●Edition 2: Learning From
Jun. 7–9 2018
Workshop and Symposium

bauhaus imaginista. Learning From, New York

  • Goethe-Institut New York
  • 30 Irving Place New York, NY 10003, USA

Lena Bergner, Draft of a hand loom, 1936–39
© Heirs to Lena Bergner.

A three-day workshop and public symposium explored questions of appropriation, representation and ‘learning from’ in the work of Bauhaus emigres and their students who studied and collected a wide range of objects and materials indigenous to the Americas.

Rose Slivka, "New Tapestry", in: Craft Horizons, March/April 1963, © American Craft Council.

This symposium asked what it means to take cultural materials and inscribe them in a new context—whether this is done by the 19th-century ethnographic museum, the avant-garde artist, the mid-century teaching collection or in contemporary art. Specifically, it explored questions of appropriation, representation and ‘learning from’ in the work of Bauhaus emigres and their students who collected a wide range of materials indigenous to the Americas, as well as considered where these debates stand today.

From the beginning, the Bauhaus school aligned with a modernist tendency to study cultural practice from outside the European mainstream, including African sculpture, Indian temple architecture, Andean textiles and European folk traditions. In the aftermath of the school’s closure, Bauhaus migrants such as Josef and Anni Albers, Marguerite Wildenhain, Hannes Meyer and Lena Bergner travelled variously in the US, Central and South America to observe, document and collect the work of pre-Columbian as well as contemporary indigenous cultures.

Speakers of the symposium addressed a fascination in the Bauhaus weaving workshop with forms and techniques from Andean textiles seen in books and ethnographic museums and incorporated into textile designs. How Anni Albers, her fellow weavers and their students in the US, including a generation of ‘fibre artists’ turned to the woven traditions of ancient Peru not just for their technical brilliance, but also because they believed this culture afforded textiles a value denied their own craft. Contemporary practitioners proposed textiles as a means of resistance and carrier of specific cultural knowledge, as much as the object of scholarship by influential figures from the 20th Century such as Raoul D’Harcourt and Junius Bird.

The symposium also explored blind spots in these histories of study and collecting—notably in relation to the communities from whom such materials were sourced—including arguments for the repatriation of artefacts, the use and context of objects in their original setting, and the hybrid forms their appropriation can give rise to.

Prior to the symposium a group of artists, designers, curators and art historians including symposium participants, made a study tour to museums archives and studios in New York, including the National Museum of the American India, the American Museum of Natural History, the Antonio Ratti Textile Centre at the Metropolitan Museum and the Lenore Tawney Foundation; to examine and discuss materials ranging from Mesoamerican artefacts to the work of the mid-century artists who found inspiration in these collections.

The symposium in New York was curated by Marion von Osten and Grant Watson in collaboration with the Goethe-Institut New York and the researchers Elissa Auther(NYC) and Erin Alexa Freedman (NYC).

Book cover of Ernst Fuhrmann: Tlinkit und Haida, Folkwang Verlag GmbH, Hagen 1922.
Raoul D’Harcourt: Textiles of Ancient Peru and their Techniques, University of Washington Press, Seattle 1962.

●Event documentation
●Symposium Program and Documentation
bauhaus imaginista: Learning From, New York

This symposium, part of bauhaus imaginista, asked what it means to take cultural materials and inscribe them within a new context, whether this is done by the 19th-century ethnographic museum, the avant-garde artist, the mid-century teaching collection or in contemporary art. → more

●Correspondent Report
Learning from NYC

The symposium Learning From in New York explored what it means to take cultural artifacts and inscribe them within a new context, whether by nineteenth century ethnographic museums, avant-garde artist, in teaching collections, or contemporary art projects. Prior to the symposium, a group of artists, designers, curators and art historians toured museums archives and studios around New York, examining and discussing a variety of materials, ranging from Mesoamerican artefacts to the work of the mid-century artists who found inspiration in these collections. → more

