Lecture 2 Textiles and Material Culture

The editorial in the first issue of the Journal of Material Culture from March 1996: “The study of material culture may be most broadly defined as the investigation of the relationship between people and things irrespective of time and space. This means textiles relate to our bodies, clothes, architecture, blankets, in collections, archives, galleries and museums. Textiles would be mediation between human and objects. And also objects are meaningful‘even the use of the most mundane objects in daily life has cultural meaning. From this perspective, material goods are not only used to do things, but they also have a meaning and act as meaningful markers of social relation. It is in acquiring, using and exchanging things that individuals come to have social lives.’ (Lury 1996, pp.10-12)
Objects help us form and express our identities; gender, age, social class, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, subculture, lifestyle, and profession. ‘Fashion provides one of the most ready means through which individuals can make expressive visual statements about their identities.’ (Bennett 2005, p.96) We use fashion as a tool for describing ourselves. Sophisticated fashion looks make us being smart, some culture created by strong identity; Hippie, Punk.

Textiles occupy a particular intimate place in our lives, compared to other objects; proximity to the body and central role in everyday life. Because textiles are very close to our bodies, and ‘become like an extension of them, an outer layer or shell with which we confront the social world.’ (Dant 1999, p.85) It is necessary to protect our skin from the outside world. In our daily life, we touch textiles like clothes, interior, towel, blanket and etc. We can’t live without textiles except living on an uninhabited island with being naked. Therefore “Touch” is key to understanding textiles mostly for understanding the meaning and texture of textile work. However, touching is often forbidden in a gallery or museum context. The reason why ‘the mind and rationality came to be associated with masculinity; the body and sensuality associated with femininity’ (Marc Quinn, Emotional Detox, The Seven Deadly Sins IV, 1995). Same as preserving the delicate painting and drawing works, they abandoned us not to touch anything in a museum.  Also, textiles are considered as too trivial and ephemeral to save in the museum. In terms of the binary of gender, textiles are regarded as women’s work in the past. However ‘many people believe that only some objects, such as works of art, are worthy of being conserved in a museum.’ (Steele 1998, p.333) As changing of the situation of gender problem, fashion is becoming as a part of the art.


Atelier E.B: Passer-by at The Serpentine Sackler Gallery

Following the lecture about Textiles and Material Culture, the exhibition “Atelier E.B: Passer-by” explained to me that we can get a lot of information as touching art pieces. Especially textiles work, we can understand how the designer and creator made the garment, what kind of materials and fabrics they used for as touching works. In the digital age, we can access to see any artworks, photographs and fashion even though you are far away from seeing them directly.

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