Date of this Version
Crosscurrents: Land, Labor, and the Port. Textile Society of America's 15th Biennial Symposium. Savannah. GA. October 19-23. 2016.
In 1919, the Viennese cultural critic Adolf Loos addressed a newspaper column to the “ninety percent” of female artists who “call themselves that because they can batik.” Bemoaning shop windows filled with batik cloths and neckties, Loos stated: “To the modern human being…batik [is] an abomination.” Derisively likening the skill required of a batik artist to “drop[ing] a May bug into an inkwell and then let[ting] it crawl around on a prettily dyed, magnificent piece of…pongee silk,” Loos advised practitioners to seek a dry cleaner to “fix” their dye work by erasing it. “The danger is great,” he went on; “that all women will discover the calling to be a batik artist…and so will be withdrawn from economic work.”1 Glaring hyperbole aside, Loos’s statements nevertheless speak to the batik technique’s prevalence in Vienna. A craze for batik swept through Europe’s fashionable and artistic centers in the first quarter of the twentieth century, where it was used across the decorative arts in lampshades, screens, furnishings, and book covers. Batik dyeing requires skillful artistry in combination with fine craftsmanship, which appealed to creatives of the period advocating for a synthesis of the fine and applied arts. This total artwork aesthetic philosophy held particular resonance in Austria, where it was known as Gesamtkunstwerk.