Margarita Gleba (Cambridge)

Archaeology of textile production and consumption in Archaic Greece: State of the art and future directions

Despite the unfavourable preservation conditions, Iron Age and Archaic textiles do survive in Greece. Together with the other evidence, such as iconography, written sources, textile tools, sheep bones and archaeobotanic remains, archaeological textiles allow us to reconstruct various aspects of the chaîne opératoire of textile production in ancient Greece, its economy and social impact. Analysis of textiles, textile tools and iconography within the scope of the ERC project Production and Consumption: Textile Economy and Urbanisation in Mediterranean Europe 1000-500 BCE (PROCON), generated a much more detailed definition of the textile cultures of Greece and the broader Mediterranean region during the first half of the 1st millennium BC. In this paper, I will present an overview of the PROCON results and state of the art in archaeological textiles studies of Archaic Greece, focusing in particular on how archaeology contributes to our understanding of the mode of existence of textile technology and what we can expect from the impetus generated by the current research in the future.

Kalliope Sarri (Athens)

Modular patterns. A survey on the textile origin of Neolithic design

In the material culture of the early agrarian and stock-breeding Neolithic societies of southeast Europe a remarkable artistic mood can be discerned. Ceramic and other artifacts show intricate patterns that often seen to imitate textile work. This phenomenon corresponds to an, apparently, very old tradition, where a craft transfer takes place, a mode that continues to this day and represents the imitation of a product, which is known to the public and clearly outperforms the new medium where it is ultimately used.

These decorative elements are valuable for indicating rich textile arts of which they are indirect testimonies. Through their detailed analysis, we can distinguish weaving techniques, production of specific textile products and, sometimes, master weavers producing elaborate modular compositions. Given that these patterns require complex operations and counting to be executed on a loom, we are given a view of communities advanced to such a level of spiritual maturity to effectively manipulate natural materials and physical laws and use them systematically to improve their standard of living.

In this presentation a selection of representative Neolithic textile patterns is discussed and analysed focusing on their relation to textile craft of an era that laid the foundations of all subsequent craftsmanship.

Deborah Steiner (New York)

Temple Dressing: sacred architecture and textile design

The paper proposed here, which aims to trace the multifaceted relations between the architectural programmes, contents and functions of archaic and classical Greek temples and weaving techniques and the cloths these generated, incorporates a disparate series of claims advanced by both recent and older scholars: that the peripteral temple so distinctive of the sacred architecture of the period owes its defining features both to pre-existing Ionian models and to the design of objects and processes essential to contemporary Greek social practices, looms and weaving among them; that the long dominant approach to the archaic and classical Greek temple, that dismembered the figural decorations into their component parts – columns, acroteria, pediments and friezes – neglects the way in which the notions of kosmos or decor determined the entirety of the building and its status as offering; that in design, influence can flow from small-scale objects to more grandiose three-dimensional structures; and Gottfried Semper’s now newly influential view of architecture as a practice whose origins lie in the art of weaving, and his Bekleidungsprinzipal, by which he understood a building’s aesthetic, symbolic and even spiritual significance to reside in its decorative surface, its ‘dress’.

My discussion falls into three principal parts. The first section aims simply to survey the ubiquity of textiles, most in the form of offerings, some of these belonging to the sacred images housed in the site, and some serving to demarcate space, that a temple complex would include. Add to this rituals turning about the presentation of specially woven cloths, the textiles displayed on plaques and other votive objects, the rich garments worn by temples personnel, and the wealth of weaving implements, some small-scale dedications and others used in the manufacture of the cloth woven within the precinct itself, that excavations have revealed. Part two turns to temple design: taking off from passages in the ancient sources that imagine temples as woven things, I both explore overlaps between the geometric patterns and figurative designs on textiles and the geometric motifs, mythical figures and stories displayed on the temple’s surface and observe the ways in which individual parts of the building, particularly its ornate fluted columns and ptera, the peristyle ‘wings’, look to cloths, weaving practices and implements and the structure of the post-and-beam loom. The final section details one particular activity that the temple precinct hosted, choral dancing, and documents the several sacred sites that display choreia on their metopes and friezes; my claim is that the textiles worn by the dancers, both those moving over the stone surface and those who performed in the ritual space, clothe not only the performers’ bodies but ‘weave’ and ‘dress’ the building while supplying statements of that poikilia and kosmos – order, arrangement and adornment too – no less integral to choral dance than to woven garments and the densely decorated temple.

