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Tensile Specimens
→ Hessel Museum of Art
Curated by
  • Bergen Hendrickson
Part of
Exhibition Category
Thesis Exhibitions, Student Curated Projects

Tensile Specimens is a hybrid publication comprising archival material, new textile works, and excerpted writings annotated by commissioned participants, elaborated by an exhibition at the Hessel Museum. These texts present a variety of perspectives on digital technologies, attending to their relation to theories of cybernetic self-organization and to how they were inspired by methods of industrial textile production. The Jacquard loom, whose use of punch cards as a programming system is often understood as a forerunner to the computer, is one such technologically bridging mechanism.

In materials science laboratories, a tensile specimen is a fiber stretched to its structural limit. The artists included in Tensile Specimens similarly test the limits of plausibility in their textile experiments. Considering how the digital has subsumed the language and operations of weaving, this publication focuses in on the notion of anonymity. At stake is the erasure of individual identification with products of human labor: particularly, the anonymization of technical activities. Tensile Specimens contends that these processes of disidentification transferred from textiles into emergent digital technologies and their surrounding discourse. This transfer is evidenced both in the way that digital labor is conceived and in the construction of a digital commons, which allows for a potentially anonymous collectivity.

Tensile Specimens includes an existing folio work by Mika Tajima (b. 1975) and newly commissioned textile works by Erika Ceruzzi (b. 1990), as well as an extensive consideration of the workshops led by the Stitching Worlds project (active 2014-2018) within the pages of the book.

As an experimental prototype for a larger scale publication, Tensile Specimens acts as a proposal for an exhibition in mobile, book form. The physical format of the book takes the form of a swatch book, a form designed for the mobile, cheap distribution of fragments of fiber. The accompanying exhibition serves as a space for engaging the publication materially and haptically. The show also presents a folio work by Tajima that responds to the history of the Jacquard loom.

Tensile Specimens poses two divergent possible directions or possibilities. The first reveals technologies of cooperative narrativizing and community building that online right-wing networks may have inherited and weaponized from certain folk techniques towards ends of conspiracy theorization. Is it possible that the construction of communal identities from anonymous individual identities (as seen in the history of weaving) isn’t a universally positive phenomenon? The second imagines a future in which digital industrialization may not proceed linearly from fiber techniques, but instead the two may reciprocally inform one another. The exhibited works envision narratives for fiber culture wherein the flow of technological and industrial modernization might flow backward, or laterally, with fiber reabsorbing a digital language back into its own material. The artworks of Tensile Specimens encode the micro-histories of their production into their very textures.

Exhibition video documentation created by Andy Boyce under the direction of Brooke Nicholas and the Class of 2020 graduate students.