making her own daily work.
I wonder if it was the dynamic nature of this art piece that made me think of Ricki Dwyer as a colporteur, otherwise called pilhaouer, pilawer, chiffonier. Men from extremely poor mountain villages in France used to travel all over the country trading pots, or painted objects, for unusable clothes or fabric they could sell to be shredded by the mills, for the factories of paper. Four, five centuries ago, until the 1950s. A survival effort. Their life on the roads, not really what they earned, gave to their figure a special, respected quality: for they had met new people, crossed unknown cities and rivers, learned languages, songs, had stories to tell as they went back home.
The artist doesn’t sell the giant loom, she moves with her giant from one to another place. Work in progress. The loom becomes “the stage for an experience to happen,” she says, and the weaving hours are cooperative learning, a spring of energy. An object will be made in the end, and yet it is not the major goal. Contemporary ritual of equal giving and receiving. Working and common effort are the values. The artist offers to activate energy through her presence and tools. That seems to be her point.
Her life, and lives of the other participants, share time and space outdoors with the natural mood of the day: the tongues of the sun, the needles of wind, and the layers of light. Instead of producing many more objects, a lot more than mother earth can tolerate, she installs situations. Can she breathe without a key? That I don’t know. I believe she tries to. And it is, it is indeed a survival effort. Not only for her, also for the art world.
“We witness the advent of the number. It comes along with democracy, the large city, administrations, cybernetics. It is a flexible and continuous mass, woven tight like a fabric with neither rips nor darned patches, a multitude of quantified heroes who lose names and faces as they become the ciphered river of the streets, a mobile language of computations and rationalities that belong to no one.”
MICHEL DE CERTEAU, The Practice of Everyday Life, 1984
*Republished in Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson, Gramercy Books, New York-Avenel
Special materials @ 1982 by Crown Publishers, Inc.
GIANT LOOM WEAVING by Ricki Dwyer, work in progress, in its venue of 2016 performed at the Black Mountain School, Near Asheville, North Carolina. Overall installation approximately 8’ x 9’ x 30’