In 2018, I first visited Sweden and Denmark on a research trip to learn more about how textiles are currently taught and more widely perceived as an art form in the Scandinavian culture. As part of this research, I arranged a studio visit with the Danish weaver, Sofia Hagström Møller. Beyond sharing her studio and work with me, Sofia guided me around the art venues in Copenhagen, including Officinet and the Danish Artist Workshop. After this initial meeting, I invited her to contribute to my social weaving project, Weaving Lab, and she helped me connect to 40 other Danish weavers and exhibit small pieces of their work at Copenhagen Contemporary. The following year, Sofia was able to come to the digital weaving lab at UW–Madison for a one-week residency on the TC2 Loom. In 2020, we applied for a residency at the Danish artist workshop followed by an exhibition at Officinet. We were thrilled to receive both opportunities and worked over the year to develop our work while navigating the pandemic and possibility of actually traveling. COVID ultimately prevented me from traveling to Denmark for the residency, so I wove my work back in Madison while Sofia wove her work at the Danish Artist Workshop. Our collaboration wasn’t able to happen in physical space so we worked together remotely via What’sApp and Google drive sending photos and ideas.
Exhibition review below.
Lace up your shoes and get out the door.
In Bredgade in inner Copenhagen, there is this week a singular opportunity to experience textile art that it’s unlikely that you have ever seen before.
Forget about grandma’s fastidiously woven tablecloths and pillows on embroidery. In Sofia Hagström Møller and Marianne Fairbanks’ universe, there are loose threads (the ones you usually cut off after weaving), plastic strings, wooden sticks and fringes.
Still, the resulting artworks are the very opposite of frivolous, and display a craftsmanship’s precision and intent, that is both sharp and accurate, yet at the same time fabulously playful and surprising.
The works speak together, but they also illuminate and explore different directions. That is to be expected, because the two artists have only met each other a few times since they connected with each other on the social media Instagram.
Swedish-Danish Sofia Hagström Møller is a trained weaver and designer, but goes completely fearlessly to her loom, which means that she created works that are, on one hand, very classic and on the other hand totally new.
American Marianne Fairbanks is a visual artist in Madison, where she also teaches visual art. She uses the loom and textiles as canvases and isn’t quite as bound to the craft traditions of weaving as Hagström Møller’s approach, but instead constantly challenges the woven textiles as a material and aesthetic.
One day they discovered each other’s stuff on Instagram and started communicating, and quickly they agreed to do something together.
From elegant to twisted
The result is the exhibition in Officinet, which they have created from across the Atlantic. The corona pandemic prevented them from meeting physically, so for a few months one has been working in Copenhagen and the other in the USA. And so they have communicated digitally, as well as through a steady stream weaving samples and materials which they have sent back and forth.
Both artists are in essence storytellers, and where Hagström Møller carries on her family’s traditional weaving, Fairbanks goes more intellectually to the task. Hagström Møller weaves something that the women in her family could have woven, but she deconstructs the traditions so that the colors become different, the patterns get an edge, and fringes of the string materials remain. Fairbanks’ weaving can look like open books and graphic patterns and seem purposely a little more elegant in their expression than Hagström Møllers, who is quite twisted.
There is something calming about textile art when it is expressed in precise and harmonious works, such as tapestries and rugs. However that kind of thing we’ve seen lots of, and we will happily continue to do so, for these craft traditions are still very much alive. But the exhibition in Officinet is no soothing experience. Fortunately. This is because the woven artform itself is being pushed in new directions by Hagström and Fairbanks, who dare to play. Using basically the same classical techniques, along with modern visual arts, they modify and expand the norms of what a weaver is allowed to do. That’s why it’s fabulous.