Exhibition: Threads of Life

Exhibition: Threads of Life

Update 15/12/2023
Symposium: Threads of Life
accompanying the exhibition of the same name, June 2023 [in German]

Threads Of Life

Although textiles have been indispensable to medicine since time immemorial, their role in this context has been understudied by humanities. From the surgical thread, wound dressings, wipes, pads, and protective clothing, to the hospital bed, practices of healing are unimaginable without them. But the relationship between textile arts and health is much broader. It includes, but is not restricted to, the use of such techniques as knitting, crocheting, weaving or braiding in the development of cardiovascular grafts and artificial organs as well as intelligent textiles. Textiles have also been used in less-obvious contexts such as therapies in psychiatric institutions, while their relationship to health and medicine has been crucial for a variety of political causes from the struggle for suffrage, to the development of occupational medicine, or passing of safety laws.

Still, there is a shadow side to this relationship. Textiles have been a source of ill-health as well: next to the addition of mineral agents and dyes that made fabrics toxic, allergenic, and carcinogenic, fashion has for centuries been used to restrain bodily functions (corsets, feet binding techniques), and fashion industry has grown to become one of the greatest pollutants of our planet. Visual arts and artistic research have reflected on this complicated relationship in manifold ways. Artists have used fabrics to evoke the vulnerability of the human body, its ongoing decay and imminent death, to visualize the pain scale, and also to highlight how complicated interhuman relationships are. They have drawn attention to the heavy load of (self-)care and to the ways in which human skin – like tissue and textiles – can become both a barrier but also a site of inter-species encounter.

The Threads of Life exhibition at the University of Applied Arts spotlights the multifaceted relationship between textiles, medicine and the arts. It brings together historical and artistic positions that enter into a dialogue and generate productive tensions.

Save the Date: The exhibition will be accompanied by an interdisciplinary conference on 20 Jun 2023.


Sonja Bäumel, Pascale Maxime Ballieul, Camille Borchert, Ida Frantal, Raja Goltz, Barbara Graf, Ruth Anderwald + Leonhard Grond, Elizabeth McGlynn, Ute Neuber, Katharina Sabernig, Hannah Schwab, Yuliia Strykovska, Leo Ruben Enosch Zellweger

Curatorial team:

Monika Ankele (Medical University of Vienna), Barbara Graf (University of Applied Arts Vienna), Katrin Pilz (Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Digital History, Vienna), Monika Pietrzak-Franger (University of Vienna), Barbara Putz-Plecko (University of Applied Arts Vienna), Katharina Sabernig (University of Applied Arts Vienna), Georg Vasold (University of Vienna).

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