Wed 10 November 2010

Curated by Kevin Murray, with work by Paul Brown, Jennifer Robertson, Dave Sag and Gwen Zierdt, Loom explored the historical relationship between technology and textile art, and the abstract forces that weave our world together. The modern day Compu-Dobby loom and the World Wide Web share a common ancestor – the Jacquard Loom – which was the first automated machine

A forum was held in association with the exhibition to consider issues surrounding the collision of textiles and technology, and the realm of post-human art. Speakers were curator Kevin Murray, weaver Liz Williamson, physicist Dr. Peter Bouwknegt of the University of Adelaide, and exhibiting artists Dave Sag and Gwen Zierdt. 

Loom: Weaving In A Post Human Domain

Catalogue Essay by Kevin Murray

“In the nineteenth century, weavers were at the frontline of the industrial revolution. Where do they situate themselves today, in the information revolution?

With the invention of the mechanical Jacquard loom, more power fell to the designer, who could produce fabrics with greater consistency than previously. The inventor Charles Babbage took the idea of the punched cards from Jacquard and created one of the world’s first computers, the analytical engine. His muse, Ada Lovelace, wrote that Babbage’s machine ‘weaves algebraic patterns just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves’. Computers and looms have evolved alongside each other.

Ironically, computers are now beginning to take over the design process itself. By setting in train computational algorithms, we can establish forms as complex as a Mandelbrot figure – a fractal form of infinite complexity far beyond human design. How can we assimilate such emergent forms into the story of weaving? That question is the framework for displaying work by the artists of Loom.


Jennifer Robertson takes weaving further along the path of automation with the use of a computerised loom. This enables her to take the double-cloth technique beyond the limitations of strictly manual processes. Whereas the number of weft picks by hand is limited to little more than a hundred, computerised she has nearly 100,000 at her disposal. The challange that Robertson sets herself is to maintain continuity with the styles of more direct weaving. She draws patterns from floral specimens and avoids photographic realism.

While working in the print medium, Paul Brown’s patterns indicate the path ahead towards a purely autonomous weaving. Brown’s method harks back to the Game of Life, a design that evolved from a simple computer program governing the behaviour of cells. Brown uses tiles as his formal device, by means of which emergent phenomena can be given aesthetic expression.

Dave Sag works in a virtual medium where actions begin and end on screen. The action of the loom provides a sphere of action by which exchange of information might be tracked and milked to feed a screen-based weaving. Sag offers an electronic parallel to the cocoons of insects – in this case woven out of language itself.

Finally, Gwen Zierdt deals with the epic confrontation between machine and consciouness – the battle between IBM’s Deep Blue computer and the Russian chess genious Garry Kasparov. Though the result is still controversial, it is seen as a sign that artificial intelligence has outstripped that of humans. Zierdt reflects on this ironically by making it the subject of her tapestry, offering a space for us to reflect on the way some meaning can still be made of an event, even when it heralds the advent of an intelligence beyond our own.

Moving weaving into the post-human domain, the artists in this exhibition prompt us to ask fundamental questions about craft process. There are pre-modern cosmologies that conceive of god as a weaver. And today in the ‘string theory’ of new physics, we find that our universe can be viewed as a fabric constructed of densely woven fibres. Can craft techniques that we have inherited continue without direct human involvement? The four artists in Loom are mapping unchartered terrain.”

Loom toured to Craft Victoria. For highlights of the exhibition opening and further information about Loom, visit the Craft Victoria website.

This project was made possible by the City of Adelaide, the Commonwealth Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.