As expressions of binary code, all woven cloth can be communicated in numerical operations. Embedded within every piece of woven cloth is the mathematical instructions to weave it, like DNA embedded in the cells of a living organism. That mathematical language however, contains the socio-political history and ecosystem that existed at the time of its conception. While we experience the code of woven cloth as pattern and the formal expression of color, geometry, and line, these coded visual languages are also symbolic of the social attitudes and ideologies held by their makers.
It is this subject, the embeddedness and codification of historical circumstances in cloth, that I chose to analyze in my work for the Portland Biennial in 2019, curated by Ashley Stull Meyers, Yaelle S. Amir, Elsheba Johnson at Disject in Portland, Oregon. For the exhibition, I presented a historical weaving attributed to the collection of Peter Hardeman Burnett, noted author of the racist Oregon exclusionary laws, which, among other provisions, prevented Black Americans and other people of color from owning property in the state of Oregon from 1844 on into the modern era. That textile, woven in a popular colonial American style known as “Overshot,” is a recognizable aesthetic of American domestic idealism, one that can be traced back to the original colonies and Northern European ancestry.
My work unpacked this densely coded textile, rearranging its component parts to create a commentary on this racist history, presented as technical “weave drafts,” the codified instructions widely understood by weavers as instructions on how to recreate a particular woven design. The work is reflective, but aims to show how such histories are codified and embedded into our present material and visual languages.