Hello, my name is Thomas, and I’m a theorist…
As Wife, Bee, and I travel around the UK I’ve had a lot of time to think about stuff. At times random stuff as I figure out how to get off of a particularly inscrutable roundabout, at other times those existential elements that nag at the back of your head but get muffled by the endless quantities of work to be done.
Both the small and the grand keep reminding me that I am quite definitely a theorist. When I was young I was much more interested in thinking about what numbers did than actually sitting down to the work of plugging them into formulae. As an artist I preferred discussing what art might be in the late-twentieth/early-twenty-first centuries to dirtying my fingers with the actuality of the stuff. As a designer, well, let’s just say I loathed the idea of actually doing client work; I was more concerned with the role that design could have in shaping a post-industrial culture.
Now that I make fabric and quilts things really aren’t much different. While I do indeed love the making, I keep finding myself drawn to the overarching questions I run into. Quilts have fulfilled so many purposes over the centuries: physical necessities, cultural/symbolic markers, and status symbols; as rites of passage, hobbies, and forms of profound expression, just to name a few. More often than not any given quilt fills a variety of roles. The current revival of quilting among younger practitioners as a response to a very peculiar set of social, cultural, economic, and political circumstances seems to beg that all the questions be asked anew, not just as an aesthetic exercise, but as a fresh theorizing of the quilt, not as a dismissal of heritage, but as an examination of how the past and future of quilts converge within the exploding dynamic of quiltmaking.
Of course every moment has its unique set of conditions, but what I think makes this time worthy of re-examination are the basic facts on the ground, that groundswell of new quilters coming to the form (rather like myself). This isn’t so much about the quilts that we actually make, but a theorization of what the quilt means today. While a quilt is always a quilt, what it means does indeed change. Why a quilt gets made today is perforce radically different than why a quilt an Amish quilt gets made in the nineteenth century.
Furthermore, this broader understanding becomes a significant tool for understanding any particular quilt made today. I suppose what I am wanting is a semiology of quilts, which brings me back to my original statement: Hello, my name is Thomas, and I’m a theorist…