Tucked behind Nathan Phillips Square and city hall, the Textile Museum of Canada (TMC) is an oft-overlooked institution in Toronto that has been compellingly connecting cloth, culture and art for the last 35 years. Sarah Quinton, the Curatorial Director of the TMC, tackles, and overcomes, this challenge season after season, researching, importing and sharing with us textiles from every corner of the earth — from shawls from Afghanistan to mola blouses from Panama.
How did you get into the study of textiles?
I grew up sewing my own clothes, taught by my mother and older sister. In the late 70s I was looking for a subject to study in college and felt myself drawn to the craft’s resurgence; particularly weaving. And so I became a weaver and made a few articles of lumpy, ill-fitting clothing. Soon afterward, I studied textiles in a fine arts context and have continued that line of interest.
One of your latest exhibitions, “Skin and Bone” by David R. Harper, features embroidered portraits of people on animal skin. Is the future of textiles in “multimedia?”
Not only the future, no. It’s the present. We see textiles everywhere, intentionally and unintentionally. If you look in art galleries, you see textiles in Will Munro’s underpant collages at the Art Gallery of Ontario; artists such as Allyson Mitchell, Grace Ndiritu and Jeremy Bailey explore textile patterns, colour and politics in their videos; and there is an ever-increasing interest in Do-it-Yourself activities with personal and political actions at their core: craftivism, recycling, new feminisms… and still the role of the independent merchant in the craft market is going strong.
What is the narrative potential of textiles? Can textiles tell a story?
That’s what textiles do best! All objects tell stories if you listen even a little bit. Objects are living things. We make them, we use them, we wear them, we choose them. We change them by wearing them out, by recontextualizing them, and we are shaped by them as much as we shape them.
What are your favourite textiles, pieces or artists?
Well, like anyone else, I’m most in love with the people and things I’m currently working with. You mentioned David Harper’s exhibition “Skin and Bone.” Along with David, Stephen Schofield is showing “Stumble,” a series of extraordinary textile sculptures. Kai Chan is a Toronto artist whose work is the subject of a 35-year retrospective, “A Spider’s Logic,” that opens at the Textile Museum of Canada on November 7, 2010. His work might be considered “multimedia!” When I was traveling in the Yucatan in the early 80s, I bought a string bag that I still covet. Its structure is incomprehensible to me, and I don’t even want to know how it was made. And who can resist Junichi Arai’s textiles?
interview by Lydia Guo
photography by Rachel Wine