Traces: A Transhistorical Study of Fiber Ecologies in Contemporary Art


Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art


Art History


This dissertation investigates four fiber conditions—stain, fold, infestation, and accretion—present in the contemporary artwork and craft by artists Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, Sonya Clark, Binh Danh, Ann Hamilton, Meryl McMaster, Rachel Meginnes, and Dread Scott, and compares these to historical fiber objects. By closely reading material traces in cotton, silk, horsehair, and paper as part of a dynamic ecology with affective power, this study demonstrates fiber's paradoxical vulnerability and affinity for its environment, and its ability to archive its past. Incorporating textile conservation terminology with new materialist, haptic, and affect theories, this interdisciplinary approach transcends the art-craft binary and reinserts racial, ethnic, and gendered human dimensions into fiber art histories. With fiber’s condition as a primary lens through which to understand and think critically about how people conceptualize their relation to the past, the artworks contribute to and question the definition of the American experience.