Journal article Open Access

(Micro-)Performing Ancient Weaving in the PENELOPE project

Harlizius-Klück, Ellen; Fanfani, Giovanni; Griffiths, Dave; McLean, Alex; Mamidipudi, Annapurna

What does an ancient weaver know, when she knows how to weave? How is this complex knowledge graspable and representable? The article presents the research practice of the PENELOPE project as it sets to explore the distinctive logic and order of ancient weaving - an inferential dimension embedded in the material and thus mainly implicit, which is best grasped through performing and which we address here as microperformative. In archaic Greek literary and philosophical sources, weaving is cast as a technology capable of imposing order, creating complex structure, and providing a model for cosmic generation. This pre-scientific ‘knowledge through order’ that weaving affords is in turn embedded in a performance culture where notions like kosmos and poikilia refer to woven fabrics, performances of song-and-dance, patterns in nature and in craft. The production of textile patterns incorporates the organization of elements into wholes in a way that is logical and algorithmic yet still unsuited to be laid down in writing. The mode of knowing specific to weaving is a liminal notion at the intersection of technology, knowledge, and embodied practice. Labelling this mode of ordering as microperformativity, one implication is that reflective decision-making, non-propositional knowledge, and material agency all have a bearing on how in weaving threads perform together with the algorithm employed by the weaver, who needs to make decisions on repeats and recursion to generate a coherent whole. Using self-made technology, we then attempt to convey through performances the elements included as separate acts in weaving on the warp-weighted loom of antiquity. The order and patterns of weaving circulate through a multimodal and multimedial performance where the rhythms of ancient Greek poetry, manipulated as musical pattern by the live coder, govern the choreography of a set of synchronized arachnoid robots plaiting a braid by dancing around a maypole.

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