Fiber Departmental Philosophy
Fiber is an ever-shifting practice that is grounded in the centuries old traditions, forms, and materials of textile production and manipulation. As artists, our intimate relationship with the traditional forms of fiber interacts with the expanse of contemporary practice in art, craft, and design, challenging the definitions of each. Whether the work we produce manifests itself as a sculptural form, garment, functional object, tapestry weaving, socially engaged community practice, digital output, or something else we cannot currently name, we embrace it as a mode of exploration.
The foundation of all exploration in the Fiber Department starts with rigorously questioning what is produced in each person’s studio. The process of questioning traditions, definitions, working methods, and basic assumptions about art and society challenges each of us to experiment, examine, and grow. Since these questions are linked to the work being produced in the studio many subjects are explored but there are a few questions that relate to each of us. “What are the relationships between materials, form, process, and the content explored by the artist?” “What do you want the viewer to understand or experience from your work?” and “How does your work contribute to or challenge an existing idea or tradition?” are the most persistent questions that arise in critiques. Intrinsic to this process of questioning is an awareness of contemporary issues, historic precedents, and an understanding of professional practices.
While attending the Academy you are a member of a community of passionate and rigorous colleagues each questioning your assumptions, place in the world, and the role of your work in that world. Each person must be highly motivated, inquisitive, and open to discussion, challenge, and experimentation. The diversity of experience in the community, each person’s unique insights and skills, provides a broad base of information to help you build an idiosyncratic practice that can sustain your development well beyond your time at the Academy.
The primary focus of the Fiber program is the intense individual exploration undertaken by each student in the studio. Critiques, seminar discussions, research projects, travel, lectures and meetings with visiting artists and critics, are the elements that will support and challenge each student’s exploration.
Weekly critiques establish a dialogue within the department that encourages in-depth examination and questioning. Each member of the department will have two or three critiques each semester. Four or five people have their work critiqued each week and we spend up to an hour discussing each person’s work. Department critiques often include students from other departments that are interested in the dialogue in the Fiber Department and your work. The actual form of the discussion is structured by the person who is having their work critiqued. Written reviews and artist statements are assigned to accompany the work being presented for some critiques.
Seminar discussions address current issues in the arts and society in order to provide a greater awareness of the traditions and precedents you build your work upon. The readings for seminars in the fall semester come from the Artist in Residence and the students. In the spring semester we generally discuss professional practices issues: contracts, budgets, grant and residency applications, and effective documentation of your work; in order to better prepare you for life as a professional artist, designer or craftsperson. Research projects are required each semester and are intrinsically linked to your studio production. The result of your research is presented to the department to help develop your public speaking skills. Seminar discussions and critiques are complimented by periodic meetings with the Artist in Residence to discuss the development of your work.
Visiting artists and critics provide greater breadth to the discussion within the department. We generally have four to six visiting artists/critics each year. Visits usually include a public lecture and some form of interaction with students: an individual critique, participation in group critique, or a seminar. Their lectures help to provide detailed information about issues of relevance in the arts and contribute to discussions and challenge the assumptions we build within the department.
Departmental travel can include local trips to collections in the area, exhibitions, and lectures at other schools like the University of Michigan Ann Arbor or the College for Creative Studies. There are yearly regional, national, or international trips. Past destinations have included: Havana, Cuba, Toronto, Las Vegas, New Orleans, New York, and Chicago.
The Fiber Department is a mix of communal and private spaces on the top floor of the New Studios building. On one end of this floor are individual studio spaces for each Fiber student. The central hub of the department includes a computer lab, the critique space, and the studio of the artist-in-residence. The communal work spaces on the other side of this central area include a spacious print studio with three large printing tables, a fully equipped dye kitchen, a darkroom, and our multi-process room for wet, dusty, and smelly work. All of this is served by a freight elevator for moving work and materials in and out of the studios. The Fiber Department also has several floor looms, an industrial sewing machine, and some hand and power tools. It is suggested that students provide their own tools.