Textiles have always been such a large part of domestic life, as it still is today. However, what has sadly faded away producing a rupture in the constant that was for generations such an intimate part of life, is that of the craft skills that supported all forms of domestic textiles. Centuries of creative and repairing skills have died out within a generation; many will probably never again be resurrected on the same scale as that of our ancestors.
In Closet Archaeology, the artist Diane Savona has created a form of vocabulary library of lost skills. However sad this may seem to one devoted to the textile crafts, perhaps more poignant still is the sense of lost lives and lost memories. Textiles, in many households, were literally often passed down over the generations. Therefore, woven, sewn, embroidered, crocheted, knitted and quilted forms often outlived their original owners. Many were offered as wedding or christening gifts from older to younger members of the same family. These could be offered and received in the form of an attractive gift, a keepsake, or as a memory parcel if you will. So many pieces of textile work have generational value and are imbued with the lifeblood of individuals that are no longer here. It is sad, as Savona herself reflects, how much of our individual family and community history and culture has been casually jettisoned by a couple of recent generations, including our own who seem ambivalent of the cares of any future generation that might have wished for these keepsakes and memory parcels to have continued.
It is with a sense of awe that this exhibition has been put together. The cavalier means by which we dismiss all previous generations apart from our own, holds no sway here. Many of the textiles featured in Closet Archaeology are actually not particularly ancient and not that far removed from our own. However, perhaps that is one of the points that Savona is trying to make. Domestic textile work that she features is sometimes only one or two generations removed from ourselves. However, they might as well be a hundred or more generations away. The emphasis on detail, patience and pride that can be seen quite evidently in so many examples of domestic work, seem a world away from our own lives. Many today have no sympathy, empathy or understanding towards the life of past generations. Their wide-ranging and significant skills base is often dismissed as irrelevant. Much of the history of domestic craft skilled work has already been lost and connections between generations of family have been irrevocably severed by car boot and garage sales.
Although this exhibition should be seen as a form of celebration of generational textile craft skills of countless and mostly nameless women, it is tinged with sadness. It cannot be coincidental that there is an element of the forgotten and the neglected in Savona's work. The exhibition at times seems to take on the mantle of a neglected corner of a museum, or perhaps more fittingly, a long forgotten domestic linen cupboard. Previously precious family items, steeped in memories, carefully packed away, but now forgotten and misplaced.
The history of our species is made up of so many variations of creative and destructive behaviour. All these elements of our group personality become layers set one over the other, building up a fossilized record of our species achievements along with its failures. Treating domestic textiles in the same way is an intriguing concept. Savona has literally unpicked various three-dimensional garments, often of a celebratory nature such as christening gowns, and rearranged them within two-dimensions. By flattening these garments, they have lost their original shape and purpose and have become, in some respects, fossilized memories, or partial impressions of previous generations. It is perhaps similar to us viewing a flat compressed fossilized creature and trying to imagine the reanimation of that specific life. How and where would the creature inhabit and fill the space in its forgotten world.
For me, one of the most intriguing aspects of Savona's exhibition, and there are so many elements that make up the whole, is that of the last illustration shown in this article. It is a rendition of a form of geological layering of clothing. It seems somehow humbling to view generations of humans as each being a thin layer of garment. It is also an important point for us all to remember, that although we may seem in our present generation, to be sitting proudly above all the previous layers of humanity, we are in fact only one transitional layer. To future generations we are one small coloured line in the continuing strata of humanity.
Diane Savona's excellent and intriguing exhibition can be viewed at the Hermitage Museum in Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey. Closet Archaeology continues until September 26 2010. I can only hope that by viewing this exhibition, some individuals may well change their views concerning the importance of generational textiles and perhaps treasure, in some small way, family pieces that store the life, ambitions and skills of our predecessors.
A link to Savona's official website, along with another link showing more fascinating and intriguing images of the Closet Archaeology exhibition can be seen below in the Reference links section.
All images of the exhibition were kindly provided by the artist.
Diane Savona website