Shane Waltener: Weaving as Performance

Shane Waltener’s practice is rooted in ideas about ecology, sustainability and reuse. Taking the form of objects, installations and performances, Waltener draws inspiration from a range of craft practices ranging from textile and basketry weaving to needlecraft and ceramics. Weaving however is at the core of his work.

The artist shares anthropologist Tim Ingold’s view that making is a modality of weaving, not the reverse. Making anything, whether a building with bricks and mortar or verbal communication composing words into sentences is a weaving process. If art is a matter of organising chaos into pattern, the artist’s work is essentially that of a weaver.

Waltener champions the idea of weaving as an ‘embodied’ practice, one that engages the whole body. He is a member of Ambient Jam, an improvisation ensemble which explores movement and music with tactile sculptures. Working with them has led Waltener to use methods common to dance and movement practitioners, relying on improvisation as well as acquired routines and skills in order to develop work. The making process is then recorded as a performance score.

Exemplifying this way of working is his recent work with The Building Action Group (BAG) during his residency at Academie Minerva in Groningen, The Netherlands; the third and final project in a programme following Hella Jongerius and Anotonio José Guzman. In response to the earthquakes caused by gas mining in the province of Groningen, that led to more than 100 collapsed buildings, 400 more being condemned and some 100,000 people being displaced since the early 1990s, the artist proposed to weave a house entirely from locally sourced soil and plant material. The first buildings were woven structures; wooden stakes planted in the ground with smaller, flexible branches used as weavers. The connection between architecture and textiles, which the architect and art critic Gottfried Semper writes about in his book The Four Elements of Architecture (1851), is something the artist aimed to reference in his work with BAG.

The outcome of the residency was not the building of an actual house but the performance of the piece Building Actions #1-10 at the opening of the exhibition. BAG built architectural structures from willow, reeds and straw and used them as shelters, barricades, protective clothing and costumes.

The work didn’t propose an architectural solution for building houses that would sustain seismic activity; instead Waltener’s performances with BAG acted out symbolic acts of repair, bringing to mind new imaginaries that suggested how we might work with nature and the environment more sustainably.

Currently the artist is working with Eva Sajovic on a research project, funded by University of the Arts London. The project investigates the relationship between sustainability and making through weaving and the role of the artist working in the age of environmental, ecological and political breakdown.

This research, together with Waltener’s work with BAG in turn inspired his response to a recent commission from Craftspace for their forthcoming touring exhibition ‘We Are Commoners’, which looks at craft as a form of knowledge, materials, practice and heritage ‘commons’ and its transformative potential. For this project the artist plans to create scaffold structures from willow, corded home-grown flax and nettle twine.

Scaffolds offer both support and protection and assist us in maintaining and repairing the physical world around us. The action of weaving these structures using foraged and cultivated plant material frames our shared resources in ‘commons’ thinking and provides a useful image when thinking about craft as a form of ‘commons’.

Shane Waltener is an associate lecturer at the University of the Arts, London, a resident artist at Stave Hill Ecological Park, co-author of Practical Basketry Techniques (A&C Black, 2012) and associate artist with Entelechy Arts.

Shane Waltener was artist in residence at Academie Minerva in 2019. The BAG Book documenting the project is due out in Autumn 2020.

 Shane is also included in the forthcoming touring exhibition ‘We Are Commoners’, starting lunching at MAC in Birmingham in September 2020.

Instagram: @shanewaltener

Images & Text: copyright Shane Waltener

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