Anni Albers… woven thread the universal language

Before our first lockdown at the beginning of 2020 I had the pleasure of attending an exhibition at the Tate Modern, London. As my new found interest for hand loom weaving was developing, initially the exhibition captured my attention from that perspective, but when I read an insight into her life, it became far more fascinating.

Anni Albers (1899-1994) was among the leading innovators of twentieth century modernist abstraction uniting the ancient craft of weaving with the language of modern art. As an artist and designer, teacher and writer she changed the way weaving could be understood as a medium for art, design and architecture.

As a female student at the Bauhaus in Germany in the early 1920s, she was discouraged from taking up certain classes. Anni enrolled in the weaving workshop where she found artistic freedom and began to explore the technical limits of fibres and the loom as a means of expression and experimentation. Albers pioneered a tactile approach to abstraction and modernist design, and her subsequent career as an artist and teacher has had a far-reaching legacy. She inspired and was inspired by her artist contemporaries, among them her teacher, Paul Klee, and her husband, Josef Albers.

Anni took her form of weaving to a new level. She used her weaving skills and entwined the creative process with art, architecture and design. Objects from exquisite small-scale ‘pictorial weavings’ to large wall-hangings.

Anni made many of her pictorial weavings on this eight harness handloom pictured above.
Displayed at the Tate Modern Exhibition of her work in 2019-20.

The exhibition displayed some of her preliminary designs for wall hangings. Using ancient techniques to develop modernist designs.

Images above show her use of texture adding depth to her wall hangings.

As weaving is a very slow process, her output was relatively small compared to other artists, but there are several factors that make her work seem particularly timely and that resonate in today’s digitised world of instant screen time: such as the slow time of hand-loom weaving and the strong affective sense of the weaver’s hand and touch. As Anni Albers put it, weaving offered ‘ways to regain sensitivity towards textile surfaces: texture’ which also suggests a means to regain a connectedness to a bodily and corporeal existence.

She wasn’t the first artist and designer to treat textiles as central to an ethical modern practice (William Morris), but she was certainly one of the most important weavers of the 20th century to think through a textile imaginary.

Thank you to the Tate Modern for the information I have been able to provide.

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