On show at WIELS, Brussels, the artist's textiles are modes of conscious reparation, through which damage and disrepair become precious artefacts
Two tarpaulins block the view into Hana Miletić’s exhibition at WIELS. The larger of the two, a Daniel Buren-esque expanse of red-and-white stripes with a blue cloth tossed over it, is suspended from the ceiling and drags a little on the floor. Konzum supermarket, Zagreb (2018) is one of four large textile pieces from Miletić’s ‘Dependencies’ (2018) series, made from Cottolin, viscose and silk woven on a handloom over a period of ten months. It is not a real tarpaulin, but rather a visual facsimile of one that recently concealed a site in Zagreb while a new branch of the Croatian supermarket chain Konzum was being built. Miletić’s version is faithful to the original, down to scruffy patches recreated by pulling threads out of her finished weaving. A second group of mimetic works, from the ‘Materials’ series (2015–18), translates photographs of improvised car repairs made using brown tape or silver foil into handmade weavings. Hung on the walls beyond the tarpaulins, these fine tapestries exude the pathos of lovingly restored things.
Miletić refers to weaving as a kind of ‘care work’; more than just the production of cloth, it doubles as a mode of conscious reparation through which she can process the damage and disrepair she notices in the world into precious artefacts. No longer merely serviceable or disposable like their referents, they are ends in themselves. Yet they also seem to perform an ironic take on the economy of weaving, exchanging modest materials – albeit woven ones like tarpaulins and gaffer tape – for rich ones and trading functionality for aesthetic worth.
Some works in the exhibition perform a social function. Miletić, who was born in Croatia when it was part of Yugoslavia, has over the past few years developed a practice of collective textile production with a group of women at the arts centre Globe Aroma in Brussels, where she has lived since 2001. Their collaborative work txt, Is Not Written Plain (draft III) (2017) includes a score performed by the group in a range of accents and languages. The score occasionally rises to a martial cry before switching to a confessional or playful tone, and is played out in a room populated by a series of handmade felt sheets in which whorls of ochre and grey fibres eddy into splashes of turquoise and coral. In an anthropomorphic setup that suggested a gathering of bodies holding hands, the swathes of felt were draped over pairs of light stands connected at the top by a horizontal bar. Felting, like cooking, is an ancient communal activity and an intensely tactile art, in which pressure applied by the hands compresses fibres together into cloth. Feeling, as per the material’s name, is key to this work. The score’s instructions for felting and vocal dynamics were laid out beside a text that evoked the process itself – ‘I caress patches of colour’ – and alluded to the Belgian context – ‘black like the first colour of the flag’.
In a small room reached by a narrow staircase, the tapestry Co-signed landscape, with Emmy Van de Velde (2017) is the outcome of a relationship premised on absence. Miletić picked up the threads of an abandoned textile she found at Anderlecht Academy, introducing variations in the existing pattern and colour. I can only guess at why Van de Velde abandoned her work, but her absence is a poignant reminder of the impermanence at the heart of any relationship. Miletić’s textiles, made up of countless individual threads or a multitude of fibres, demonstrate how weaving can help us come to terms with a situation, and maybe on some level even repair the social fabric.
Hana Miletić, ‘Dependencies’ runs at WIELS, Brussels, until 12 August.
Main image: Hana Miletić, Dependencies – Konzum supermarket, Zagreb, installation view, 2018, WIELS, Brussels. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: © Kristien Daem