Thread curated by Alana Coates
Coates’s Quilt of Intersectionality
By Alexandra Alvarez
Although she is not native to San Antonio, Alana Coates been here long enough to be deemed #puro. Curator and art extraordinaire, Coates, has been the seamstress behind putting together some of San Antonio’s most political, comprehensive, intersectional, and quality shows in recent accessible collective memory. Instead of curating shows with one of the showstopper artists she has in her Rolodex from her many years in the industry, Coates has been using her leverage to showcase the newcomer gems she’s unearthed from her immersion. Almost antithetical to her New England upbringing and art market learning, Coates inspires exhibitions that perhaps a millennial still paying off their college loans could afford to purchase a piece of art from an artist who would be present to sell it to them.
After a series of shows including “Images of Power” at Freight and “¡Ahora!” At Mexi-Arte, Coates has curated her first show on the embroidery movement. Embroidery, thought to have originated in China, is an ancient art form that has only as of late received critical and proper attention and taken traction as a viable show in galleries with clout. The first time I had validation of my suspicion of the rising visibility of embroidery as the next art “trend” (I used trend in quotes because normally the movements preexisted the white cube art news acknowledgement), was in October 2016 when Vice Media’s ID-Magazine posted an article about how Instagram’s embroiderers are blurring the gendered divide between craft and art. Shortly after Bustle and ArtNews followed suit talking about how embroidery is a tool of the feminist resistance, how it has been neglected as fine art due to its association with females, and biographies of new wave Etsy cross-stitchers. Article by article, I scanned under my Warby Parker’s, from high art like Shalene Murray to pop culture artists celebs like Zoe Buckman to Instagram artists like @kingsophiesworld, the overwhelming majority of referenced artists are white and almost all are female.
So, in a place like San Antonio, where weaving is a part of the city’s aesthetic, the underdog is always supreme and embroidery has never left the public eye due to San Antonio’s anachronistic debutante culture, obsession with monogramming, and respect for local artisans it was refreshing to see a lineup of artist as diverse as the Coates most recent curatorial project “Thread”. At artist-run and residency space Clamp Light, “Thread” is another one of Coates’s quilts of success. Featuring 12 multicultural and different gendered artists the show is a diverse portfolio of varying sewing techniques, subject matter, and compositions.
Walking through the doors of Clamp Light immediately on the left is a giant work by Bavarian creature creator and morphologist Sarah Fox. Her large piece of a tailed frog with a boy’s head resting on the forehead of a bear is so intricately woven and the thread segments are measured as such that the lines read like the marks of a woodcut print; further adding to the storybook quality of the imagery. One of many children’s first memories is their mother scratching the spot on their forehead where the frog boy rests. The bear feels maternal but it’s unclear if the child is nesting or about to take flight.
Leaving Fox’s dream, the viewer is greeted by Justin Korver’s “Hat Series”; his contractor father’s sweat-stained hats reimagined with embroidered flowers and patches. The four hats flank the wall like deer busts at a South Texas hunting ranch. More than anyone else, I’ve probably had a giggle the most over SA Based, Midwest reared, Justin Korver’s irreverent works. His works usually have traces of art history or pop culture innuendos as a subconscious materiality. It’s hard to look at these delicately and girly embroidered trucking hats and not think of Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton in their Von Dutch and Ed Hardy hats in the Simple Life. Korver is successful in weaving together Instagram #tbt meme culture, San Antonio textile design, and personal history to create on-point works for the “Thread” exhibition.
Violins, guitars, and all chordophones require vibrating strings to produce sound. By design, this facet of sound is an art form cousin to embroidery. Sol Kessler makes kissing cousins in her works by infusing new media including sound into her embroidery practice. Buenos Aires-based, Kessler’s embroidery portraits are incredibly realistic with select areas, such as the men’s beards reimagined as something much more fantastical. Her ability to vacillate between real and imaginary is also evident in the background behind the bust of a dandy boyish figure a flourishing floral dreamscape.
