Textiles: A Metaphorical Tracing

Important to my artistic production in the last five years, “Textiles: A Metaphorical Tracing” is a long and unfolding project. Begun in 2012, it explores the gendered history, labor, economic and social implications of handmade and machine made textiles in Italy and America through drawings, paintings, video, audio, installation and performance.

It includes several bodies of work: Merletti/Lace, Intimate Spaces, Colletti/Collars, Succumb, Regola/Rules, Wandering, The Red Spider Web performance, and the installations Cum Grano Salis and Stitch by Stitch. They draw on my earlier work, including Working Women (1992), photographs and interviews of women I worked with in a Charlotte, North Carolina textile plant, Almost Invisible (1996, 2016) photographs and interviews of the Bedouin community and a women’s weaving cooperative in the Negev Desert community, Lakiya; Mermaid (2007) a video of my hands undoing, stitch-by-stitch, a found embroidery of a mermaid; and an earlier body of work, Embroideries (2008), where I stitched words relating to politics and the lives of women into found embroideries, among other works.

This art and research addresses gendered labor and the difficult questions raised by textile traditions, including lacemaking, embroidery and textile manufacturing at the turn of the century. These artworks provoke dialogue about authorship and women’s value by repositioning the handmade objects of anonymous women in relation to the human body, social status, economics and mechanical reproduction through changes in scale, context, medium and design. In addition to my drawings and paintings my research includes creating my own archive of objects and information including lace collars, crochet doilies, antique wooden bobbins, historic cardboard bobbin lace patterns, early publications about lace making, cloth lace patterns, antique photographs of women crocheting and doing handwork, early punch-card patterns used in shuttle-loom textile machines of the early 1900’s, my own documentary photography, video, and audio footage of women making lace and crochet doilies, and textile factories.

 

Continuum, Light Art + Design, Chapel Hill, NC, 2016

Continuum, Light Art + Design, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 2016

 

Regola/Rule, Van Every Smith Galleries, Davidson College, Davidson, NC, 2016Regola/Rule, Van Every Smith Galleries, Davidson College, Davidson, NC, 2016Seeing|Saying: Images and Words, Van Every/Smith Galleries, Davidson College, Davidson, North Carolina, 2016

 


Merletti/Lace (2012) and Lo Strappo della Storia, Conversazione con Merletti/History’s Pull: Conversations With Lace (2013)

Over thirty detailed ink drawings of lace collars and doilies conceptually recreating the labor of lace making by representing each stitch with a drawn circle. The pieces range in size from 8” x 10” to 24” x 30”. Ink on Handmade Abaca Paper.

The exhibition Lo Strappo della Storia, Conversazione con Merletti/History’s Pull, Conversations with Lace (2013) was accompanied by a catalogue/monograph. The exhibition received extensive news coverage in all of the major national Italian newspapers, social media and the national television newscasts. It included 20 drawings, a wall-sized monument of lace collar drawings, and a large scale laser cut doily (9’ x 5’) which draped down from the ceiling.

In the exhibition Lo Strappo Della Storia, Conversazione con Merletti/History’s Pull: Conversations with Lace, Rome, Italy (2013), and Cum Grano Salis, Viterbo, Italy (2012) I explore the materiality of the object by withholding the actual piece of lace and presenting translations of the object as intimate and wall-size drawings, paintings and installation. The oversized collars/pieces of lace then become visualizations and monuments to stifling domesticity, status, and women’s labor. Each drawing or artwork represents the work of two authors: the original maker and myself as the artist, connected through many hours of labor joining one stitch to another. The works embrace the conceptual reproduction of labor, each stitch is drawn and animated as a small circle instead of a drawing with straight lines. I spend hours closely examining, tracing, and then drawing and altering the designs/shapes of the lace. I often leave blank or unfinished spaces in my work and these spaces of presence and absence reference the labor and individual stitches that become invisible when a piece of handwork is complete.

