by John Corso Esquivel. Routledge, July 2019. 170 p. ill. ISBN 9780815374282 (h/c), $150.00.

Reviewed May 2020
Heather Saunders, Director of Ingalls Library, The Cleveland Museum of Art, hsaunders@clevelandart.org

corsoesquivelFeminist Subjectivities in Fiber Art and Craft: Shadows of Affect by John Corso Esquivel, art critic and associate professor at Oakland University, is one of seven titles in the series Routledge Research in Gender and Art. In this publication, the self-described US scholar of mixed Central American (mestizo) and Italian-American heritage focuses on textile work by eight contemporary US and Latin American women artists: Ruth Asawa, Sheila Pepe, Claire Falkenstein, Judith Scott, Sônia Gomes, Shinique Smith, Gego, and Janet Echelman. His interpretation of textiles is not rooted in fiber so much as is in the handwrought, with twisted wire as an example.

Corso Esquivel explores the role of textiles in affect. He defines affect as the fleeting passage between states that transforms once the experiencer can articulate the sensation. Picture the intense, seconds-long immersion in Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Rooms. Affect’s nebulous nature (or “shadowy zone”-ness) and its incompatibility with language surely complicate writing about it. However, Corso Esquivel uses effective strategies, like including images of textile installations from multiple vantage points, allowing the reader to imagine the transformative experience of moving through space. As for addressing feminism: he describes the states bookending affect as non-binary, with the artists in question resisting patriarchal traditions like the clear distinction between subject and object, as well as modernism’s celebrated grid. For instance, in Shrink (2000), Pepe used a crane to install sprawling crocheted webs and the sleek modernist architecture of an academic gallery intended to showcase masculine, monumental, minimalist works in industrial materials by the likes of Richard Serra. With this juxtaposition, she challenged the lower status of craft in relation to fine art. Corso Esquivel frames Pepe’s commission, with its unstructured composite overtaking and subverting the space, as deterritorialization and rhizomatic critique—Deleuzoguattarian concepts that he fleshes out sufficiently. Even so, readers would benefit from having prior familiarity with philosophers Deleuze and Guattari, whose theory undergirds this book. Since A Thousand Plateaus (University of Minnesota Press, 1987) is the most cited of their jointly authored works in the bibliographies accompanying each of Corso Esquivel’s chapters, that seems a logical starting point. (Deleuze is also referenced independently throughout the text.) Feminist Subjectivities in Fiber Art and Craft also contains notes, an index, and an introduction that doubles as a literature review.

This publication is highly recommended for scholars of craft, art history, and philosophy. For studio students, it is best suited to graduate studies, unless theory is emphasized in the curriculum.