Adeline Grand-Clément (Toulouse)

Poikilia, geometry and the Patterns of Nature in Archaic Greek Mind

The Greek notion of poikilia is intimately linked to the technology of weaving. Indeed, the Greeks called “poikila” some artifacts characterized by the juxtaposition of varied coloured materials and the elaborate organizing of patterns on their surface. The meshing of threads for the crafting of colourful textiles was precisely one of the main means to achieve such a visual aspect. The appearance of these variegated artifacts was intended to exert a seductive effect on the viewer. In his Art and Agency, dealing with different kinds of artifacts in various cultures, the anthropologist Alfred Gell has shown how the nonfigurative decorations of these crafted objects possess not only a signification but also an active power, an agency. It is precisely this kind of powerful visual attraction that poikilia focuses on. Nonetheless, in Greek poetry the term poikilos is also attributed to living beings or natural landscapes, blurring the difference between what we could call “Nature” and “Culture/technology”. For instance, the wryneck, whose feathers display complex and intricate patterns, and the snake, whose scales follow some kind of geometric arrangement, are both living examples of poikilia. Moreover, in an anonymous poem, the earth itself, which blossoms with red roses, is called “dappled” (poikila). The paper will try to explain what these “natural” elements have in common with variegated textiles, showing that geometry, but also other sensory features, played an important role in the connection. 

Giovanni Fanfani (Munich)

How poetry appropriates (textile) technology: one methodological point in the investigation of the vocabulary of ancient weaving

Investigation into ways in which early Greek thought engages with textile technology seems to suggest that weaving may have been perceived of as a model for conceptualizing a particular mode of creating complex structures – a mode that emerges from the distinctive logic of generating patterns on the warp-weighted loom, where variegation is obtained through order and where ornament and structure are co-extensive (as in the Greek notion of kosmos). The range of applications of such engagement reflects the particular nature (and agendas) of the sources, i.e. a) areas of interaction between ancient weaving technology and Archaic Greek literature (mainly lyric and Presocratic material), and b) later (Hellenistic to Byzantine) lexica, etymologica and scholia offering scant and often contradictory explanations of technical terminology of weaving only partially attested in literary texts. A case in point is represented by the crucial operation of setting up the loom by dividing the warp-threads into even and odd and distributing them on the bars, which in turn poses the question of the function(s) of the device named καῖρος by the lexicographical tradition; what this paper suggests by trying to make sense of the relevant textual material is the possibility that the method of projecting the inconsistent picture we have of the Greek vocabulary of weaving technology onto literary texts so as to enhance the interpretation of a poetic passage may in fact need to be reversed: it is sometimes the case that the poetics of a genre sheds light on the use of particular images that draw on textile technology. 

Gregory Nagy (CHS Harvard)

Reflections on references to textile technology in the diction of archaic Greek lyric and epic

This presentation draws its inspiration from an article written by Ellen Harlizius-Klück and Giovanni Fanfani and published in Classical Inquirieshttps://classical-inquiries.chs.harvard.edu/on-weaving-and-sewing-as-technical-terms-for-ancient-greek-verbal-arts/

The authors of this article have drawn attention to problems that arise from translating various relevant terms in ancient Greek. In my presentation, I will reflect further on such problems, extending the discussion. Among these terms is hymnos.

