Séverine Cattin, art historian
Translated by Anne Malena

The Downside-up Threa

Some artists move you with all they do. Renate Rabus is of that number. She embroiders, gardens and makes poetry out of the ordinary as a true thread virtuoso. The artist from Neuchâtel practices embroidery as a form of meditation but rarely has a spiritual exercise ever procured so many sensations. Her intimate art, composed of thousands of tiny knots, fascinates by its existential quest for universal harmony.

Embroidery, women and contemporary Art

While digital aids – videos, computing, multimedia – have never been more present in contemporary art, a real return to traditional techniques, for example embroidery, has been seen over the last ten years or so in the international art scene 1.

From the French Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) and Annette Messager (*1943), to the Egyptian Ghada Amer (*1963) or the Portuguese Joana Vasconcelos (*1971), there are more and more contemporary artists who adopt embroidery as an artistic technique, attesting to the diversity and creativity of a medium long relegated to the level of craft. They equate embroidery with painting or photography, sculpting their threads and their materials by means of collage or accumulation, to express engaged subjects – politics, feminism, sexuality, even pornography – or more personal topics.

Textile art owes much to 20th century female artists who have contributed in a significant way to its re-evaluation and institutionalization as an artistic medium. Even if Russian avant-garde artists, such as Natalia Gontcharova (1881-1962) and Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979) seem to have initiated this tendency at the beginning of the century, it is not before the 1970s that textile art makes a comeback on the international art scene, notably by female artists. According to Aline Dallier, critic of feminist art and specialist in textile art, feminism’s second wave is indeed characterized by the search for a culture and an aesthetics “related to the history of women’s condition” 2..

From that point on feminist artists use materials and techniques traditionally associated with women and, more specifically textiles, because of their marked “feminine” history and symbolism.

Lausanne, a centre of influence

As the 1970s were particularly suited to the comeback of textile art on the international art scene, it was in Switzerland that was opened in 1962 the first international Biennial of Tapestry in Lausanne. This show helped Switzerland in becoming a recognized artistic venue for international textile art in all of its forms. As confirmed by the art critic Françoise Jaunin in 2011 : “In sixteen shows and a little over thirty years, the Lausanne Biennial has been the catalyst and the witness for all of the textile daring creations that converge on it every two years from every corner of the globe” 3. Over the years the exhibited works have left behind ancient traditions and become fibre sculptures, reliefs or installations. Tapestries have been replaced by plastic forms and the gamut of material is larger. Even the traditional textile language has been abandoned to make room for new themes, inspired by the relation man-nature, the private realm or self-worth 4.

Even though she privileges embroidery as an artistic technique Renate Rabus (*1950) has followed her own path as a self-taught artist, not influenced by the fashion upheaval of her peers. Even if the Neuchâtel artist does not claim these influences 5, her work does fit into this current artistic tendency, at its own level and in its own way.

Poetry of the ordinary

Far from adopting the militant position of some contemporary feminist artists, Renate Rabus does approach the world in a concerned and sensitive manner. In her artistic practice she privileges figuration, or at least a figurative proposition that can be seen in the themes inspired by her environment : her garden, her family, her childhood, her readings and her music. Renate Rabus turns matter into poetry, the simple life of men, animals and insects ; she is content with banal details resulting from a concrete observation of nature, which she finds almost everywhere. For several years the artist has been creating embroidered scenes of insects, amphibians or chameleons within tight frames. To ensure that we finally