Chicago’s fiber art movement is not your occasional yarn-bombed lamppost; today’s thread-slingers tangle up heady concepts, passions, and personalities in their work. In fact, the city has long been a stronghold of the fiber art movement—a traditional, but contested, moniker. Chicago artists are known for using edgy, epic craft techniques to revamp familiar textile applications. Here are four artists who exemplify the movement's breadth, variety, and politics.
The craft: Crochet
The new tool: Queer activism
The husbands that crochet together, stay together. For the past 10 years, Dutes Miller and Stan Shellabarger have been crocheting a single artwork together, Untitled (Pink Tube), in public places. The artwork is exactly its namesake—a long, soft tube made from pink yarn—and each of the bearded gents works simultaneously on either end of the tube to add to it, often for hours at a time. The pink tube is currently about 75-feet long, and viewers can catch the artists in action in the MCA’s lobby on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays (through November 19). Their public display of crocheting Untitled (Pink Tube) ends if one of the husbands dies, and that’s when the whole thing will be unraveled.
The craft: Embroidery
The new tool: Intellectual caliber
Any artist in Chicago with a concept-first approach to textiles likely learned it from Anne Wilson. But, our city’s monarch of fiber art says she dislikes calling it that. “People think they know what that is,” she says of fiber art. “It reduces things.” (Wilson prefers the more expansive term of “material studies.”) For her current exhibition of new work at Rhona Hoffman Gallery (through December 7), Wilson took heirloom damask fabric and exaggerated its naturally worn holes with embroidered thread and hair. “Embroidery feels daring,” says Wilson of her fabric interventions.
The craft: Weaving
The new tool: Pomp and spectacle
Mike Andrews can get real showy with his gigantic weavings. He often treats his wall tapestries like painting with colorful strings spilling from chunks of voluminous yarn. In his newest artwork (pictured) on view at The Suburban, Andrews models his abstract craft as a second skin. His diva hand gesture and exposed leg pays homage to socialite Gloria Vanderbilt in her 1970 author photo from a book of collages. In Andrews’s hands, traditional lady crafts are transformed into rebellious moves. Andrews also has a solo show at the Chicago Cultural Center through January 5.
The craft: Doll-making
The new tool: Fetishism
Legendary Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page is the unlikely influence for Karolina Gnatowski’s new exhibition at Lloyd Dobler Gallery (through December 7). Using all the methods that a cutting-edge, contemporary fiber artist might find taboo—shrunken apple-head dolls, button collages, quilting, and felting—Gnatowski created six doll versions of Page, each adorned with period clothing (like his famous Zoso sweater). In fact, Gnatowski is kind of a badass for doing this, mirroring the cult guitarist’s own countercultural gestures that revived preexisting riffs for his song structures.