Warp and weft, which underlie the images woven in tapestries, are a gesture about structure. Tapestries are different from other textiles because in the finished tapestry the warp threads hide the weft threads, unlike clothing textiles where both warp and weft can be visible. In the structure of such textiles it is possible to identify warp and weft. The universe of tapestry weaving thus distinguishes warp from weft, gesture from program. Weaving tapestries is about the art of hiding structures; an image is created by repudiating its own structure.Vilém Flusser’s interest in tapestry was awakened because of this game of hide and seek.
A tapestry, or wall hanging, with a design showing a landscape is a representation of an external world and creates the impression of a window in the wall, reminiscent of Arthur Schopenhauer’s idea of the “world as a representation” (Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Idea, 1883). Even if its design is abstract, a tapestry is a representation that depicts a kind of negation of the surrounding reality – the reality is the weft threads upon which the image is constructed. In this sense, tapestries could be conceived as counter-representations. Whether traditional in design or abstract, the tapestry evidences an epistemological interest by creating a certain kind of representation of unsuspected realities – an interest shared by both tapestry and painting.
The work of weaving a tapestry falls into two phases: preparation work for the project and struggling with the structure. Thus weaving a tapestry could be construed as an act of “weaving prejudice”: a preprepared design, on paper or cardboard, which will be thrown away after the tapestry has been completed, is transferred onto the structure. The weaving process entails planning ahead. In most cases there is strict division of labor – the person who weaves the tapestry is not the same person who designs the tapestry – which creates a division between tapestry designers (intellectual workers) and craftsmen weavers (manual workers).
In Flusser’s in-depth dialogue with Edmar de Almeida, the craftsman told the philosopher about his desire to break out of this labor structure in order to give skilled workers the opportunity to contribute their input to tapestry “projects” – specifically, the designs. This would change the prevailing professional and elitist dynamics that constitute the weaving craft sector. Strongly influenced by Flusser, de Almeida sees for tapestry weaving the possibility of liberation from the warp. This means weaving without pre-given designs – without a preliminary project – and practicing the free gesture against any and every structure.
Original article by Flávio Tonnetti