Exhibition View: Threads of Life

Textiles in Medicine and the Arts

Some insights from our current exhibition still on till 14 Jul 2023

About the multifaceted relationship between textiles, medicine and the arts. Presentation of historical and artistic positions that enter into a dialogue and generate productive tensions.

Image by © Installation view. The exhibition took place in the right space of AIL.


Sonja Bäumel, Pascale Maxime Ballieul, Camille Borchert, Ida Flora Frantal, Raja Goltz, Barbara Graf, Ruth Anderwald + Leonhard Grond, Elizabeth McGlynn, Ute Neuber, Katharina Sabernig, Hannah Schwab, Yuliia Strykovska, Leo Ruben Enosch Zellweger

Curatorial team:

Monika Ankele (Medical University of Vienna), Barbara Graf (University of Applied Arts Vienna), Katrin Pilz (Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Digital History, Vienna), Monika Pietrzak-Franger (University of Vienna), Barbara Putz-Plecko (University of Applied Arts Vienna), Katharina Sabernig (University of Applied Arts Vienna), Georg Vasold (University of Vienna).

The curatorial team is part of the transdisciplinary working group History of Medicine and Medical/Health Humanities of the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

Image by © Exhibition view at AIL
Image by ©

Selected Work:

Image by © Katharina Sabernig, Darm, 2016
Image by © Camille Borchert, Schnittstelle, 2022
Image by © Barbara Graf, Tuch 7 – Naht, 2014
Image by © Barbara Graf, Ohrobjekt mit Tasche, 2005
Image by © Ruth Anderwald + Leonhard Grond, Dizzy Dress, 2023
Image by © Pascale Maxime Ballieul, Making Kin with My Fictional Queer Ancestor: Being It Being They Being the Thing Being Frankenstein Being the Monster, or "Oh Jesus Chris, Lucifer is a Faggot!", 2020
Image by © Sonja Bäumel, Textured Self, 2011

Although textiles have been indispensable to medicine since time immemorial, their role in this context has been understudied so far. From the surgical thread, wound dressings, wipes, pads, and protective clothing to the hospital bed, the practices of healing are unimaginable without them. But the relationship between textiles in the arts, wellbeing and health is much broader. It includes, but is not restricted to, the use of such techniques as knitting, crocheting, weaving or braiding in the development of cardiovascular grafts or surgical meshes. The use of textiles is also ambivalent. They have found use in psychiatric institutions for the bodily restraint of patients, but patients also used them for designing their environment and creating body wrappings as survival strategies. Textiles can also be a source of ill-health: Beyond the addition of harmful substances during their production, textiles have been used in fashion for centuries to shape, deform and discipline the body according to ideals of beauty. Practitioners from the fields visual arts and artistic research reflect on this complicated relationship in manifold ways. Artists use fabrics to evoke the vulnerability of the human body, its ongoing decay and imminent death, and also to highlight the complexity of interhuman relationships. They draw attention to (self-)care, understanding the human anatomy, perceiving one’s own corporeality, and to the ways in which textiles can become an existential embodiment. Beyond the metaphorical “Threads of Life”, suturing connects the craft of surgery with that of tailoring. The exhibition spotlights the multifaceted relationships between textiles, medicine and the arts. It brings historical objects and contemporary artistic positions into a dialogue that generates productive tensions.

Photos: Paul Pibernig