Introduction to “Text/ile”

Text/ile by Maggie Leininger

Text/ile is an edition of 51 woven representations of chromosomes created in black and white by Maggie Leininger. Leininger uses the woven form as a metaphor for the idea of multiplicity/multiples/repeats, creating hand woven textiles that examine the most basic structure of a human: the human genome. The work investigates the imagery of the chromosome itself, and how it is translated through the Jacquard loom to make fragments, segments, of information.

Text/ile by Maggie Leininger

Statement about Text/ile:
The work I completed for this project immediately reminded me of Anni Albers work, especially when seen in color as depicted in my graphic digital image that goes to the loom for weaving. Weaving fascinates me as a mechanical process because it is one of the most overlooked processes, but without which we would not have sheets, towels, clothes, etc. This particular project allowed me the opportunity to examine the production mill using Jacquard looms which allow the weaver to individually control each thread of the warp. A traditional floor loom only allows weavers to control batches of threads in repeats from 2-36 threads at a time. So, a weaver has to have the ability to think in repeat design that produces a functional textile which usually means not having too many “floats” or long threads that are not tied down and can catch on objects within range thereby destroying the textile. Other factors come into play with weave structures too, such as how much color is seen from the warp and the weft which depends upon the density of the cloth (or how many ends per inch are in the warp and weft). Working in a production mill allowed me the opportunity to focus mostly on the design rather than the production. It also gave me a grave understanding of our current state of affairs in the textile industry in the U.S. which is diminishing rapidly as mills are relocating overseas to take advantage of cheaper labor. While this means that our clothes are as cheap as ever, it also means many skilled workers are out of jobs while also increasing our carbon imprint as we will now have to ship the products back to the U.S. for consumption.

Maggie Leininger is an artist based out of Oak Park, IL who is interested in exploring visual relationships between microscopic structures and social systems by deconstructing/reconstructing patterns through weaving. Leininger attended the School of the Art Institute for her undergraduate degree and Arizona State University for her master’s degree. She currently teaches at Roosevelt University, Snow City Arts and other local non-profits agencies in Chicago, IL. In addition to an active studio and teaching career, she also enjoys spending time with her three children, riding her two horses and running alongside her husband as he trains for marathons and triathelons.

There’s no “I” in Present Group.

Voting for TPG7 commences now! We’re exploring the idea of a more inclusive art world and harnasing the power of collective decisions.

Check it out here.

We’ve got five great candidates. And even if you can’t vote, this is an opportunity to familiarize yourself with 5 new artists and their work.

And we have a winner!

Voting closed Friday and we had a clear winner.


Maggie Leininger is an artist based out of Oak Park, IL who is interested in exploring visual relationships between microscopic structures and social systems by decontructing/recontructing patterns through weaving. Her piece will be released at the end of the summer 2008.

ONE-NIGHT SHOW! TPG7 Release Party, Showcase + (almost) 2 year Retrospective

What: One Night Art Show for The Present Group Issue #7 [Maggie Leininger: Text/ile] and The Present Group (almost) 2 year Retrospective

Where: 465 9th Street (9th and Broadway), Old Oakland

When: September 5th, 2008, 5-10PM

We’re excited to announce that we’ll be celebrating the release our 7th Issue: Text/ile by Maggie Leininger with a one night show on”First Friday” September 5th, 2008 in Old Oakland. Leininger uses the woven form as a metaphor for the idea of multiplicity/multiples/repeats, creating hand woven textiles that examine the most basic structure of a human: the human genome. The show will investigate the imagery of the chromosome itself, and how it is translated through the Jacquard loom to make fragments, segments of information. This is the only time the entire edition of 51 individual tapestries will be shown together. Starting at 9pm, local subscribers will be able to package and take home their piece.

