Clothes or art?

The still obscure practice of textile arts is alive and well in Montreal, thanks in part to two innovative and avant-garde artists, Naomi London and Mindy Yan Miller. Traditionally, textile arts consisted of knitting, quilting, and tapestries, but recently artists have looked to the medium with a deeper more profound vision and have subsequently taken the art form to new levels.

The still obscure practice of textile arts is alive and well in Montreal, thanks in part to two innovative and avant-garde artists, Naomi London and Mindy Yan Miller.
Traditionally, textile arts consisted of knitting, quilting, and tapestries, but recently artists have looked to the medium with a deeper more profound vision and have subsequently taken the art form to new levels.
London and Yan Miller, who have taught at Concordia, are exhibiting their work at the Marsil Museum in an exhibition titled The Underside of Clothing.
Marsil Museum focuses on creative and artistic expression through textiles, as opposed to the historical relevance of clothing and costumes. The decision to group Yan Miller and London together was based on the similarities and complimentary elements within their works.
Both artists explore traditional aspects of women’s work, from a modern point of view.
Another common point in their works is a banding of a complex network of connections between the fabric, words, people, memory, and history.
The relationship London has with her family, especially her mother, is prevalent in her artwork. London’s mother, Shyrl London, designed and created fashion clothing for a Montreal designer, and introduced her daughter to textiles.
In her search for identity and personal meaning London uses family portraits to express important connections and states of symbiosis.
One of the main themes dealt with in London’s work is the attempt to “break isolation,” museum director Patrice Lalonde explained. One of her exhibits attempting to deal with this issue is called the “Love Seat.”
It consists of two chairs placed side by side against a red background, above the chairs hangs a large crimson shirt.
The idea of the artwork is to have people interact with the material, not just observe it.
The artist provides instructions for participants as follows: Any two people wear the shirt together (it is built for two people) and spend a few moments in close contact with another human being. A photograph is taken.
Then the two people are asked to write down on a piece of paper whatever they are thinking and feeling at the moment. The photograph and piece of paper then become part of the exhibit.
People seem to enjoy this piece as there are over 100 photographs and sheets of paper.
Yan Miller has only one piece of artwork exposed at the show. When she first explored the museum, a 200 year old house, Yan Miller did not really take to it, until she climbed the rickety stairs leading to the attic.
It was there under the church steeple-like ceiling that the idea for her exhibit was conceived. Titled “The Attic” her piece uses all the vertical and horizontal space of the attic, but it is only a few feet wide.
Yan Miller has piled clothes one on top of the other to fill out the entire space. Shaped like a triangle, the museum’s attic is approximately 15 feet high by 20 feet wide.
Yan Miller obtained the clothes from the Salvation Army and picked through hundreds of bags of clothes to find the garments she thought were appropriate for her piece.
Yan Miller’s Jewish heritage informs much of what she does as an artist. In one sense the articles of clothing in The Attic can represent people, memories, and ghosts. Examining the art from this point of view, the piece can be seen as a haunting comment on the holocaust.
Together the two artists works present an interesting comment on the nature of people’s relationship with clothes and with each other.
The Marsil Museum, located in St Lambert, has existed for three years and it’s mandate is to expose, exclusively, textile artists.

The Underside of Clothing is on exhibition until April 28, at the MusZe Marsil (345 rue Riverside, Saint-Lambert, phone 450-923-6601)

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