'Radical Fiber: Threads Connecting Art and Science'

Exhibition explores the intersections between fiber arts and the sciences through work by Lia Cook, Anna Dumitriu, Ellis Developments Ltd., Karen Norberg, Dario Robleto, John Sims, Soft Monitor, Daina Taimina, Cecilia Vicuña, and Christine and Margaret Wertheim

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY (December 16, 2021) — The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College presents Radical Fiber: Threads Connecting Art and Science, a new exhibition featuring historical artifacts and contemporary art that demonstrate the ways in which fiber craft techniques and materials have influenced and impacted scientific fields like mathematics, digital technology, medicine, and more. The exhibition runs January 29 through June 12, 2022.

Visitors will encounter works that span centuries and are made by artists, scientists, and mathematicians alike. A fifteenth-century Incan khipu—the oldest work on view—presents a system of cords, knots, and dyes that recorded local and state administrative information and narratives. Mathematician Daina Taimina’s Hyperbolic sketch, 2006, offers a crocheted representation of the mathematical theory of hyperbolic space; she was the first to create a functional model of this theory after more than a century of claims that such a feat was impossible. Artist Dario Robleto’s The Creative Potential of Disease, 2004, presents a Civil War-era doll that was made by an amputated Union soldier as a self-portrait as part of his recovery. Robleto sutured a new limb onto the doll, connecting histories of fiber craft with mental wellness, and the acts of surgical and artistic stitching. And SciArtist Anna Dumitriu’s The Romantic Disease Dress, 2014, a nineteenth-century garment dyed with madder root, safflower, and walnut husks links ancient medical treatments with fabric dyes. The inclusion of Prontosil, a precursor to penicillin that was developed based on the chemistry used to create the first synthetic dye in 1856, mauveine—a sample of which is also on view—further links dyes to modern-day pharmaceuticals.

In addition to looking at historical connections between fiber art and science, the exhibition explores future intersections of these two fields and how they can can improve our world. For example, fabric swatches from Brooklyn-based biotech company Kintra, which was founded in 2018, will be on display. Using sugar plants to develop biodegradable yarn and fabric, Kintra aims to substantially reduce the use of fossil fuels in the textile industry and its reliance on plastic.

The exhibition also features the Saratoga Springs Satellite Reef, a collaborative artwork made up of hundreds of crocheted corals created in the last year by amateur crafters and professional artists from the Capital Region and beyond. The reef installation is one of nearly fifty such satellite reefs created around the world as part of the Crochet Coral Reef project by Christine and Margaret Wertheim and the Institute For Figuring. A celebration of interdisciplinary creativity and collaborative learning, the exhibition foregrounds each of these works as at once fine art, process-driven craft, and scientific tool, reframing the histories of fiber/science intersections and asking how artists continue to engage in scientific inquiry through fiber and how the medium can be used to improve our world for the future.

The public reception will be Saturday, January 29, from 5 to 6:30 pm. Admission to the museum is free. All visitors are required to show proof of vaccination and to wear masks. For more information, call the Visitors Services Desk at 518-580-8080 or visit https://tang.skidmore.edu.

Radical Fiber is organized by Associate Curator Rebecca McNamara, in consultation with Skidmore College faculty members Mark Huibregtse, Rachel Roe-Dale, and Becky Trousil from Mathematics & Statistics; Sara Lagalwar from Neuroscience; Elaine Larsen from Biology; Aarathi Prasad from Computer Science; and Sang-Wook Lee from Art.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the opening reception will be preceded on the afternoon of Friday, January 28, and all day Saturday, January 29, by Radical Fiber: A Symposium on Art and Science. Participants will hear from invited scholars, artists, and thinkers in academia, business, tech, and the arts on the historical, present, and potential future connections of fiber-based practice and the sciences. They will also be able to take part in weaving demonstrations, curator-led exhibition tours, and interactive workshops to create e-textiles and mathematical models.

Together, the symposium and exhibition embrace the values of cross-disciplinary collaboration and engagement and highlight the value of artists to offer solutions to our most challenging questions today. We will think creatively about the future of textiles—their role in our lives historically and how moments of scientific progress in textiles can inspire future innovation, their technological possibilities for social good, the need for a more sustainable and climate-friendly textile industry, and more.

The symposium is free and open to the public and will be held in person at the Tang Teaching Museum at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. Details and registration information can be found on the Tang website at https://tang.skidmore.edu.

About the Crochet Coral Reef

The Crochet Coral Reef is project created by sisters Christine Wertheim and Margaret Wertheim of the Institute For Figuring. Residing at the intersection of mathematics, marine biology, handicraft, and community art practice, the project responds to the environmental crisis of global warming and the escalating problem of oceanic plastic trash by highlighting not only the damage humans do to earth’s ecology, but also our power for positive action. The Wertheims’ Crochet Coral Reef collection has been exhibited worldwide, including at the 2019 Venice Biennale, Andy Warhol Museum (Pittsburgh), Hayward Gallery (London), Science Gallery (Dublin), and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (Washington, DC). The project also encompasses a community-art program in which more than 20,000 people around the world have participated in making 50 locally based Satellite Reefs—in New York, Chicago, Melbourne, Ireland, Latvia, UAE, and elsewhere. The Saratoga Springs Satellite Reef on display here is the latest addition to this ever-evolving wooly archipelago.

About the Artists

Margaret Wertheim is a science writer, artist, and author of books on the cultural history of physics. Christine Wertheim is an experimental poet, performer, artist, and writer, and a faculty member at the California Institute of the Arts. Margaret and Christine conduct the Crochet Coral Reef project through their Los Angeles–based practice, the Institute For Figuring, which is dedicated to “the poetic dimensions of science and mathematics.” The IFF is at once an art endeavor and a framework for innovative public science engagement.

About the Tang Teaching Museum

The Tang Teaching Museum at Skidmore College is a pioneer of interdisciplinary exploration and learning. A cultural anchor of New York’s Capital Region, the Tang’s approach has become a model for college and university art museums across the country—with exhibition programs that bring together visual and performing arts with interdisciplinary ideas from history, economics, biology, dance, and physics, to name just a few. The Tang has one of the most rigorous faculty-engagement initiatives in the nation, and a robust publication and touring exhibition program that extends the museum’s reach far beyond its walls. The Tang Teaching Museum’s award-winning building, designed by architect Antoine Predock, serves as a visual metaphor for the convergence of art and ideas. The Museum will be closed during Skidmore College’s winter break and as we prepare for new exhibitions to open January 29. The Museum will then be open to the public on Thursday–Sunday from noon to 5 p.m., with extended hours until 9 pm on Thursdays. http://tang.skidmore.edu.

Pattern by Madeleine Welsch ’17
Inspired by the exhibition Someday is Now: The Art of Corita Kent
The Tang Pattern Project celebrates the Museum’s 20th anniversary. Organized by Head of Design Jean Tschanz-Egger, past and current Tang Design Interns created patterns inspired by the Museum’s exhibition and event history.