Friday’s opening will also feature a retrospective of past Present Group editions. Over the last two years we’ve created fine art books, a collage and print series as well as a video project and a land art/performance. The public is invited to this free event at 465 9th street in Old Oakland from 5-10PM to explore the works in person. If you’re interested but can’t make it, our website features interactive versions of every past edition along with artists interviews, profressional critiques and annotated links sections devoted to each piece.

Maggie Leininger is an artist based out of Oak Park, IL who is interested in exploring visual relationships between microscopic structures and social systems bydeconstructing/reconstructing patterns through weaving.

Our first space!

Sure it’s only for one day, but you gotta start somewhere.



We’re starting in Old Oakland. Where?

465 9th street (9th & Broadway), Oakland. September 5th, 2008, 5-10PM. We’ll be showing TPG7 as well as an (almost) two year Present Group Retrospective. Here’s some more info.

posted: August 29, 2008

Interview with Maggie Leininger

Maggie Leninger was interviewed via Skype on August 26th, 2008 by Oliver Wise and Eleanor Hanson Wise of The Present Group.

Listen: (~32:00) 

icon for podpress  Interview with Maggie Leininger [36:07m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

Nature As A Text: Complexity theory and the Modernist eye in Maggie Leininger’s “Text/ile” By Andrew Venell

“It’s a kind of microscopic herd mentality…Cells figure out which passages [in DNA] to pay attention to by observing signals from the cells around them: only with that local interaction can complex neighborhoods of cell types come into being.”
–Steven Johnson, Emergence

“It is safe, I suppose, to assume that today most if not all of us have had the experience of looking down from an airplane onto this earth. What we see is a free flow of forms intersected here and there by straight lines, rectangles, circles and evenly drawn curves; that is, by shapes of great regularity…[H]ere before us we can recognize the essence of designing, a visually comprehensible, simplified organization of forms that is distinct from nature’s secretive and complex working.”
–Anni Albers, “Designing As Visual Organization”

A white plastic box inscribed with a colorful legend, anonymously medical or scientific in origin, opens to reveal a woven textile, folded upon itself, black and white threads that merge into a shifting pattern of gray rectangles. Unrolled and displayed vertically, the swatch immediately brings to mind the reductive shapes and optical experimentation of Modernist abstraction. If pressed for a literal reference, I might say that the textile looks like nothing so much as the generically industrial, grainy landscapes of aerial photography: a cluster of buildings, parking lots, a straight road.

However, the framing–the ambiguously medical plastic, the charts on the sticker, with terms like “probes” and “polymorphism”–hints at a different meaning in the flat gray shapes. Because in fact Maggie Leininger’s “Text/ile” does have a literal reference, and it is in the basic informational structure of the human body. For this project, scientific diagrams of chromosomes–8 of the 23 found in human cells–have been reduced to grayscale patterns composed of black and white thread and woven on a Jacquard Loom into textiles remarkable in how they bring to mind not data but the abstract patterns of Modernist design.

Maggie Leininger works systematically on these multiple layers of representation and reference, finding within the building blocks of life hints of other forms, of city blocks and aerial topographies. Here the forms of Modernism, once so carefully divorced from literal reference, are found to contain the elemental information that guides the functioning of human cells. In her previous works the connection between microscopic and macroscopic forms was even more overt. In “Specimen” (2004) aluminum cylinders–resembling specimen jars or assay plates–are stitched with colorful patterns that could be cells seen under the microscope, could be colonies of bacteria on a petri dish, or could equally be mineral deposits in an estuary viewed from an airplane window.

