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Museums clothe city in stunning fiber artwork
By Xu Wenwen

Hangzhou Triennial of Fiber Art underway at Zhejiang Art Museum shows visitors the broad possibilities of textile art, with 186 pieces of art by 45 artists from 16 countries including the UK, France, Bulgaria, India, Canada and China. Nearby related exhibits give it even more heft.

The fiber art exhibition, called “Fiber Visions,” has made the museum a place of surprises.

A lobby is covered by “Carpet” by French artist Francois Daireaux, which is comprised of small pillows made of socks. Standing in the second-floor hallway is “Values” by Chinese artist Qiu Zhijie, a bunch of natural bamboo topped with woven bamboo sculptures.

South Korean artist Kim Soonim’s “The Space” is mounted above a small pool of water enclosed by a French window, where thousands of half-fist-size stones are hung by strings in the air, and on each string flutters a white feather.

“Fiber is more than an object. We believe fiber is also a vision that communicates values and thoughts,” says head curator Shi Hui.

The two-floor-tall bamboo installation by Qiu is to show via “natural and textured material” how “an old lifestyle has now been abandoned,” says the artist. On straight, tall bamboo are ordinary bamboo tools and small sculptures woven of bamboo in the shape of mountains.

And “Swing,” by British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare MBE, who lives in London, is a soft sculpture (using a mannequin, cotton, a real swing and artificial foliage) that mimics the scene of famous, 1767 painting “The Swing” by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, a then-scandalous scene from the times before the French Revolution. It shows the woman in a garden swinging so high that one of her shoes flies into the air, but she’s missing her head.

Fiber art in its present form was introduced into China in 1980s, and an iconic character was Maryn Varbanov from Bulgaria, who established China Tapestry Academy at Zhejiang Art College (today’s China Academy of Art).

One of his favorite students in China is Shi Hui, who now is the head of the Fiber and Space Studio of the China Academy of Art, and the curator of the triennial.

From the 1960s until it ended in the 1990s, the International Biennial of Tapestry at Lausanne, Switzerland, was a major event for fiber art. Hangzhou, home to silk since ancient times, has filled the space with its own event.

Curators also include Assadour Markarov, associate professor at the National Academy of Fine Arts, Sofia, Bulgaria; Janis Jefferies, professor of visual arts in the Department of Computing, Goldsmiths, University of London, and Shan Zeng, professor at the Fiber and Space Studio.

The triennial includes several classical pieces of fiber art from other countries, which shouldn’t be missed. Red Abakans and Orange Abakans by Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz are two of her signature pieces created in the 1960s, and also milestone works from the biennials in Lausanne.

Abakanowicz, who was born in 1930, once said that by “making Red Abakan I wanted to prove that the red color does not decorate, but has an unusual power when it is built into a shape simple and strong,” according to the triennial’s website.

Others whose works on are display include Jean Lurcat, Jagoda Buic, Grayson Perry and Nick Cave, all iconic figures of modern fiber art.

In fact, fiber art is now entwining Nanshan Road, with parallel exhibitions being held in galleries and museums along the road.

Shi is having her largest solo exhibition a kilometer away from Zhejiang Art Museum, at the Gallery of China Academy of Art,

White and beige, pulp and rope. Lines and squares, cotton and coconut husk fiber. Structuring original shapes with basic materials — that is Shi’s art concept.

One piece of artwork that welcomes visitors at the hall is considered by curator Gao Shiming a work that represent Shi’s artistic thoughts best. That is a “rope forest” comprised of 40 pieces of 11-meter white ropes that hang from the ceiling of the gallery and drop to the floor.

They are all four-strand ropes, and a dozen are plaited in “all kinds of methods that I can imagine,” says Shi. The rest are ordinary four-strand ropes.

“To plaid and knot is the most basic way to combine fibers, and I want to show fiber art’s natural and original aspect,” she says.

Meanwhile, fiber art over 2,000 years old — cultural relics of Chinese Ke Silk garments, fabric and tapestry — are exhibited at China National Silk Museum as a Hangzhou Triennial of Fiber Art branch exhibition, less than a kilometer west of the Zhejiang Art Museum.

Ke Silk is a technique of making silk tapestry with cut designs, and ancient Chinese used it to make sophisticated silk paintings, curtains and clothes.

Also, high-tech digital jacquard curtains and clothes are quite eye-catching, including some that have a vivid pattern because of three-dimensional weaving, and some with fabrics that contain many kinds of fibers and therefore look different from different angles.

• Hangzhou Triennial of Fiber Art

Date: Through November 20, 9am-5pm (closed on Mondays)

Address: 138 Nanshan Rd

• Shi Hui’s Solo Exhibition

Date: Through October 5, 9am-4:30pm

Address: 218 Nanshan Rd

• Ancient Chinese Silk Exhibition and Modern Digital Jacquard Exhibition

Date: Through November 20, 9am-5pm

Address: 73-1 Yuhuangshan Rd (corner of Nanshan Road)

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