Joseph Beuys’s Felt Suit 1970, produced in a multiple edition of one hundred identical outfits, evokes the absent body of its hypothetical wearer: the artist, on whose measurements the garment was based. His body, or any other, would have stretched and distorted its tentative felt shape if ever worn. Yet more unworn clothes accumulate behind Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Venus of the Rags, textile waste transformed into spectacle. This potential for formlessness – chaos, even – recalls the context of the original felt suit, which Beuys wore for an action protesting the Vietnam War. Such indirect forms of political protest reinforce his belief in the artist’s potential to effect change within society.
The social realm is at the core of this constellation: from Collective Actions, the Moscow-based group whose open-ended performances were intended to spark debate and dialogue with their spectators, to Gillian Wearing’s discourse with members of the public, Nam June Paik’s collaborative and subversive Fluxus actions, and Sheila Hicks’s careful recovery of textile practices from ancient South American communities.
Abraham Cruzvillegas’s principle of ‘autoconstrucción’ or ‘self-building’, inspired by his parents’ home-building efforts near Mexico City, makes use of humble materials to improvise ‘something out of nothing’, creating dynamic sculptural installations. Poised between geometric forms and organic matter, they point to alternative modes of production that are in between craft and art – seen elsewhere in this constellation’s processes of felting, weaving, knitting, carving and collecting. The humble object’s potential for transformation variously invokes mythic narratives, bodily trauma, environmental change, otherworldly energy, spirituality, and symbolism. These disparate remainders of performances and gestures displace the energy of a performing body into sculpture, collage and photography: traces of past events suggesting new forms of future actions.