Specimen by Maggie Leininger
Specimen by Maggie Leininger (2004)

In science the curious repetition of forms across multiple scales is a familiar idea. The term “self-similarity” describes a form that can be broken down into infinitely smaller parts, each a tiny likeness of the first. Self-similarity is behind the recursively complex structures of fractal geometry, perhaps familiar from its brief popularity in the early years of digital art. In nature self-similarity is more approximate, but is clearly present in forms like Romanesco broccoli or the way a tree trunk branches off into branches into branches…. Self-similarity has a central place in Complexity theory, which attempts to describe the way in which infinitely complex systems can arise from the interaction of a few simple rules or processes. This, too, is an idea obliquely referenced in Leininger’s work, concerned as she is with the simple structures that combine to form organisms and superorganisms. Complexity displays across many scales, from micro to macro: from the way that cells form an organism to the way that a few settlements form neighborhoods, which in turn weave themselves into a city. Complexity theory and the principle of Emergence seek to describe the ways in which these complex structures come into being without organized planning, without top-down interference from a central authority. Leininger has a stated interest in the systems behind urban structures, in neighborhoods bounded by the “invisible lines known only by the inhabitants,” and so it makes sense that she would find hints of the automatic, organic assembling of cells in a city seen from a great height.

And so the curious slash in the title, “Text/ile”, deliberately breaking out the word “text”, underscores perhaps how meaning is a similar system, how it is woven by the combination of words, how words themselves can be broken down into phonemes, into letters, themselves the building blocks of communication. Like cells or a city, language is a complex system built from the interactions of simple rules. The three poems meant to accompany the piece hint at a personal narrative not necessarily present in a representation of human chromosomes, with concepts like ‘artifact’, ‘birth’, ‘death’, ‘memory’ acting as ciphers to suggest whatever simple concept, whatever hidden connotations, they hold for each of us. Yet DNA is, in a sense, an artifact, a legacy woven through generations of organisms, and the Human Genome Project treats DNA almost as a language, as a code that can be cracked.

Ultimately with “Text/ile” these references are shadowed by the overwhelming allusion to Modernist design in the woven swatches, and here perhaps is where the most interesting connective thread peeks out from the weave. There is an obvious aesthetic precedent in the work of Anni Albers, textile artist and member of the Bauhaus, a German craft and design school highly influential in popularizing Modernist design philosophy in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Albers, equally fascinated by language, wrote extensively on design, and, along with Bauhaus colleagues like Walter Gropius and her husband, Josef Albers, helped to publicize a modern aesthetic that focused on radically reduced shapes, an emphasis on rationality and the harmony of form and function. Modernism as a movement affirmed mankind’s relentless march into the future, aided by the constant progress and improvements allowed by science and technology.
The vision afforded to the Modernist subject is rational, clinical and–aided by advancements in optics like the camera, the microscope–Modernist vision is unparalleled in its powers of observation, its ability to see the world across a range of scales, from deep into the cell to deep into the cosmos. The viewer of “Text/ile”, armed with the technological heir to this Modernist eye, takes what writer and complexity theorist Steven Johnson calls “the long zoom”: a perspective that shifts fluidly from the macro to the micro. In fact, it is a sort of “god’s eye view” that forms the connective thread between all of Leininger’s works, the way in which whatever is represented is represented as from above, whether it is through the lens of a microscope or a spy satellite. In the forms that comprise her work the viewer is given the benefit of a distance that makes vague the distinctions between the very small and the very large in order to emphasize their visual similarity at all scales. Modernism grants the eye the power to reduce the world into its constituent parts, to arrange even our bodies into a text that can be read and understood. Where once pictorial tapestries might have advertised the power and riches of the nobles, Leininger’s textile works seem to affirm the optical power of modernity, our ability through science to apprehend the world from the microscopic elements of the human body to the daily actions and interactions that form the structure and life of a city.

Ancient Writing by Anni Albers
Ancient Writing by Anni Albers (1936)

Nature, certainly no less complex than in Anni Alber’s time, but perhaps a great deal less “secretive”, has in Leininger’s work arrayed itself like a text for human viewing. And humans are furnished with a power of vision once reserved for gods. Seen from above, the distinctions between the design of cities and the organic forms of nature are much less pronounced than when Albers wrote “Designing as Visual Organization”, woven as they are from simple patterns and rules, iterated outward into works of infinite complexity.

