Strange Jumble

“Art makes the familiar strange so that it can be freshly perceived. To do this it presents its material in unexpected, even outlandish ways: the shock of the new.”
I presume the title of Leanne Prain's new book, Strange Material, is a reference to the above quote from Russian writer literary theorist and critic Victor Shlovsky, in that the familiarity of textiles in our lives makes them an appropriate medium to convey unexpected ideas. But she doesn't say that anywhere, at least that I could find. The book is such a jumble of concepts, projects, interviews and ideas that twenty people could open up the book at random, read the page, and each come away with a completely different idea of what Strange Material is about. The author acknowledges her shotgun approach is deliberate, but for me, it makes for a frustrating read.

Complicating matters is the same slapdash design and editing that marked her last book, Hoopla: The Art of Unexpected Embroidery. (I gave that a slam too.) Captions are mixed up on photographs, there is sketchy instruction for some of the projects, many of the questions in the Q&A interviews are actually statements that the interviewee is left on her own to expand upon. Prain shares the advice given to her as a creative writing student that "stories should have a beginning, a middle and an end," as if this is earth-shaking news.

Strange Material tries to show that textiles are a great medium for telling stories. This is a given, and there are many important contemporary artists out there who have been exploring the narrative possibilities of cloth since at least the 1970's. But the work shown here ranges from inspired to banal. It cries out for some editorial direction. I hate to say it, but I would be embarrassed to have my own work included in this book.

But then, I am definitely not a fan of the crowd-sourced books that are so popular these days. I appreciate the singular voice, especially if it is knowledgeable, accurate and brings new ideas to the table. Strange Material is not for me. I would recommend checking it out from your library to see what you think first, before shelling out the cash.


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