Manuela De Leonardis, freelance curator and Art Critic at the national Italian newspaper, Il Manifesto, Rome, Italy says:

Taking old embroideries/doilies/laces and graphically retracing their borders, Harbage Page carries out a conceptual operation. She places the embroidery or the doily under a sheet of hand-made translucent paper and, with ink that is prevalently black but also magenta, she re-codifies its design. In the passage from artifact to work of art, the American artist thus reconstructs the most intimate matrix of the object, endowing the hand of the woman who made it with a metaphorical identity.

Merletti/Lace (2012)

 


Lo Strappo della Storia, Conversazione con Merletti/History’s Pull: Conversations With Lace (2013)

Catalogue:

Harbage Page, S. Lo Strappo Della Storia: Conversazione con Merletti/History’s Pull: Conversations with Lace, Exhibition Catalog,Casa Della Memoria e della Storia/A Roma Capitale Museum, Rome, Italy, 2013


Cum Grano Salis/With a Grain of Salt, (2012)

Cum Grano Salis, an installation at Gallery Kyo in Viterbo for the Caffeine Cultura Festival explores the materiality of a lace collar by withholding the actual piece of lace and presenting translations of the object as a wall-size graphite drawing, a photograph, and a photograph of a drawing. It also included a large pile of salt in the middle of the room with two ceramic figurines of women attached to each other at their feet/base. They are holding each other in place as they balance on a pile of salt. The Italian word for salt comes from the Italian word “salis” or salary, which references 15th century-laborers who were paid in salt. The work also references the “salt road” which leads directly to the town of Viterbo.

Sitting by the door of the gallery is an empty folding chair implying that a young woman (typically seen doing the labor of receiving guests in high end art venues) will return at any moment to the gallery. In the chair, the viewer sees a series of feminist books the young woman is reading, a ceramic figurine of a woman with her hand held high as if she is resisting, a pine cone, and a button left in a dresser drawer by a pilgrim in a cloistered Augustinian convent in Spello, Italy.

 


Intimate Spaces – Linens, Towels, Beds, From the Monastary, Spello, Italy (2012)

The bath towels are always folded and placed at the foot of beds made for religious pilgrims passing through on their way to Assisi. They become color studies of sorts when they become bigger than life in the prints. They show the signs of long use, wear and care—as they are neatly folded time after time.


Colletti/Collars (2013)

Over 28 paintings and drawings of collars, and paintings which enlarge and play with scale in individual stitches and unraveled threads. The Crochet Islands were inspired by a found antique lace sample book. Pieces range in size from 11” x 14” to 4’ x 5’. Gouache on paper.

 


Stitch by Stitch (2013)

Completed for the juried Art in Odd Places Festival in Greensboro, NC. “Stitch by Stitch” is drawn in chalk from the center out. The completed mural is a giant crocheted doily that transformed a downtown wall in the city center of Greensboro, NC. Created as a meditative performance, every one hundred stitches was completed with a different chalk color, making visible the gendered labor that often becomes invisible when looking at a completed piece of handmade lace or crochet.

 Stitch by Stitch, 2013


Succumb (2014)

Over 60 paintings, which compare and reinterpret the physical cardboard patterns, which are used in the production of handmade bobbin lace and textile machines of the early 1900’s. These works are Influenced by John Cage’s ideas of “Silence”, “Chance”, “Indeterminacy”, and sourcing the “everyday.” Pieces range in size from 8” x 10” to 40” x 50”. Gouache on handmade abaca paper.

 


Regola/Rule (2015)

93 paintings made on found paper including a Napoleonic Ledger circa 1800 listing the tax value of individuals and a book of rules printed for Capistrano Friars. These paintings explore rules: rules of the game, exceptions to the rule, how we voluntarily regulate ourselves, and how others regulate us. Director of The Van Every/Smith Galleries at Davidson College, Lia Newman, states:

The title for the series, Regola – in English, “rule” – is derived from the text in one of the found books the artist uses as her substrate in which a list of rules for Capistrano Friars was printed in 1827. For Page, who has spent much of her career creating artwork exploring race, surveillance, and militarized borders, rules are worth considering: “rules of the game, exceptions to the rule, how we voluntarily regulate ourselves, and how others regulate us.