Andrew Venell is a designer, hypertext author and multimedia artist whose works explore issues of urbanism, surveillance, commerce and mass communication.

Annotated Links

Collecting Textile Art – information on the broad range of textiles in the market, along with tips about displaying and collecting

When is Fiber Art, Art? An essay in Fiber Arts Magazine (a good source of info for all things related to (surprise!) fiber arts) by Janet Koplos

Jacquard LoomThe Jacquard Loom is a mechanical loom, invented by Joseph Marie Jacquard in 1801, that has holes punched in pasteboard, each row of which corresponds to one row of the design. Multiple rows of holes are punched on each card and the many cards that compose the design of the textile are strung together in order.


Because it was the first machine to use punch cards to control a sequence of operations, it is considered an important step in the history of computing hardware. The ability to change the pattern of the loom’s weave by simply changing cards was an important conceptual precursor to the development of computer programming.

Fiber Artists and Shows:

Thread at Johansson Projects: a review of the show, a list of artists involved “Thread, a survey of sewn, stitched and woven works whose common thread is the media, not the medium. By re-exploring the functional avenues of textiles and materials, these eight artists begin to converse in a neo-craft dialect which diverges greatly from its domestic and industrial traditions. Pins are re-invented as figurative joinery, refuse amassed to render owls, interactive fabric measures changes in electro-magnetic frequencies, making the outcome from these dexterous hands undeniably rare.”

Two artists from the “Thread” show work with the Jacquard loom: “Lia Cook, collected by the Cleveland Museum, de Young, The Met, and NYMOMA and her former student, Christy Matson, who currently lectures at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, both utilize Jacquard weaving looms though their kinship divides from there: Matson’s interactive woven audio cloth relays the constant human flux of the very space Cook’s pointillist portraiture hopes to hold in a single woven moment.”

Anni Albers piece

Anni Albers – was a German-American textile artist and printmaker. She is perhaps the best known textile artist of the 20th century. In 1971, her and her husband founded the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, a not-for-profit organization they hoped would further “the revelation and evocation of vision through art.” Here is a gallery of Albers’ work much of which is strikingly similar to Text/ile. Here is a great interview with Anni that gives some insight into her work and theories.

Seiko Kinoshita – contemporary textile artist from Japan working out of England.

Deepa Panchamia – contemporary sculptural textile artist out of England

Emilio Lobato – Painter inspired by woven textiles. Honoring the weavers of his Spanish ancestry, Lobatos’ new work revisits the ‘Blanket’ series and builds upon its tapestry-like foundation. With inclusions of text and cross symbols, the weft segments are painted the artists trademark colors: earthen reds, blacks and ochres.

Maggie’s Links:

is an AMAZING site that really inspires me on many different levels.

this is a great group that combines knitting and graffiti.

This is the web site for Cat Mazza who is using stitching and knitting for revolution and activism.

A new project collaborative–way cool feminist site!


The Jacquard Center in Henderson, North Carolina – Text/ile was produced while Maggie was an artist in residency here.


Fiber Arts as Activism:


Stitch for Senate is an initiative of knit hobbyists making helmet liners for every United States Senator. Building on the tradition of wartime knitting, a practice dating back to the American Revolution, Stitch for Senate revives this cultural trend by engaging with public officials about the war in Iraq. Hobbyists knit in solidarity to persuade elected officials to support the troops by bringing them home. All the senators will receive their own helmet liner the week of the 2008 election, after being displayed in the seating chart of the US Senate at gallery venue. Once they are received, senators can opt to send helmets to a soldier.


Making of TPG7: Jacquard Loom footage

TPG7 + (almost) 2 year Show Photos

TPG7 + (almost) 2 Year Retrospective Show Release

A Conceptual Loom

We’ve decided to elevate this piece by Eva Repo out of the comments section.