Annapurna Mamidipudi (Hyderabad)

Touch, memory and song: Knowledge in the socio-technical ensemble of weaving

Knowledge of traditional weaving communities generally described as tacit positions their knowledge as under developed and primitive – especially in relation to the universal, propositional and codified knowledge of science and technology of modern societies. Analytically too, qualifying knowledge embedded in the socio-technical ensemble of weaving as ‘tacit’ underdetermines what weavers know. The explicit/tacit ontology, while it works for Science and Technology, fails at two levels in describing craft. First, described as tacit knowledge it blackboxes craft modes of knowing as inherently incapable of being explicated, second, it creates an imperative that underlying principles, if they exist at all, have to be validated through the vocabulary of Science. Instead, using the 21st century case of Jamdani weaving in South India, I explore the underlying conceptual principles performed and in use in innovating products for changing markets-for example the digital coding of pattern making, decision making and meaning making on the loom. As an alternative to the category of tacit and explicit, I instead subscribe to an ontological shift in theorizing knowledge in hand weaving technology embedded in touch, memory and song -as modes of knowledge that are neither explicit nor tacit, but always both; available in performance and use as sensorium, ritual and reverie

Anthony Tuck (Amherst, MA)

Woven Witness: Mnemonics, Textiles, and the Myth of Philomela

Sophocles’ version of the Tereus/Procne/Philomela myth records the detail that Philomela, after her rape and glossectomy at the hands of her sister’s husband, Tereus, communicates her grievance by means of a woven image. Unfortunately, most of the play’s text is now lost and it is unknown how the original explained precisely how Philomela’s textile communicated Tereus’ offence. However, Aristotle’s commentary on the play specifically notes the use of the narrative device “the voice of the shuttle,” further connecting Philomela’s testimony to implements of textile production. The violent features of this myth have attracted the attention of several modern scholars, but few commentators have speculated as to how a cloth might communicate such specific information between the sisters.

Modern observation of weavers in central Asia show that traditional textile production in some isolated regions employ sung mnemonic devices while weaving occurs, allowing weavers to reproduce designs encoded within the performance of the song. Although evidence for ancient examples of such audible features of textile production is understandably not preserved within the archaeological record, a few traces of this tradition can be observed. For example, a loom weight preserved in the Atestino National Museum in Este, Italy displays two lines of a metrical inscription in the Venetic language reading: “The weft you swiftly pass through the warp: And sing of gallant knights and heroes.”  Less directly, throughout Homeric texts, women described in the act of weaving are often also singing as they work. Sophocles’ contemporary, Euripides, describes various characters as singing songs of specific myths while weaving, even implying that a performance of a given mythological narrative could reproduce an image of that narrative. References to similar behavior across a range of ancient linguistic traditions indicates that such practices were common to a wide linguistic and cultural range of groups.  

An awareness of this tradition sheds light on the nature of Procne and Philomela’s ability to communicate through textiles. The patterns of a completed textile would physically represent the narratives associated with their production, making the textile a literal text, legible to any woman familiar with the experience of their production.

Ellen Harlizius-Klück (Munich)

The Rapport of Weaving and Geometry in Archaic Greece

In ancient times, geometry was done with threads: and weaving, which crosses a vertical with a horizontal thread system, looks like applied geometry from the start. No wonder that the assumption prevails geometric textile patterns and ornaments on textiles were nothing else than a result of the geometrical constraints imposed by technology.

This assumption is part of a biased discussion of the role of geometry in the beginning of art. Here, the esteemed value of geometry is different depending on if it is part of textile technology or painting: For the weaver, geometry is like a scaffolding s/he cannot escape in her work, while for the vase painter it appears as universal cosmic order leading from traditional schemes to early naturalism. Instead, I want to turn this relation upside down and ask, if not the order of weaving could indicate the order of nature and thus the cosmos, and if not the vase painter gets hold of this order by using geometry to transfer the textile order onto the body of the vase.

The idea is to show that and how weaving could have acted as cognitive support for mathematical ideas and geometrical activities, and thus for understanding or describing patterned order in society or nature. So the thesis is that the act of weaving patterned textiles can model the behavior of complex systems and generate forms of knowledge in other fields like poetry and choral dance, geometry, arithmetic, algebra, natural history and cosmology.

Lars Hallnäs (Borås)

The Textile Expression Gap

There is always a certain gap between form as definition, the way in which material builds a thing, and expression as that which display a thing in concreto. In textile design this gap is rather specific and to some extent paradoxical in nature.

A textile is typically something we form, shape, as a garment we wear, as a textile thing we use. These are textiles as flexible, adaptable and responsive things.

