Living Fabrics


Textile Objects - Participative Performances - Videos -Talking Fabrics



Nesa Gschwend / 2021



Weaved into a large fabric, a thread is being spun for us, measured and finally to be cut. This story of the thread of fate is narrated in many cultures in a similar way. The thread and the fabric become a symbol of life and of being interwoven into the community.

Fabrics accompany us throughout the whole of our lives. We get born, cleaned with cloths, wrapped in a textile and at the end of our life this process will be done again. Throughout our lifetime, we are touched by textiles. Nothing is nearer to us than our clothes and blankets. They give us protection and their warming. Through them we create our appearance, our identity. Personal, cultural, social and historical messages are inscribed in them. Textiles are a specific sign language, transmitted through professional dresses, uniforms, flags, status symbols, signs of belonging to certain groups. They are deeply rooted in our cultural history and they have shaped our development for millennia. There is no area of life in which they do not play a role.


My artistic work has been based on textile creation since it began over forty years ago.

Textile thinking means threads and single pieces combining into a whole, through weaving, knotting, tying, also cutting and ripping. Working with threads and fibres means "thinking" with one's hands.

Used textiles and the inscribed traces in them are the basic materials for Living Fabrics. They are connected to the people who wore them and the places where I found them for this project. I started developing this project about six years ago. At first I worked alone in my studio with discarded clothes, that people gave me and I used them to create the first rug objects. Carpets are originally nomadic objects, companions on the move, full of messages. The story of the flying carpet, like the thread of fate, is a textile narrative that can be found in a lot of cultures.


Besides the textiles, I wanted to integrate people in direct interaction into the project. To find out how this could be possible, I invited some friends to work with me on Living Fabrics, to understand what kind of approach they do have to textiles and how they take fabrics and threads in their hands and what they will do with them. Based on these experiences, I developed a concept for the participatory performances, which is supposed to be open to all kinds of heterogeneous groups. Since 2016, I started travelling with the participatory performance Living Fabrics. I usually use public transport and only take as much material with me for the journey as I can carry myself. Besides Switzerland, I have travelled to Austria, Germany, Georgia, India and France, to many places, in cultural centres, museums, schools, festivals, public places, parks, villages, slums and natural spaces. Up to now, about two thousand people, from sixty-five nations, are involved in the participatory meetings. They come from different cultures, all social levels and from all age groups. The smallest children are about three months old and the oldest woman eighty-five.


At the location, I unroll my carpet and create a working space and meeting place by laying out the used fabrics, needles, scissors and threads. Each person involved can choose what they like from the materials. People often bring other fabrics that can also be used by everyone. In this way, the pile of fabrics remains alive, becomes a "tapetum mobile" that renews itself again and again.


The way in which someone wants to get involved in this project is open. Some will collect different colours and cut them into pieces, others will tell a story, try out stitches, or knot fabrics together. The small children like hiding in the fabrics and the bigger ones enjoy cutting them. Women remember stitches they learned in childhood or show each other techniques from different cultures and sometimes they start to sing. In this project, the fabrics are bearers of very different messages and they are closely connected to the personal expression of the people. Not only textiles will be exchanged, but also experiences and stories, mostly about family, origin and existential questions that affect us all. Outdoors, I search for the performances a place under a tree. A carpet under a big sheltering tree, creating together with fabrics, exchanging and telling stories is an archetypal image.


In all the gatherings, I have held until now, there has always been a heterogeneous network of people, cultures, textiles, experiences and stories. I have written down some of the stories, others have remained in my memory.


Living Fabrics are textile objects, participatory performances, videos and stories - Talking Fabrics. I hope that this large network, which we have created together over the years, will grow further and that other people will be able to find themselves in it.