A 1960’s housewife-cut dress with an indigenous-prairie-girl-twist hangs on the wall like an item on display at a vintage store. In the same rosa color of the dress is embroidered words by Sarah Castillo. Castillo puts stories that are of forgiveness and healing from others and of the self. Similar to the way one might pick out a dress, an act for the empowerment of self but in a visible sculpture to others.
Although threading through the hands has been something done before, Villalobos brings his own personal touch to the process that creates a much more real, raw, and tormented experience. A video of Villalobos piercing his palms with thread to carve the name “HOMBRE” tensely plays next to a hanging brown belt with politically and poetically charged words sewn into its skin. Villalobos, like Catholic priests before him, used the brown skin to flagellate himself over a pile of dirt (still on the floor) at the opening in a performance entitled “Sin Los Callos en la Mano”. Villalobos simultaneously illustrates suffering and the strength of the victim. Villalobos uses his kryptonite that the heteronormative white-dominated world has inflicted on him as being a gay Latinx man as his armor to then fight back and gain ownership over such systematic setbacks through the manifestation of art.
“Yo Soy Se Aquí” is Michael Martinez’s chest binder piece with the words “con mucho valor mi Corazon sostiene la verdad siempre” stitched across. Incredibly popular right now are women works of stitching words, rap lyrics, sayings, or call to arms on intimates such as bras, panties, hose, and socks. Martinez’s work is in conversation with his contemporaries however he is making sure that trans men, specifically, latinx and men of color, are visible in the conversation of the expression of gender.
Next to Martinez’s piece and hanging from the back wall of the space, Bianca Alvarez’s self-portrait of “Santa Sucia” and “Ecstasy of Santa Sucia” is the intersection of two of San Antonio’s most dominant cultural influence: Mexican and German. Alvarez crochets together cornhusk in a quilt formation that is a reference of traditional German patchwork. The natural and organic color schemes of Bianca’s works serve to balance out from some of the more vibrant pieces in the show.
Covering the largest wall in the space are Linda Arrendondo and Martha Elena Flores’s works. Korean facial masks have been quite the rage in the beauty industry as of late and there is a word for the selfie culture attached to their results. “Ulzzang”, a term originating from South Korea loosely translates to best face and is a bi-product of selfie craze and the curation of a social media persona. Differing from the duck face or the prune face (in 2008 the Olsen twins said the key to a perfect paparazzi photo is to say “prune” instead of “smile” to the camera thus ensuing a decade of sour fashion mugging), Ulzzang are usually barely there makeup and endearing cutesy faces. Linda Arrendndo’s Flayed Ulzzang series, she takes Mesoamerican goddesses, specifically Aztec whose priests wore flayed skins as a part of ritual practices, and re-imagines them wearing the Ulzzang skin. Conceptually inspired these scenes take on fun silhouette forms with pop colors with cubistic and reductive facial expressions.
Martha Elena Flores’s Microsoft era inspired graphic thread drawings are some of the most interesting and innovative works in the thread medium as of late. The act of sewing, embroidery, weaving, stitching, is a 3-dimensional process pulled tightly into a one-dimensional plane. Flores makes playful and bright compositions that digitalize thread on a landscape of vinyl that allows for shadow play, transparency, and volume.
“What We Wore”, the tale of what two lovers wore the day of a break-up. Each page is a different item of clothing of one partner next to the other. Touching the pages of Abby Hinojosa’s book one can feel the romance as you are looking at her memory of a moment one by one. Deducing each item of clothing Hinojosa pulls on your heartstrings in the same way she dances her needle through the pages of the tragic love story. There is a trope and common sentiment that sewing can be therapeutic and calming, this is a piece of work that you can feel the healing process. Hinojosa also has another piece in the show, three powder puff silk balloons with writing which are stylistically and compositionally similar to many contemporary fem-manifesto embroidery works.