As humans, we all have different cultural and individual identities that inform the way we move in the world. The archaeological record is a limitless testament to this.
This can be seen with a simple closer look at the way we construct things. From our languages, to our living spaces, our places of worship, the direction that we spin, or ply our yarn, how we knit, weave, nalbind, and sew, all these methods of construction are influenced by our culture. Construction is not limited, however, to the direct act of design and creation. Our social construction dictates who frequently does these tasks, and when they are appropriate or necessary to perform. A woven blanket from the British Isles may serve as mostly an item of utility, having been constructed of local sheep’s wool, and waulked in urine to give it a supple, more tightly woven finish. By contrast, some woven blankets from cultural heritage sites in the southwestern US are twisted cordage plied around human hair strands that could not be seen in the finished piece, but were known by the maker to be there. It would seem that we cannot help but to infuse intention into all that we touch.
Identities and expression through time can also be seen in the way we play with color. For many people throughout history, portions of our culture were formed around gathering dyestuffs, the power of coveted knowledge of fiber as we dyed it, and the methods of creating and pairing colors for certain occasions or symbolic representation. The colors we see around us have psychological effects on us, and give us tools with which to affect one another through.
Our brains are hard-wired for symbolism and patterns. In a phenomenon known as perceptual grouping, cluster of stars seen as conspicuous configurations -constellations- are perceived and assigned meaning differently by different cultural groups. Pareidolia is a natural tendency of the brain to extrapolate faces or animals in tree bark, clouds, or even toast. Perhaps byproducts of busy, critical brains, this type of categorization and transformation of the natural into the cultural, has manifested in the ways we utilize fiber around the world. It is seen in how we connect these fibers to our individual and traditional identities.
Indeed it is our creative ingenuity and our ability to adapt using culture, that has brought us here; the most impactful, dangerous, and yet potentially the most diverse and expressive species on our planet. Often we hear about how much damage we, and our consumer lifestyles, are inflicting on the planet; through air and water pollution, unmitigated waste habits, and unsustainable resource harvesting. Science shows us. History informs us. Through these disciplines, we learn first hand what we are capable of.
Humans are truly incredible animals. We excel in our ability to control our adaptations; to change. We change, and it is what we have been doing since we began saving and planting seeds, sharing ideas, walking bipedaly, breathing air, and being multi-cellular. One reason our offspring have such a lengthy developmental period is because it is adaptively advantageous for new humans to have access to a period of unfettered questioning and exploration (Origin Stories- Episode 10). The one million “why?”s asked by a six-year-old have helped shape us and change us in new and better ways for millenea.
When we create art, we are actively engaging with change. We are embodying that child-like questioning and exploration into our world and into our minds. Our collective history and prehistory guides this, whether or not we are conscious of it.
Textiles have been created and used by humans for more than 30,000 years. They have been laden with symbolism, produced with labor intensive tedium, and displayed or worn for magic and war. They have evolved alongside us, as much a part of our identity as the plied double helices that tell our bodies how to be, grow, and function.
All of this is what fuels the experiences of Sinew and Stone Fibers. In each skein there are reminders of this unfathomably deep history, an outward expression of the stories we carry in our blood. How did your fingers come to be just so? How did you learn to process fiber? How did you first come to love it? Through countless generations before us, we have dealt with adversity, and we have sung the songs of survivors. Through mass extinctions, natural catastrophes, through many hunts for wild game, through harvests and famines, there were some who remained to carry on, perhaps when there was no other option but to do so. When we look to the fingers we began evolving hundreds of millions of years ago, and task them to a material we began working with over 30 thousand years ago, some great echo flows through time.
We continue to evolve as animals, and as artists. And I cannot think of any combination I’d rather be.