If the past year has been defined by distance, both from each other and from holiday destinations, then Into Softer Worlds is a liberating change of landscape.
That’s the exhibition that is now on display within a couple of colourful shipping containers along Millenia Walk. The unique presentation format is a signature of the Art Encounters series, first launched by the Art Outreach non-profit during Singapore Art Week 2020.
The independent organisation is known for championing visual art practitioners in Singapore. This month, its casts its spotlight on a handful of local textile artists at its Into Softer Worlds exhibition — Natalia Tan, Adeline Thng, Alysha Rahmat Shah, Jennifer Anne Champion, Nature Shankar and Kelly Limerick.
The works of all six artists are tied by a common thread: they celebrate “all things spun, that want to be spun, dyed, crocheted, collaged, knitted, woven, tatted, quilted, embroidered, tufted, latch-hooked, punch-needled, and then some.”
Indeed, the exhibition showcases a variety of handicrafts, from embroidery and crochet to tapestry weaving. Conceptually, they were curated by Tan to reflect on the boundaries of nature and artifice, order and existence. Those heavy themes are buoyed by the sense of wonder that the artworks evoke, whether from their vibrant colours or their intricacies. Even the exterior of the shipping container that houses them will have you do a double take, covered as it is by a rainbow of hand-knitted honeycombs.
The tactile creations on display are certainly a step up from the ones you may have been working on at home. But your knitting skills do not matter once you step into Tan’s pop-up weaving studio at the next container, where a Japanese wooden floor loom has been mounted. That’s where you can try your hand at traditional Saori weaving, with Tan’s guidance. (The textile artist will be present in the studio from Sundays to Tuesdays, from 11.00am to 7.00pm.)
It’s also where the crux of Into Softer Worlds is revealed: to bring people together with the tenderness of touch. All along the walls of the studio, you’ll find a draped tapestry that stretches over 30 metres long. This living piece of art is a collective effort — everyone who has expressed themselves through the Saori loom will have their woven works added to to the tapestry.
In a way, it’s a physical representation of the the history of textile art itself. Despite dating back millennia, traditions such as weaving and knitting, passed from one generation of homemakers to another, have long been dismissed as “women’s work”. They were unworthy of being considered as art, not until Anni Albers became the first textile artist to have a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art. But her foremothers remain anonymous, uncredited for the craft techniques that they cultivated. And yet all the same they contributed to that wider tapestry of textile traditions that we continue to draw from today.
Into Softer Worlds sheds light on the craftsmanship that goes into each handmade canvas, but it also emphasises the power of community that is deeply embedded into these textiles. Today, “community” may call to mind the fact that we are, in fact, divided — be it because of social-distancing guidelines or deep-rooted prejudices. And so one can’t help but marvel at the colourful tapestry that hangs in that container box; its beauty could only have emerged from the differences of every stranger that sat at the loom.
In Softer Worlds runs through 27 June, from 11am to 8pm daily, at Marina Central District.
Header photo credit: “The Simplest Beauty” (2021) by Adeline Thng, photo by Colin Wan, courtesy of Art Outreach