nervous whether

/ January 17th, 2017 / 0 Comment

part of exhibition NERVOUS WHETHER at The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery
wool, steel, aircraft cable
11′ x 9′ x 12.5′
This work was handwoven and constructed over 4 months as part of The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery’s Elbow Room Residency program.


Nervous whether: exhibition walkthrough from Kailey Bryan on Vimeo.


I gratefully acknowledge the support of the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council in the creation of this work.
Head to my blog to have a glimpse of the roller coaster ride that was creating this show!


Breathe in.

We live in an age of anxiety1. While communities and nations struggle to find peace and prosperity in ever technological and globalized world, individuals struggle within bodies to find their home. These processes, programs, and movements require collaboration, patience, skill, and labour. In Kailey Bryan’s latest installation Nervous Whether these anxieties are woven into the very material of the artist’s work. The question remains, is anxiety productive or is production its very cause? Here in this installation, textile and video combine to record this unraveling inquiry.

As a contemporary artist Kailey Bryan operates within many artistic media. Often crossing the threads of textile, video, installation, and performance art Bryan works through ideas surrounding identity. As any of us can attest, there is a tension between existing within our own bodies and that body being a representative, a record of its own movement through time, space, and society. Nervous Weather meditates on this push and pull through the display of a large-scale woven installation. The work consists of 180 yards of hand-woven black wool that rises into cloud-form. Projected onto and into this permeable form is a digital image of hands, nervously wrung ad infinitum.

The work suggests both interior and exterior, the form is both a nest and a skin, a home and a mask. Identity here is shown to be a rigorous process, the woven black material a metaphor for this labourious journey that parallels the experience of being within our own bodies. Examining the threads closer, we can see each thread carefully crossing over the next – choices – that intertwine to develop the entire structure. We may consider Bryan’s meditation on self here as American art critic Amelia Jones suggests as a reciprocal and dynamic one, an ongoing process that shifts over time2. With the loom as Bryan’s collaborator, the wool passes through the heddles recording these shifting moments in the material itself.


In a way this interpretation of identification responds well to the contemporary experience. In today’s society we are simultaneously here and there, local and global, singular and hyper- networked. With the added layer of digital video, Bryan suggests a close relationship between craft, that which is handmade, and our digital skins, video that is built on ones and zeros. Following these threads back into history we remember that textiles informed early computer programming. Weaving was one of the first crafts to become mechanized in the early 1800s.

Mechanized looms followed stored patterns on punched cards where a hole represented one, and a blank zero3. Similarly, early computers followed punched cards and the same code applied. This analysis asks us to look at Nervous Whether, the practice of weaving, and indeed craft in a new way, as software. Stored within these threads are stories that can be read. This data includes information such as; how many hands worked on the material, what kind of loom was used, were there any special techniques applied, where did this pattern originate? and so on. These questions begin to unravel social concerns as well material ones. Nervous Whether can thus be read as a mediation on the nature of the record, a particular textile-to- text that draws attention to how we are constantly crafting our own stories.

Nervous Whether is a departure from Kailey Bryan’s previous works in which the artist inserted their own body as an active element. Yet, this person-to-object relationship was and still remains an important part of Bryan’s performance and installation practice. Here, the body is implied rather than directly seen. Past works such as Ingrown (2014) and Pricks (2013) included live conversation with the public to address self-as-subject, ideas about craft, identity, and their performance. However in this work it is our presence as viewers that activate the installation. What’s more, Nervous Whether continues Bryan’s practice to include rigorous and repetitive actions. In Ingrown and Pricks durational labour took the form of pulling hairs whereas here we witness many hours of woven cloth. Ultimately Bryan’s practice plays with transformation of subject to object, object to subject and the slippery terrain this creates.

Breathe out.

There is indeed a psychological experience of Nervous Whether that should not be ignored. Relying on seductive visuals and emotional tension, this fraught relationship may indeed elicit visceral reactions to Bryan’s work. In this regard, Bryan follows a long and layered tradition of queer and feminist practices, which quite literally play upon the body. Works such as Interior Scroll (1975) by Carolee Schneeman considered the very nature of women’s bodies in the social world, demanding a space for their languages. For Bryan’s generation however, these languages rest upon a spectrum of experiences performed as accents and avatars to address a constantly shifting landscape.

In the end, Nervous Whether asks us to consider a more permeable view of self, of how we process our experiences, program our responses, and produce our own identities under the influence of or in collaboration with the world around us. We are the weavers of our own stories and in the process turn ourselves into objects to be remembered. How we define our place and our value is an important question, and a not so easy task that takes all the hours that we have.



1. In 1948 W.H. Auden would coin the term the Age of Anxiety upon the publication of his poem of the same name. The story revolved around 4 characters who meet in a bar but whom are ultimately left unsatisfied, searching for meaning in the modern world where industrialization has taken its toll.

2. In the introduction to her text Seeing Differently (2012) Amelia Jones examines the history of identification in the visual arts and suggests that instead of focusing on fixed identities, we consider identification as a process. Jones, Amelia. Seeing Differently. New York: Routledge, 2012. 6

3. Plant, Sadie. Zeros & Ones Digital women & the new technoculture. New York: Doubleday, 1997. 56.

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