●On-Site Report
Weaving Reflections — On Museology and the Rematriation of Indigenous Beings from Ethnological Collections

One primary question leading up to the bauhaus imaginista workshop and symposium had concerned the extent to which Bauhaus artists had been culturally informed by and subsequently appropriated Indigenous art. This essay examines ethnographic and natural history museology and how Indigenous cultures are perceived, translated and exhibited through Westernized perspectives that are informed by a philosophical subject-object divide. → more

●Slide Show
Photo Documentation of the Symposium in New York
●Symposium Talk
bauhaus imaginista: Learning From
 — Erin Freedman and Sebastian De Line in Conversation

This is the transcript of a conversation between art historian Erin Freedman and the trans artist and scholar Sebastian De Line that took place during the bauhaus imaginista: Learning From symposium at the Goethe-Institut in New York in June 2018. → more

Disappeared Quipu — Performance by Cecilia Vicuña for bauhaus imaginista
Location of the Public Seminar in New York

The bauhaus imaginista: Learning From public seminar was hosted by Goethe-Institut New York, USA. → more

●Related Articles
Questions about Lenore Tawney — An Interview with Kathleen Nugent Mangan, Executive Director of the Lenore G. Tawney Foundation

The search for the spiritual characterized Lenore Tawney’s long life, and was reflected in both the iconography and materials she used in her work. She was a regular diarist and her journals provide valuable insight into this deeply personal search. bauhaus imaginista researcher Erin Freedman interviews Executive Director of the Lenore G. Tawney Foundation, Kathleen Nugent Mangan, about Tawney’s approach and work. → more

●Conference Paper
The Golden Potlatch — Study in Mimesis and Capitalist Desire

No matter how distanced we are from our collective origins in systems of mutual reciprocity and exchange, these activities remain “full of rituals and rights.” It was precisely this conception of systems of exchange as intrinsically connected to magical power, ritual, and ceremony that four prominent Seattle businessmen seized upon when they invented the Golden Potlatch, a city-wide festival that rather artfully combined the just-passed prosperity of the Klondike Gold Rush with the mutual reciprocity that is the basis of “potlatch” ceremonies customary in certain Native North American societies, particularly in the northwest of the American continent. 
 → more

Working From Where We Are — Anni Albers’ and Alex Reed’s Jewelry Collection

Not by nature acquisitive and certainly not art collectors, Josef and Anni Albers began in 1936 to collect Mexican figurines and other artifacts unearthed from that land’s memory. They described the country, which they first visited in 1935, as “the promised land of abstract art.” Returning to Black Mountain College Anni Albers and Alexander Reed began experimenting with everyday articles to create a strange and beautiful collection of objects of personal adornment inspired by their visit to Mexico. → more

kNOT a QUIPU — An Interview with Cecilia Vicuña

In this recorded interview, Vicuña describes how after she first learned about quipu, she immediately integrated the system into her life. Quipu, the Spanish transliteration of the word for “knot” in Cusco Quechua, is a system of colored, spun and plied or waxed threads or strings made from cotton or camelid fiber. They were used by the Inca people for a variety of administrative purposes, mainly record-keeping, and also for other ends that have now been lost to history.  → more

Andean Weaving and the Appropriation of the Ancient Past in Modern Fiber Art

Ancient and Indigenous textile cultures of the Americas played a critical role in the development of the work of fiber artists who came of age in the U.S. in the late 1950s and 1960s. Anyone who has studied fiber art of this period, myself included, knows this well. They openly professed an admiration for traditions ranging from Navaho weaving, to the use of the backstrap loom in Mexico and Central America, to the ancient weaving techniques of Peru. → more

Anni Albers and Ancient American Textiles

At the time Anni Albers wrote On Weaving in 1965, few discussions of Andean textiles “as art” had appeared in weaving textbooks, but there were numerous publications, many of which were German books published between 1880 and 1929, that documented and described their visual and technical properties. Albers almost single-handedly introduced weaving students to this ancient textile art through her writing and her artistic work.  → more