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Fall 2021

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    Course Number: R1B Section 4 | CCN: 21700

    Reading and Writing about Visual Experience: A Patterned Language: De-coding Textiles

    Kristine Barrett

    Tuesday, Thursday: 12:30-2:00pm

    Prior to mechanized cloth production, textiles were often imbued with regenerative and cosmological associations, and contributed to social and political organization—tying communities and families together while simultaneously subject to degradation and decay. As Mary Schoeser notes, “It can be argued that as indicators of cultural mechanisms, textiles offer insights into the greatest range of developments, embracing not only technology, agriculture and trade, but also ritual, tribute, language, art and personal identity.”  Often containing complex coded meanings, stories, and expressions, woven textiles’ connection to the development of the written language is evidenced by the word ‘text’ embedded in the English word ‘textile.’ With its roots in the Latin texere, meaning ‘to weave’, the word carries with it an aura of mystery and magic (illustrated by the etymology of the English word ‘spell’). It will come as no surprise, then, that spinning, the loom, and other textile practices and objects have often carried with them magical, and at times dangerous, connotations, while simultaneously providing utilitarian uses and functions. 

    This course explores the visual and cultural significance of textiles as an encoding technology and synesthesiac medium that combines visual and tactile sensibilities and has a range of coded meanings, histories, and uses. We will examine case studies focused on specific textile traditions and locales, such as Kodi indigo dyeing, linen weaving in northern Europe, and Swedish tapestry weaving.  Each case study will explore a topic related to specific textile processes, like spinning, dyeing, weaving, and finishing; we will also consider the development and dispersal of textile motifs, technologies, materials, associations, and uses. We will engage with cross-disciplinary research from media archeology, folklore, art practice, and the on-going project PENELOPE: A Study of Weaving as Technical Mode of Existence, which explores textile production as a ‘digital’ technology predating computers and discrete mathematics.  Throughout the semester, these case studies will be used to present and practice methods of visual and textual analysis, research, and writing.  As this is an R1B course, students will be assigned a variety of reading and writing exercises to develop the composition and research skills necessary for college-level coursework.  Assignments will be scaffolded, increasing in length and complexity, culminating in a 10-12 page research paper on a topic related to the course.

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