Researching the Contemporary
Theresa Downing is a PhD student in the Department of Art History at the University of Minnesota, who specializes in contemporary art and fiber art. In January, she went to the Fabric Workshop and Museum (FWM) in Philadelphia to research the creation of a large horsehair mat, which became part of contemporary artist Ann Hamilton's tropos installation project at Dia Chelsea in New York City (1993-94). At the FWM, Hamilton worked with a group of volunteers to sew three tons of horsehair (typically used for wigs) onto long strips of fabric, a process that took two weeks to complete. The artist shipped the strips to NY and installed them in an overlapping fashion on the warehouse gallery floor, where they looked like eerily-hairy ocean waves. At the FWM, Theresa saw the horsehair bundles in their original, bound state as they came shipped from China, as well as several of Hamilton's process samples. Having the opportunity to see firsthand the horsehair's enticing sheen and to feel (with gloves!) its weight and resiliency has enriched her understanding of working with such a material and of its visceral quality.
While at the FWM, Theresa also viewed Hamilton's current project, habitus. This exhibition groups objects from Hamilton's past installations with 18th-century textiles and fiber objects to foster a dialogue about the relationship between text and textile or the passing on of material knowledge. Theresa's trip to the FWM supports her dissertation research about the touch of fiber on the body, of which Hamilton's tropos project is a part, and was generously funded with a graduate student research travel award from the UMN Art History Department.