Page’s marks may be likened to palimpsest or marginalia. She works on top of pre-existing printed and handwritten texts. The artist notes that, historically, text has been considered masculine, while the marks she makes – drawings, handwritten errand lists, and hand-drawn stitches denoting Italian merletti or lacework – is considered feminine. Page overlaps, changes, adds to, crosses out, and confirms the marks previously made. This seems particularly poignant when she works, for example, atop a Napoleonic tax ledger listing the monetary value or worth of various individuals. Her process both unmakes and rewrites history, creating a new kind of truth.

Pieces range in size from 10.4’ x 13’ to 19’ x 38’. Gouache on found antique paper and contemporary handmade abaca paper.

Catalogue:

Seeing|Saying: Images and Words Exhibition Catalogue, Van Every/Smith Galleries, Davidson College, Davidson, North Carolina, 2016

 


Il Sangue Delle Donne: Tracce di Rosso Sul Panno Bianco/The Blood of Women: Traces of Red on White Cloth (2015)

An embroidered textile artwork “Work, Play, Love, Bleed” on antique found linen used as a menstrual pad was featured in the exhibition: Il Sangue Delle Donne: Tracce di Rosso Sul Panno Bianco/The Blood of women: Traces of Red on White Cloth at the Casa Internazionale delle Donne, Rome, Italy (October, 2015) which included the publication of an exhibition catalogue. The exhibition traveled to Croatia and Serbia in 2017.

“Work, Play, Love, Bleed” is about the cycle of life and menstruation which is often invisible in contemporary culture. Blood represents the creation of life and a great source of power for women. The white circle is a reference to the moon and cycles. I imagine A.T. (whose initials were embroidered) when it was given to me was a nun. Her red cross-stitched initials echo those I have seen on linens and towels in the monastery of cloistered Augustinian nuns I stay with in Spello, Italy. A.T. always had a monthly cycle but never a child. The work becomes a sort of collaboration as I add embroidery in red and white to the piece, which she initially stitched in red. She claimed it for herself with the initials and there-after washed and ironed it monthly. Embroidery on found antique linen, 21”x 18.5”

Work, Play, Love, Bleed, 2015

Catalogue:

Harbage Page, S. Il Sangue Delle Donne: Tracce di Rosso Sul Panno Bianco/The Blood of Women: Traces of Red on White Cloth, exhibition catalogue, Casa Internazionale delle Donne, Rome, Italy, Oct 2015

 


The Red Spider Web/La Ragnatela Rosa (2015)

My site-specific solo performance and installation, The Red Spider Web/La Ragnatela Rosa, was premiered at Villa Pacchiani, Pisa (Santa Croce Sull’Arno), Italy (2015). For this performance I collaborated with composer Kenneth Stewart to complete a musical composition/soundscape “Precarity” based on the audio recordings and remixed sounds generated as I baked a black walnut cake in my kitchen from a recipe my grandmother passed on to me. The audio played in the background during my performance which included weaving a large-scale red spider web in the gallery.

 

Precarity


Video Poems: Mermaid (2007), Tessitura (2014), Relentless (2014), Merletti (2014)

My interest in images of anonymous women—embroidered by contemporary women—prompted this action of deconstructing a found embroidery in Mermaid (2007). Assistant Professor and art historian at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, Dr. Laurel Frederickson states:

Mermaid is a video poem which show’s Page’s fingers meticulously picking out the threads that have been embroidered in the image of the heroine of Hans Christian Anderson’s story “The Little Mermaid,” a mythic being that signifies as both a siren and a prostitute. In the un-working of the stitching, Page deconstructs a symbol of female seduction and tragic love and the gender stereotypes it supports. Yet, her careful work also celebrates the skill that went into the making of the needlework.

 Tessitura, Relentless, and Merletti comprise a series of three short video poems (circa ten minutes each), which use the anachronistic sounds of economy and labor, Tessitura/Weave addresses ideas of gender and community. Filmed in the summer of 2014, these experimental documentaries explore the traditions of lacemaking and turn-of-the-century mechanical textile production in rural Italy.

Tessitura

Merletti/Lace

Relentless

Mermaid

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