In his magnum opus, the Metamorphoses, the Roman poet Ovid tells of a proud young woman named Arachne who had a special talent for weaving. Displeased with the young woman’s hubris, Minerva—the goddess of war, wisdom, and weaving—challenged Arachne to a weaving contest to see who could create a more beautiful tapestry. Surprised—and of course infuriated—by the mortal’s overwhelming ability, the goddess turned Arachne into a spider, cursed to spin webs the rest of her days. The girl’s daring actions and bleak fate inspired “Arachne’s Woof,” a new group show at Litvak Contemporary in Tel Aviv.
For those unfamiliar with the weaving process, this “woof” has nothing to do with a dog’s bark. “Woof” and “warp” are terms used to describe the threads or yarns a weaver draws—the woof horizontally, the warp vertically—to make cloth. Arachne’s woof, it might be said, was both her strength and her undoing. She pushed the boundaries of her medium, elevating woven tapestry from craft—merely women’s work—into dangerous art. Even in the face of Minerva’s wrath, she refused to apologize for her talent.
The artists on display here work in diverse media—painting, printmaking, ceramics, video, etc.—but all share Arachne’s boldness as well as a similar disregard for social expectations about art and what it can accomplish.
As pointed out by Kathy Battista of Sotheby’s Institute of Art, “weaving is also slang for the telling of stories,” and these works certainly weave poignant stories, some of a personal nature. The Wedding, a 12-minute film by Elham Rokni, reconstructs her parents’ marriage using footage from their 1978 nuptials. Elsewhere, eye-shaped diptychs by Tschabalala Self push back against the European, white-male standard of art-making. Self sews rather than paints, and the orientation of these ovals literally turns on its side the 18th-century model of vertical portraiture.
Also on view are bold acrylic paintings by Betty Tompkins, a New York artist known for subverting pornography. Block letters spell out “Queen Bee,” “Vixen,” “Wife,” and “Girly Girl”—terms that represent the multifaceted nature of powerful women, ancient Arachne included.
“Arachne’s Woof” is on view at Litvak Contemporary, Tel Aviv, Feb. 4–Mar. 25, 2016.