But what is the form, the expression of a towel, of a jacket? It is not only that there is something ambiguous, evasive about these notions here making the question difficult to grasp, there is also the expressional gap between the textile thing and the textile itself. The textile formula defines the way in which the yarn builds the textile and the yarn is at the same time that which display the formula. Although this does not directly explain the expressions of a towel, it is still both a formal and material foundation.

What happens if we use this elementary foundation in a systematic way to form a textile design aesthetics? Form being the textile formula, the way in which the yarn builds the textile thing, and the yarn the expression, that which display the textile thing. To bring the things back home to this elementary foundation is in some non-trivial sense what characterizes textile thinking.

Denise Y. Arnold (La Paz)

Comparative Reflections on Andean Weaving as Science

This presentation explores the idea of Andean weaving as “science,” developing the arguments already put forward in our book The Andean Science of Weaving (with Elvira Espejo, 2014). These initial proposals about the characteristics of a pre-Columbian Andean science (with widespread developments in weaving technology and techniques in a shared language of practice) will be explored within the wider debates about the comparative history, development and establishment of science as a civilizational process, and the comparative characteristics of these processes. Here I shall take as my starting point the “Grand Question” or “Puzzle” of why modern science developed in the West rather than in China (after Needham), as well as more recent reflections on scientific developments and their dissemination in Europe as compared to elsewhere (by Turnbull, Latour and others), and in a comparative reflection between ancient Greece and ancient China (after Jullien). Taking my own examples from our work in the Andes, centred in Aymara language, I shall pay special attention to differences in the technological, linguistic and cultural factors that influence ways of thinking, acting and making in the world, with their ontological and epistemological dimensions. My suspicion is that at issue are not just relative definitions of “science” but ways of perceiving and acting in the world. My aim is to open up this comparative debate to encourage a dialogue between the members of the Penelope project. 

Victoria Mitchell (Norwich)

Braiding and Dancing: embodied rhythm and the matter of pattern

Stimulated by the pattern-rich agency of matter, the distinctive, typically-symmetrical, repeated and textured pattern that is formed through braiding is characteristic of the movements experienced in the making process, whereby interlacing, ‘under and over’ crossing or precisely-numbered, sequential ‘steps’ form processional movement through iteration of actions. This paper will consider alignments between braiding (as with hair, grasses, rushes or silk, for example) and dancing (mainly traditional and social).  Drawing on the etymology of the English word braid, as denoting rapid zig-zag movements from side to side, suggestive of swords being brandished or a weaver’s shuttle, the paper will consider examples in which the patterns, rhythms and movements of braiding and the sequential braid-like formations of dancing form a kinesthetically-generative archetype of cultural and cognitive becoming through which embodied action shapes the mind and engages connectivity within and between bodies. The symmetry and pattern inherent in the evolutionary physiology of the body are articulated and externalized in the culturally symbolic figures of dance and in the object form of a braid. The Maypole will serve as a focal point, not only in respect of pattern and movement but also as an example which draws on the past while also engaging with current research in technology, materials science, architecture and education. Broadly speaking I argue that patterning and rhythm, as active in dancing or braiding, are intrinsic to the (bio)morphology of connectivity as it infiltrates tissues of knowing.

Caroline Radcliffe (Birmingham)

The Machinery – Challenging the Automaton: creative resistance and the nineteenth century cotton worker

The Machinery is an extraordinary machine dance inspired by the cotton machinery operated by textile workers of the industrial revolution. The ‘heel-and-toe’ style clog dance was passed on to Radcliffe by clog dancer Pat Tracey (1927 – 2008). Born in Nelson, Lancashire, Tracey came from a background of clog dancing that was an important expression of working-class culture in the cotton-weaving mill towns of east-Lancashire. Tracey’s dance steps were handed down to her via generations of her family and can be traced directly back to the 1820s and possibly earlier thus revising the histories of dance and labour and industrial noise music by almost a century.
The Machinery is significant for its direct relationship to the mechanical components and actions of the steam-powered cotton looms with the dancer embodying their movements and sounds; the names of the steps are called after elements of the cotton weaving process – ‘the pick’, ‘the cog’, ‘weaving’, ‘herringbone’, ‘over-the-tops’, ‘two-up-two-down’ and ‘shunts’. Mill workers developed these rhythmic patterns and steps into dances which they then demonstrated and shared with their families and community. The machines were predominantly operated by women who, by imitating the machines, found a way to combat the mental and physical constraints of repetitive factory labour and to coalesce and dance with the machines. The Machinery is a testament to the industrial cotton worker – an example of how the human seeks to resist automation and alienation through creative Practice.

