Barbara Heller
Future Reliquaries
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May 5 - 23, 2009 - Opening reception: Thursday May 7, 6:30 - 8:30 pm


The Future Reliquary Series

The Future Reliquary Series deals with three apparently separate but, in my mind, connected histories: weaving, computing, and religion.

Weaving is a binary system of up/down, just as computing is a binary system of on/off. The first computer was a Jacquard loom, complete with punch cards instructing the loom to raise or lower warp threads depending on the position of the holes in the cards. Weaving was now one step removed from the human hand. Today's computers are merely fast jacquard looms programmed in binary code and thinking is now one step removed from the human mind.

Religion is not only a store of faith, it is a store of history and social values. In the Middle Ages, the sale of shards of the bones of saints and pieces of the True Cross became a large commercial enterprise. These holy relics were housed in beautifully sculpted reliquaries and displayed in churches to be worshipped as the concrete symbols of faith and history. I am particularly fascinated by the reliquaries that hold the arm bones of saints, shaped like a hand and arm, usually in gold and often encrusted with jewels.

Today, we are creating a new religion, worshipping the technology we have created. Some years ago, I bought a new computer and wanted to recycle the old one, not just throw it in the garbage. Recycling depots for e-waste were not yet in existence, so I took the computer apart to at least recycle the plastic shell. What treasures were revealed within! I took apart a keyboard. I took apart a radio, then a mobile phone, a CD player. I saved the innards, the future relics of the saints of the connected society.

These tapestries depict the future holy status of today's e-junk in the context of ancient fabrics; one code of up/down (weaving) morphs into another code of on/off (computing). The pattern of the mother board or silicon chip morphs into the pattern of a traditional ethnic textile - contemporary computer parts are the concrete symbols of our worship, and the slits in the woven arm can be seen as the receptacles connecting the computer tower to the outer world.

Ethnic textiles are still woven all over the world by hand. No machines intervene as the weavers record their personal stories, their faith, and their culture in the patterned cloth. Weavers at their looms and we at our PCs tell complex stories in simple binary form.

Barbara Heller, April 2009