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79 T h e H a pt i c s o f Opt i c s Weaving and Photography 3 There remains an aspect of weaving to which I have alluded in previous chapters but never properly addressed: fabric’s tactility. The Bauhaus weaving workshop explored the possibilities of color and formal composition through the interlacing of threads, tacitly placing it in comparison to painterly composition and architectural function. Yet the specific palpability of threads and cloth surfaces required a new set of terms. Architecture’s rhetorical strategies regarding functionality and space were only partly sufficient, so photography became the next medium whose language was harnessed . With this development, one weaving student named Otti Berger addressed the limits of the visual and the tactile within modernism and its media.1 From 1928, the year Hannes Meyer replaced Walter Gropius as director, until 1933, the year the Bauhaus finally closed, photographs for brochures, advertisements, and magazine articles actively marketed the weaving workshop’s textile designs to a wider public of merchants and potential customers. Whereas images of the Bauhaus 1923 exhibition and one of Gropius’s Weimar office from 1924, for example, displayed the workshop’s carpets and wall hangings next to other furniture, as some of several elements in architectural space, the July 1931 issue of bauhaus zeitschrift für gestaltung revealed exquisite, carefully lit close-­ ups of fabrics.2 Bauhaus textiles moved into the public image bank just as photography was beginning to flower at the school. A flurry of images quickly saturated the field of industrial design, and like all of the products generated by the workshops, weaving soon depended on the photographic medium to give it status and definition in the world. Perhaps more than any other workshop entity, weaving had the fortune of gaining a place in the spotlight, for the intimacy of a woven texture was particularly suited to the scrutiny of the lens. The slight Cover of bauhaus zeitschrift für gestaltung, no. 2 (July 1931). Textile by Margaret Leischner, “drehergewebe Noppenstoff,” 1930. Issue design by Josef Albers. Photograph by Walter Peterhans. Bauhaus-­ Archiv Berlin. Th e H ap t i c s o f Op t i c s 81 swellings, recesses, and shadows produced by the crossing of weft and warp, the way the fabric folded or creased, or the subtlety of the tactile sensations generated by wool against cellophane seemed infinitely refined when framed by the sharp focus of a precise optical apparatus. The beautiful full-­ page spreads of textiles in the special weaving issue of bauhaus zeitschrift fell in line with the recent advertisement photography that had been developing for at least a few years. The cover’s photograph of a textile design by Margaret Leischner taken by Walter Peterhans had already been published in 1930 in the Czech journal ReD for a special issue on the school. Alongside an image of Anni Albers’s soundproofing and light-­ reflective fabric documented by Zeiss Ikon (the camera lens manufacturer), Peterhans’s photograph helped to present textiles as structurally, materially, and industrially sophisticated products. With detailed, close-­up photography, the textures came into focus, and with framing that implied the potentially infinite dimensions of swaths of fabric, the photographs highlighted the textiles’ tactile conditions. The increased frequency of photographic presentations of weaving at this time was in part responsible for prompting Berger to theorize an aspect of cloth that had largely gone uninvestigated, until her essay “Stoffe im Raum” (Fabrics in Space) of 1930. The Bauhaus weaving workshop had been exploring the formal, structural , and functional possibilities of textiles, explicitly placing their medium in comparison with architecture, and had developed theories that harnessed the language of the Neues Bauen. But to understand further the specificity of their craft, Berger sought a different, if related, route. Through a subtle and perhaps counterintuitive response to photography, she insisted on the tactility of different materials (the smoothness of silk or the roughness of jute, for instance) as well as the fabric’s contact with the kinesthetic movements of the body within architectural space (with curtains or upholstery fabric). Indeed, although Berger may not have realized just how polemical her article was (it was seemingly ignored by the larger Bauhaus circle), its theory of weaving resonated with debates that were critical to this moment. Berger’s essay participated in a discussion on the sensory status of objects, drawing on a paradigm within art circles in which the optical was distinguished 82 Th e H ap t...


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