For many, embroidery connotes a certain bygone luxury, a delicate labor of love. A single hand pulling a needle and thread through fabric evokes a fantasy of rocking chairs and doilies, spindly fingers, and timid femininity. Since the 1970s, this fantasy has been exploded by feminist artists who have sought to reinvest craft traditions with subversive politics. Yet rather than push past the domestic, gendered assumptions about handiwork, the curators of “Stitches and Threads” dive headfirst into that thematic space to consider the overlapping questions that emerge from the histories and stereotypes of needlework.
Featuring work by fourteen Icelandic artists, the show spans representation and abstraction, design and conceptualism. Kristín Gunnlaugsdóttir’s large, vulvic Silver Fountain, 2011, and Loji Höskuldsson’s verdant A Memory of the Bed of Flowers by the Highway that Passes the Industrial District, 2022, desublimate the floral imagery common to embroidery into monuments of libido and nostalgia, respectively. Agnes Ársælsdóttir’s biomorphic abstraction woven into a found chair (Overlook, 2022) and Guðrun Bergsdóttir’s geometric explorations caught somewhere between Mondrian and motherboards suggest our estrangedness to the handmade in an era of digitized industrial manufacture. Anna Andrea Winther’s Kitchen Actions, 2020–21, a set of instructions embroidered on used dish rags that consider the home as a site of performance, hang in evocative dialogue with James Merry’s delicate Moth Mask, 2015, made for Björk to wear on stage while touring her break-up record, Vulnicura.
Like a garment repaired rather than tossed in the trash, a feeling of endurance suffuses this exhibition, demonstrating the ongoing vitality of an ancient, intimate method.