Text/ile includes the two conditions of the contemporary art object: tautology and mythology. These two conditions are the main forms of the object after 60′s, the so called conceptual object. Upon the management of their balance or imbalance is based the mass of all the theories and practices since then. The first years of that period there was a prominence of the tautological form. The object was a lectical, anatomical, logical extract. In the revolutionary 70′s the object had to abandon this introversial tautology and develop communicative patterns with the urban environment, the society, the humanity. The object releases all the mythology forms that used to expel. It becomes biographical, social, ethnographical. Since 2000, there is a great interest towards the mythological forms of the object as a light struggle towards globalization and leveling of cultures. The object reveals all the elements expressing its variation, codification and hetetotis (otherness). From another point of view there is the aspect of a new kind of colonization : the accumulation of a variety of ethnographic mythologies to the Western based institutional art system. But this comprises subjects of a future judgement.

According to the above standards, Maggie Leininger presents an object in various and overlapping levels of tautology and mythology. The first notice is the cover of some medical content. This box provides some information that stamp a kind of ‘scientificality’. And this is not a latency. It is the reliance of Leininger’s venture. On this first notice, the ‘form’ of the human genome is indicated and the content of samples is implied. The word ‘legend’ though is written and already provokes a different kind of expectations for the content of the box.

The content of the box are the metaphorical samples of a medical experiment. There are the modulors of Leininger’s experiment: the phenomenon of chromosomes, the procedures of a multiplicity and the one stroke procedure of creating from zero to a whole. Leininger does not aim to offer information or cognitive values. This is the point where she treats her object in a different way from what Joseph Kosuth maybe would do in the 1968, she skips its tautology and enters its mythology.

Weaving segments is the model of her research. Those black and white pieces of textile don’t offer any knowledge. Howbeit this technique is regarding to a strict rationalization as it follows specific traditions to produce the manufacture. The patterns are taken out of the box and they are exposed on the wall. This exposition creates the final impression of the object as the model and the prototype are conceived in the procedure of repetition and proliferation of the main pattern. This is the point where Leininger’s object exposes an irregularity. So far it can be described through all this reading of its readable layers. But now the exposition on the wall offers the optical obvious of the experiment. The object becomes an aesthetic item. The pile of the boxes in the corner is a hasty representation of the chromosome assumption and do not manage to complete as a concept and as an image the initial expectations. The textiles become an interesting gimmick in an unformed object.

The above formal debility is resolved by an extra connotation of Leininger’s project:
The technique used by Leininger provides her with the possibility of an interface with the economic and cultural conditions of her locality. The American textile workers lost their employment as the textils travel to Asia, South America and other places so as to be manufactured by cheaper hands. This long thread starting from the micro human structure to reach -theoretically- the macro structure of the contemporary economy, also represents the to-and-fro state of the conceptual and physical object between a tautology (now it becomes the tautology of the economic mechanism) and a mythology (the poetic weaving of textiles, plots and stories).

This concern of Leininger is creating a link to a feminine heterotis of object construction. It brings to mind the objects of Sheela Gowda who works with dyed ropes as metaphor for the umbilical cord and the birth, but also implies the Indian textile tradition and the colonization of their industry in 18th century. And a look to Sheela Gowda goes back to Eva Hesse and her almost common repetition practice. The long fiber of a connected feminine object is also an aspect of a feminine mythology. An expletory factor is that Maggie Leininger figures a consistent american allure, as a different kind of sensitivity in comparison to Gowda.
In conclusion, the Text/ile is a structure that is articulated in an acrobat’s way among critical points. It is an initial draft of a research in the system of chromosomes. It is the directing of the methodological tools for this research, the patterns of textiles. And it is the presentation of these pieces in a repetition formula and the implications of a transfer to a macro-level of the textile industry affairs. This procedure inevitably follows the moves of a conceptual loom as the conception of the object has to operate in to-and-fro and up-and-down levels of the whole scenery.

-by Eva Repo

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