Discovering the ancient art of weaving through theatre – and a textile art workshop

Discovering the ancient art of weaving through theatre – and a textile art workshop

Edith Podesta’s Inconsequential Goddess, set in ancient Greece, explores the cyclical nature of trauma and how they are both broken and perpetuated over generations and worlds. The performance poem, however, is also as much about weaving.

In writer and director Podesta’s retelling, the mythological weaver Arachne weaves the future lives of humans before they are reincarnated on Earth. She is inspired to sew herself a human body so that she, too, can experience life on Earth, where she meets a mortal man who becomes her husband.

In ancient Greece, the textile and manufacturing trade was a major contributor to the economy. As such, the practice of weaving was an important facet of everyday life.
In ancient Greece, the textile and manufacturing trade was a major contributor to the economy. As such, the practice of weaving was an important facet of everyday life.

To complement the production, Podesta and local textile artist and art facilitator Natalia Tan are running a textile art workshop titled Weaving Stories, Storied Weavings. While it can be unusual for a workshop like this to run alongside a theatre production, it is not hard to draw a link between the setting of the production, weaving, and the workshop.

After all, in ancient Greece, women would use the loom and weaving as a vessel for storytelling, and even for passing secret messages.

Through the workshop, Podesta and Tan will not be looking for secrets. Instead, they are hoping to encourage participants to share personal stories through the age-old practice of weaving. Their completed weavings and stories will be exhibited as an art installation, accompanying the run of Inconsequential Goddess at the Esplanade Theatre Studio from28 to 31 Jul.

The A List spoke to Podesta, Tan, as well as Vanessa Loh, a programmer at Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, ahead of the workshop to learn more about the event and its inspiration.

Not many would expect a theatre production to be connected to something like this. What was the inspiration behind running a textile art and weaving workshop alongside Inconsequential Goddess?

Loh: The workshop is a part of a larger series under The Studios. In planning and thinking about this year’s season, we wanted to provide different ways for our audience to connect with and access the themes explored in the various productions, particularly around the concept of “care” and “collective” care.

This series of companion programmes are meant to build on and extend the conversation beyond the walls of the theatre, hopefully providing a richer and more involved experience.

In discussing ideas for companion programmes with Edith, it felt natural to focus on the craft of weaving, given its centrality in the world of Inconsequential Goddess and its historical importance as a vessel/channel of story-telling and expression. We wanted to invite the audience to partake in this collective act of weaving stories, to think about what it means to truly listen and experience the stories of others.

How would going for the workshop complement attending Inconsequential Goddess?

Podesta: I’m giving a presentation at the beginning of the workshop that will contextualise the important daily task of weaving for women in Ancient Greece, shed light on the tools and techniques used, as well as introduce the participants to the weaving Goddesses and heroic mythological mortal seamstresses referenced within the production.

For the uninitiated, could you help explain how weaving is related to the art of stories?

Tan: The words “text” and “textile” come from the Latin word “texere”, which means “to weave”. Metaphors like “spinning a yarn”, “weaving tales”, and “conversation threads” are testaments to the deep connection between the production of fabric and the fabrication of stories.

In many cultures, weavers work in groups, creating opportunities for communities to connect and share stories.

The connection between weaving and storytelling may also be appreciated in a more literal sense. Across Europe, churches and cathedrals commissioned tapestries to illustrate Bible stories to their congregations, who were often illiterate. Elsewhere in the world, the Egyptians and Incas wrapped their deceased in woven tapestries, often depicting their earthly lives as well as magic spells that they believed would grant smooth passage to the afterlife.

What can someone who attends the workshop expect, and what would you say to help someone be prepared?

Tan: No experience is required! Come with an open mind and the willingness to explore and share a personal story.

We invite participants to bring a small item (fabric or otherwise) that bears some relation to their story – this may be woven into the little tapestries we’ll be making during the workshop.

What has weaving done for you both, personally?

Podesta: My grandmother taught me how to knit, and we spent many hours together knitting blanket squares for charity. I can still hear the clacking of the needles and her voice patiently repeating the instructions of the knit stitch; “in, over, under, and out”. She used to make me jumpers and little dolls from wool which I loved dearly because of the days of work I knew had gone into making them.

Tan: Weaving has changed my entire worldview. Before learning to weave, I was pretty much going through the motions of daily life. Since committing to it, a journey which took several years, I’ve found myself in completely new realms and met all sorts of interesting people. Apart from adding so much colour to my life, weaving is a meditative safe space that I can always return to for inner peace and balance.

What do you hope attendees will go away with, after your workshop?

Tan: It is rare for people in this day and age to share space with one another for the sole purpose of reflecting on personal narratives and creating something out of our own stories. I hope that participants will enjoy the process of working with their hands and slow-crafting their memories and life experiences into textile art.

Weaving Stories, Storied Weavings will take place at the Esplanade Rehearsal Studio on 24 Jul at 3pm. Find out more about the textile art workshop here.

The images used were originally created for The Waste Refinery Exhibition, held at the National Design Centre. The exhibition was curated and produced by Kinetic Singapore and presented by Design Singapore Council.

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