As part of our “What is…?” series, Art Radar unravels the phenomenon of string art.
Art Radar traces the use of string in contemporary art and introduces a selection of Asian artists working with the unique medium.
What is string art?
String art: An introduction
Simply put, string art involves the use of string, thread, wire or fibre as an art medium. String has featured in the works of many prominent artists including Marcel Duchamp and Henry Moore, amongst others.
The defining characteristic of string art is the humble simplicity and fine delicacy of the material, often juxtaposed against the intricate elaborateness of its webbed configurations. Whether weaved on canvases or as large installations, the effects of such compositions include subtle colour hues, otherworldly textures and optical illusions feigning movement.
Another characteristic of such stitched compositions is their transparency, which allows for mesmerising, atmospheric overlapping of forms. Henry Moore once said, describing the mathematical surface models he credits as inspiration for his string-themed sculptures:
It wasn’t the scientific study of these models, but the ability to look through the strings as with a bird cage and to see one form within another which excited me.
String art: A brief history
Apart from Henry Moore, Russian Constructivist Naum Gabo, British sculptor Barbra Hepworth and Marcel Duchamp also credit mathematical models as inspiration for their work.
Duchamp’s Sixteen Miles of String, exhibited at the influential “First Papers of Surrealism” show in New York in 1942, was reportedly inspired by a 1936 Parisian show “Exposition Surrealist Objet d’art”, which exhibited examples of mathematical surface models. Duchamp’s piece used exactly sixteen miles of string to adorn the exhibition space and is the first example of a site-specific string installation.
In the late 1950s, American artist Lenore Tawney developed the technique of ‘open-warp’ weaving, enabling the creation of fluid woven forms beyond strict rectilinearity. The results of such flexible open weaving allow for ‘sculpting’ of art rather than mere textile production. According to modernedition.com, Tawney’s work is widely credited with
precipitating the emergence – and acceptance – of fibre art as a valid ‘high’ art discipline.
Types of contemporary string art
There are three types of contemporary string art, but these categories often overlap as artists push the boundaries of their craft.
1. String paintings
This type of string art features a canvas or frame through which string or thread is weaved. The ‘painting’ remains largely two-dimensional but approaches three-dimensionality because of how light and shadows play with the interwoven threads.
2. String sculptures
In Henry Moore and Naum Gabo’s work, string is used to supplement support structures made of plastic, metal, wood or stone. In today’s string sculptures, string plays a more dominant role as the primary medium and forms mesmerising visual displays on its own.
3. Site-specific string installations
Site-specific string installations interact directly with the exhibition space. Designed specifically for the exhibition venue, such works create immersive viewing experiences.
Contemporary string artists from Asia
Notable contemporary Western string artists include Gabriel Dawe, Janet Echelman, Anne Lindberg, Ernesto Neto, Tomás Saraceno and Gabriel Pionkowski, amongst others. The following is a list of artists from Asia whose work with the unique medium has also made a mark on the international art scene.
Japanese artist Kazuko Miyamoto (b. 1942, Tokyo) has been creating revolutionary string-based installations and constructions since the early 1970s. Former assistant and lifelong creative partner of American conceptual artist Sol LeWitt, Miyamoto’s influence on string sculpture is not well-known, yet probably amongst the most pervasive. A 2009 exhibition at Exile Gallery in Berlin documented a series of groundbreaking ephemeral constructions consisting of her signature minimalist nail and thread style installations, and the artist was recently featured in a solo exhibition in New York.
Also from Japan, Chiharu Shiota (b. 1972, Osaka) is internationally acclaimed for her nightmarish room-filling wool webs used in installations, sculptural works and performances. Trained in drawing and sculpture, Shiota’s current practice developed during her studies in performance art under Marina Abramovic in Germany. The artist explores themes of memory and emotions in her work, weaving everyday items into red and black thread structures to evoke the omnipresent universe of the past. Shiota was chosen as the representative of Japan at the 56th Venice Biannale 2015 and her most recent solo exhibition “Perspectives: Chiharu Shiota” runs at the Smithsonian until 7 June 2015.
The art of Akiko Ikeuchi (b. 1967, Tokyo) is the definition of delicacy, balance and precision: her exquisite silk vortex installations float at the elusive equilibrium of weight and tension. Constructed from extremely delicate silk thread, her whirlpools, hurricanes and galaxies vibrate ever so slightly when viewers step closer. Moisture in the air and human breath also play a role in stretching the fragile threads. Her art requires meticulous calculation based on geomagnetism before a laborious, precise process of hand-knotting.
Chinese-born artist Beili Liu (b. Jilin, China) has a multidisciplinary practice utilising fibres and various other simple, transient materials to create poignant and poetic installations. Liu weaves complex, metaphorically-rich cultural narratives incorporating Chinese proverbs and myths. The Lure Series, for example, showcased at the Galerie an der Pinakothek der Moderne in 2011, tells the legend that children were born with invisible red threads connecting them to the ones they are fated to be with. The work features thousands of hand-spiralled coils of red thread suspended from the ceiling. The artist has a new installation Taken/Vessel at Vessel Gallery in Oakland, California, which will run until 1 November 2014.
Korean artist Jeongmoon Choi (b. 1966, Seoul) is known for her arresting installations created from nothing but coloured wool and Ultra Violet light. The artist is able to transform any environment or room into an immersive, science-fiction-like environment with fluorescent threads that interact dramatically with visitors. Playing with perspective, light and illusion, Choi uses her threads to ‘paint’, and produces intense, otherworldly effects. Represented by galerie laurent mueller, Choi’s upcoming exhibition “IN.VISIBLE“ runs from 17 October to 14 November 2014 in Munich.
String is a deeply symbolic medium for Korean artist Hong Sungchul (b. 1969, Seoul), who associates it with the umbilical cord, as well as the connections between human beings. String, therefore, is featured in the artist’s early performance pieces as well as in recent photographic images of the human body. Photographs are printed on tiered elastic strings to communicate his unique concept of visual consciousness: the broken images interlace and transform according to the angle from which they are viewed. Furthermore, the elasticity of the string is seen as metaphorical for the ever-changing flux of social relations. His most recent solo exhibition “Solid But Fluid” (2012) was hosted by HADA Contemporary in London.
Gülay Semercioğlu (b. 1968, Istanbul) is a Turkish artist whose signature medium is spun wire mounted on wooden frames. The wire filaments are repeatedly interwoven, overlapped and pulled taut, and the resulting mesh appears as shimmering, glossy blocks of smooth colour from a distance. Only up close does the viewer witness the intricate, fluctuating tonal modulations that simulate a painter’s brushstrokes. Represented by Pi Artworks, Semercioğlu recently held a solo exhibition in Istanbul entitled “Walking on the Wire” (2014).
Azerbaijani sculptor Faig Ahmed (b. 1982, Baku) continuously reinvents and deconstructs the Middle-Eastern carpet in order to elasticise our perception of the cultural icon. His works include handwoven rugs that extend outwards beyond the carpet frame, stretching towards an opposite wall or bleeding into a pool of melting threads on the floor. A current solo exhibition entitled “Fluid Forms” runs at Cuadro Fine Art Gallery until 30 November 2014.
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