Ebru Kurbak (Vienna)

Rewiring Women and Electronics: Textiles as Radical Tech-Art

In her book When Old Technologies Were New, Carolyn Marvin reveals how women were depicted in electrical journals in the late 19th century. She shows how technical ignorance was seen as a virtue and how women appeared as “the parasitic consumers of men’s labor in most stories of their electrical ignorance.” The countering space of ladies’ magazines, on the other hand, is explored by Rozsika Parker in The Subversive Stitch. Parker reveals how embroidery (and other domestic fancywork) was instrumental in both establishing and resisting the “feminine ideal” of the times. Femininity, according to Parker, is a social and psychological product and the changes in the very definition of femininity throughout history can be seen reflected in the history of women’s work. This paper discusses recent electronic textiles practices as part of this history.

The gendering of material practices are social constructs. However, such cultural processes have led to the very factual spatial and occupational segregation women and men. Recent electronic textiles practices demonstrate the practical capacities of embroidery, knitting, and lace making in creating traces, surfaces, and connections in electronics, which had not been explored in “official” sites of electrical invention. But, more relevant for the current paper, is the potential of electronic textiles as radical artistic media, in challenging assumptions about what constitutes technology and showing how the male-dominated traditions of art history continue to shape technology-driven art contexts despite today’s more fluid and non-binary understandings of gender and gender ideals. From a practitioner’s point of view and through surveying pertinent works in light of an invented material fiction genre ‘fiberpunk’, the paper establishes a space between design, science fiction, cultural anthropology, and textiles as a site for critical, technology-driven artistic exploration.

Julian Rohrhuber (Düsseldorf)

Merge, Weave, Trap. Programming and the Paläoanthropology of concepts

Archeological artefacts are multiply interpretable, and contemporary artefacts and practices also operate through their open endedness. Therefore, in so far as cognition is embedded material culture, a paleoanthropological consideration of materialised, ancient concepts may be done side by side with a study of contemporary computer programming concepts.

This talk will pick out a few very basic and old “low tech” situations which arguably reappear, despite all technical progress, in “high tech” situations of programming languages. In particular, we will discuss how far fundamental concepts of merging and weaving inform our intuitions of the relations between substance and structure. This allows us to treat programming paradigms, mathematical foundations, and palaeoanthropological considerations neutrally together. Finally, on this account, concepts can be seen as a close relative of traps, which are one of the earliest purely mechanical devices.

Alex McLean (Munich) and Dave Griffiths (FoAM Kernow, Penryn)

Closing the loop between Live Coding and Ancient Greek Technology

Live coding brings computer programming into the performing arts, reimagining programming languages as live, creative interfaces. In this paper, I explore how the ancient craft of weaving can help with close examination of the human-machine relationship in live coding. I introduce a live-coded warp-weighted handloom, where individual threads may be selected using a live computer language. All weaving enacts a form of binary coding. However, by controlling a warp-weighted loom in this way, we can expose that code, making it tangible and open to change.

By live coding a warp-weighted loom, we expose a profound misunderstanding which maligns all discussion of contemporary technology; that modern humans are somehow more ‘digital’ than ancient ones. When we live code the warp-weighted loom, it is clear that the ancient loom is as digital as the computer, and that modern understanding of ourselves as ‘digital humans’ is ill-founded. By placing the warp-weighted loom at the foundation of digital technology (replacing usual references to the industrial Jacquard weaving device), we open up a longer, richer history of technology. 

This work also brings focus on pattern, in particular the role of interference patterns in both textiles and music, and the role that abstract computation can take in creative exploration of material lead by human perception.