Weaving as Subversion:
Final Notes on the
Digital-Material Overlap

The writers who inspired me over the course of this research all relate weaving or materiality with digital processes, whether through textile metaphors, by deciphering coded matter, or by revealing the body in online space. Deep connections and constant give and take seem to flow between weaving, program code, and the embodied use of computers. “Written out of an official history which draws them in as its minor footnotes to itself, clothes, weavers, and their skills turn out to be far in advance of the art forms digitization supersedes.”84 By insisting on materiality, be it in art, in spam, or in low-res videos, I want to reveal how it has been written out of a generic history that favours the intellectual and the optic above all else. I have looked specifically to theory written by weavers, because they are the most qualified and best equipped to explain how weaving bridges the intellectual and the visual. I’ve returned to this passage from On Weaving often:

“Surface quality of material, […] being mainly a quality of appearance, is an aesthetic quality and therefore a medium of the artist; while quality of inner structure is, above all, a matter of function and therefore the concern of the scientist and the engineer. Sometimes material surface together with material structure are the main components of a work; in textile works, for instance, specifically in weavings or, on another scale in works of architecture. Parallel to this overlapping of outer and inner characteristics in a work is the overlapping of artistic, scientific, and technological interests on the part of the weaver or architect.”[85]

Otti Berger, textile patent developer and one of Anni Albers’s fellow Bauhaus weavers, “was aware that the tactile sense had a particularly problematic history in the discipline of art.”[86] T’ai Smith describes how Berger’s 1920s essays showed that “a study of cloth requires a reflection on tactility,” and in doing so “queried the limits of the visual as modernism’s prized term of formal inquiry.”[87]

Prizing the visual cuts us off from a crucial “stimulus that may touch off our creative impulse, such as unformed material, material ‘in the rough’.”[88] This business of existing only in the mind, seeking purified aesthetic experience unaffected by the whims of the bodily senses is still a powerful tradition in the study of art history and of communication studies. In The Truth in Painting, Jacques Derrida notes how Immanuel Kant’s work “distinguishe[s] between material and formal judgments, the latter alone constituting judgments of taste in the proper sense.”[89] Kant instigates an equation of sensory matter with the irrational, the illogical, and the perversion of adornment.

The idea that sensory attraction, decoration, and excessive adornment could be perverse excites me. By working in weaving, a medium that dances between functional and decorative, autonomous and replicable, art and craft, physical and intellectual, I can subvert permeating Kantian/Modernist ideals. Tapestries, in the Modern moment, functioned as parerga to the “major arts” of painting, sculpture, and architecture, revealing their fear of the body, of taking pleasure in tactility and excess. Today weaving can continue to unsettle by drawing parallels with new forms of parerga, the excesses of the Internet, “the trash that washes up on the digital economies’ shores.”[90] “The parergon inscribes something which comes as an extra, exterior to the proper field […] but whose transcendent exteriority comes into play, abut onto, brush against, rub, press against the limit itself and intervene in the inside only to the extent that the inside is lacking. It is lacking in something and it is lacking from itself.”[91]

There is an excitable, competitive and libidinal exchange of energy in the ways that spammers test limits of control to sell exaggerated sex, or that YouTubers pirate, re-edit, and re-appropriate content. At the basest level, this energy is like the weaving process. “There is an obsessive, addictive quality to the […] weaving of cloth; a temptation to get fixated and locked into processes which run away with themselves and those drawn into them.”[92] Weaving can work through the concepts of digital refuse, and defend materiality, because it engages with excesses. It can’t quite be intellectualized; it must be palpably experienced.

the end 

84. Plant, Zeros + Ones, 190. 
85. Albers, On Weaving, 63. 
86. Smith, Bauhaus Weaving Theory, 84.
87. Ibid.
88. Albers, On Weaving, 63. 
89. Derrida, The Truth in Painting, 67. 
90. Steyerl, The Wretched of the Screen, 32. 
91. Derrida, The Truth in Painting, 56. 
92. Plant, Zeros + Ones, 62.

Figure 29. Cloth structure for Flexible Temporalities  in Pointcarré weaving software. See weaving fig. 27-28.