FWF I PEEK project
led by Anette Baldauf, Institute for Art Theory and Cultural Studies
Duration: 1.10.2023 – 31.3.2026
"Fabricating Adjacency" is an artistic research project on the entanglement of textile and colonial history: Western Austria has been known for the production of high-quality lace and damask. When in the mid-20th century in most parts of Europe the textile industries crumbled, the region found a new, thriving market in West Africa, particularly Nigeria, where lace outfit the era of oil and independence. At the peak of this trade, up to a hundred tons of embroidery were exported from Vorarlberg to Lagos every week in the 1970s and 80s, despite an import ban on luxury goods imposed by the state of Nigeria in 1976 to protect the local textile industry. This meeting of Austrians and West Africans organized around textiles, built on a solid prehistory: In the 18th and 19th centuries, linen made from Vorarlberg flax was a dominant currency in transatlantic trading of enslaved people; and the cotton picked by enslaved West Africans on U.S. plantations eventually enabled the rise of the European textile industry, including that of Vorarlberg.
Guided by the insights of New Materialism and Black Studies, this project seeks to intervene in the making of histories; it strives to mediate encounters and proximities, and conjures the ghosts lurking in the hidden seams of colonial history. The concept of fabrication here plays on a double meaning – to create something, but also to deceive, that is, to imagine otherwise. Fabrication, understood as methodology and aesthetics, is inspired by the different production technologies of textiles (spinning, weaving, looping, making holes, cutting, etc.). In collaboration with protagonists in Austria, Switzerland, Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal, the project aims to produce a collective quilt, which testifies the pasts, holding rather than resolving conflict. In doing so, the project explores methods such as listening (attuning to the fabric), piercing (intervening in the archive), caring (mourning the disappeared), repairing (exhibiting scars), and reweaving ("desire-driven narratives"). The project is an attempt to study with, rather than about fabric.