Embodied Craft in Lia Cook’s Textiles and «The Lady of Shalott»

James Krasner, University of New Hampshire

Theoretical distinctions between craft objects and industrial products often turn on the operation of the artisan’s body in relation to machines, tools, and materials. Colin Campbell identifies control of the body as the defining issue: «The contrast is not really between hand production and machine production, but rather between a production system in which the worker is in control of the machine and one in which the machine is in control of the worker» (Campbell [2005]: 28).

Distinctions between craft objects and art objects, on the other hand, often turn on the body of the viewer, purchaser, or user of the object in question. Arthur Risatti asserts that «the basic functions of craft objects, all spring from the same purpose, that of fulfilling the body’s needs»; for example, «chairs and beds support the human body; blankets and clothes cover the body» (Risatti [2007]: 72). Margaret Boden describes psycho-logical responses to craft work as «enactive» or «arousing impulses to bodily action» (Boden [2000]: 294), whereas works of art incite «indicative» responses, which arise from « visual processes» (Boden [2000]: 292) and encourage the intellectual processing of information. I would like to engage with this discussion of embodiment and craft by looking at the work of Lia Cook, a contemporary tex-tile artist who combines digital machine weaving and hand weaving. Cook’s large-format textile installations address the engagement of body and technology, both in her creative process and as a thematic of the works’ aesthetic argument.

While textile artists such as Norma Minkowitz have used sculpted figures of the female body to approach issues related to embodiment, Cook’s creations are more useful for a discussion of craft embodiment because they incorporate her artisanal process, and its associated embodied operations, into the craft works themselves. My argument will frame Cook’s work with a discussion of 19th century artworks that investigate the textile worker’s body: Alfred Lord Tennyson’s 1842 poem «The Lady of Shalott» which has become an iconic representation of a textile artist at work, and William Holman Hunt’s painting based on that poem. I am reaching back to Hunt’s work because of the close relationship between Pre-Raphaelite aesthetics and the discourse of craft associated with John Ruskin and William Morris.

As Morna O’Neill notes, the «crafting of a Pre-Raphaelite canvas conceptualized an approach to artistic process that would become central to the Arts and Crafts movement» (O’Neill [2015]). Moreover, Hunt’s painting, which he began in 1886 and was exhibited in 1905, concerns itself with the embodied interaction of the craft worker with her tools and materials in ways that prefigure, and are extensively expanded upon by, Lia Cook’s textiles.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.13128/Aisthesis-11146

Read Full Text: https://oajournals.fupress.net/index.php/aisthesis/article/view/11146

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