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"The Second Skin" exhibition

Central Museum of Textiles

Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź
May 19,2023 - September 03,2023
"The Second Skin" exhibition, Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź

May 19, 2023 September 3, 2023

Featuring: Grzegorz Demczuk, Monika Drożyńska, Paweł Błęcki, Pamela Bożek, Olga Konik, Filip Rybkowski, Piotr Madej, Natalia Mecnarowska-Legutko, Marta Krześlak, Agata Jarosławiec, Ala Savashevich, Jagoda Dobecka, Kuba Święcicki, Laika Marie Frandsen Andersen, Clea Filippa Ingwersen, Wiktoria Gazda, Live Skaar Skogesal, Thea Weis, Katinka Halland

The Second Skin exhibition is the result of an international project titled Interweaving Structures: Fabric as Material, Method, and Message, organized by the Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź, the Doctoral School of the Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, and the University of Bergen — Faculty of Fine Art, Music and Design. The project balances between artistic and cultural strategies, treating textiles as a bearer of cultural memory. The artists who created the works on display held numerous meetings with experts in historical, folk, and industrial textiles, experts in the history of weaving, and textile art scholars. This long-term process was a point of departure for reading the stories woven in the textiles and telling them through other media: installations, video art, and audio works.

The museum has a defined way of processing the objects acquired from the private space, which undergo procedures before joining the collection. They are measured, cleaned, repaired, and placed in storerooms, furnished with precise descriptions. 

The artists were invited to play with the museum’s need to systematize its objects, and their work in the collections of the Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź has borne fruit in the Second Skin exhibition. They struck up a dialogue with selected pieces to restore their original context, from which they had been disinherited when placed in a museum narrative. In this way, they called attention to a network of institutional procedures: restrictive classification systems, measurements, conservation restrictions, exhibition standards, and other obstructions to their being made public. 

The artists’ gesture of narrating the pieces shows the museum’s potential as a collection that needs retelling, that is ready to be rewritten. The exhibition narrative centers on concepts tied to the use of textiles: their covering, wrapping, and revealing. These gestures were treated as the germs of stories coming from the lives of individuals and generations. 

Using the textiles as tools for working with body memory served as an impulse to imagine stories of their past users. From this perspective, the museum storehouses emerge as the remnants of a molting process—a collection of soft forms recalling shapes of bodies to which they increasingly conformed through wear. 

The artists prepared their installations for the exhibition in a several-stage process. They began by contemplating the pliable forms of textiles, at times slack and languid. Or the reverse: their tautness, heft, resistance. They then traced the conditions in which selected pieces from the collection worked in their original cultural contexts, including their symbolic meanings.

These strategies allowed them to plan the exhibition on two interwoven levels: the first presented museum objects, the second was a form of interpreting them via the works prepared. The core of Second Skin is the weave of these two levels, a meeting of objects from the collection and works that creatively evolve them. This leads to a clash of perspectives, contexts, sensitivities, until the properties of the medium have been explored. The layered nature of the exhibition involves artists daring to interpret the museum pieces. This process is never neutral; on the contrary, it swiftly reveals the interpreter’s intentions. It goes on with varied intensity: from a gentle touch, to attempts to appropriate or aggressively feed off and assimilate the original, wiping out its meaning. 

And so, using the tools of their creative strategies—various kinds of suckers, tentacles, feelers, and hooks—the artists deconstructed their object of choice, rewriting it on their own terms, sometimes imploding it and discovering some surprising themes. 

In the exhibition, the body merges with the fabric, which takes on its likeness. Its structure recalls a fibrous and sinewy material that is easy to damage, to wear down, to puncture. But it is just as easy to fill the holes, to create forms like stitches, scars, or scabs. This sculpted approach to textile leads us to see it as a layered landscape, made of stones and deposits, fibers and tissues, aortae and veins. Studying its fleshy structure becomes a meditation on our own frailty, mapping it and growing accustomed to it. The hidden mechanics of this collection is a multifaceted glorification of stickiness. This is a stickiness not so much in the literal sense, but rather in that raised by Timothy Morton, who describes it as an indefinable cohesiveness with the environment. Here the attempt to make clear divisions is replaced by the law of permeation. As a result, various objects are cracked and destabilized. They become stretched or misshapen. They clash and mutate, working on one another.

The works on show, as substitutes of bodies enmeshed in private and public rituals, enter relationships, dialogues, harmonies. The exhibition has been divided into four groups. This division, however, reveals only one of many tropes showing the kinships and overlaps that can be pursued in a visit. The first group, Binding, reflects a fascination for the ritual aspect of textiles, its presence in the everyday bustle associated with performing an identity (Laika Marie Andersen, Live Skaar Skogesal, Katinka Halland). A bond recreates imposed roles, reproduces a set of gestures, actions culturally assigned to a gender. The second group, Repetition, speaks of textiles that function as temporary monuments, forms that unite, building a community (Grzegorz Demczuk, Monika Drożyńska, Paweł Błęcki, Ala Savashevich). Repetition here is a way of exposing the nature of long-term social processes that need to be worked through. The third group, Untying, arose from the need to explore mechanisms of perception, ways of coding experience (Filip Rybkowski, Piotr Madej, Marta Krześlak, Kuba Święcicki, Thea Weis). Here the artists unravel works of art form the collection, deconstructing them, picking them apart into their smallest elements. The fourth group, Repairing, concerns body memory, working through wounds, expressing emotions bottled up for years in the body (Olga Konik, Wiktoria Gazda, Clea Filippa Ingwersen, Natalia Mecnarowska-Legutko, Agata Jarosławiec, Pamela Bożek, Jagoda Dobecka). These objects cross between the somatic and the textile, allowing uncomfortable experiences to seep out.

The rhythm of fibers, knots, threads, folds, and creases hypnotizes the eye. This game with textile bears the mark of a séance with objects from the collection. The details teased out by the artists, like the structure of stains left by various kinds of liquids or the dust blanketing the textiles, jog the memory, take us back into the past.

The first step toward summoning it up might be to gaze deeply at one photograph featured in the exhibition. The year is 1908, workers at a factory are shown in five even rows. The pale colors of the photograph make everyone look like they are engulfed in a yellowish fog slowly dissolving their shapes, rubbing out their characteristics. Yet we can still make out their gloomy faces and ruminative glances. Their homes have objects that need tending to. Piles of stained, punctured, and tattered fabrics in need of mending and sorting. When the photographer clicks the shutter, none of them wonders if time will wear down their bodies faster than those things, which, despite their inconspicuous forms, will far outlive their owners.