'Minglings' exhibit celebrates Chinese culture at the Flint Institute of Arts

FLINT, MichiganFrom now through October 9, the Flint Institute of Arts is host to Minglings: A Journey Across Time. The exhibition is a mixed-medium art exploration that takes root in China’s Ming Dynasty between 1368 and 1644 and ends at the creator Gerhardt Knodel’s studio in Pontiac, MI.

Located in FIA’s Harris-Burger Gallery, the intimate collection holds 21 pieces that were meticulously crafted out of natural and synthetic fibers, including sculptures, tapestries, and drawings. 

Inspired by a tapestry remnant from the Ming Dynasty, Knodel has contributed to the “evolution and identity of contemporary work in the fiber medium” for over four decades as a specialist. He holds numerous awards, including The Japan-American Friendship Fellowship, the Gold Medal Award from the American Crafts Council in 2018, and the Distinguished Educators Award from the James Renwick Alliance of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Knodel spent much of that as Artist-in-Residence, then director, and now Director Emeritus of Cranbrook Academy of Art. Gerhardt Knodel, American, born 1940 The Journey: Departure, n.d. Mixed textiles 132 x 84 inches. Courtesy of the artist Photo credit: P D Rearik.

“As I was cleaning one of the tables in the studio, I found a little plastic bag and inside it [a textile] which I’ve had for years. Very interestingly, I have no idea how it came into my life. [Interestingly], I looked closely and thought rather than put it back in the bag, I’m going to take a little radical action,” Knodel says on Mingling’s inception.

“I got a pair of scissors, and I cut out small rectangles from the original textiles keeping. I had about 40 pieces, looked at them for a couple of days, [and thought] let’s take one of them and attach it to a piece of drawing paper and then play this game of exquisite corpse.”  

These textiles were of flowers, butterflies, and branches woven together through traditional Chinese silk. Knodel’s game of exquisite corpse resulted in a drawing based on the original textile designs pieced together to what he called Minglings.

The exhibition pieces themselves capture the journey across time from China to Portugal through the world’s dealings with COVID-19 to his studio. Several pieces like the Greenhouse Drawings: February 21-May 5 and Reliquary for Hidden Truth illustrate Knodel’s early exhibition drawings during the pandemic, “inviting viewers into a world beyond reality.”

The capstone of Minglings is Skyhigh Over Pontiac. Continuing the flow and journey through and across time of the original piece of fabric that started it all, Knodel’s Skyhigh boasts an impressive wall of 28 kite-like forms that piece together a map of downtown Pontiac, superimposed under a flower. Its significance is vital as Knodel finished it just in time to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the founding of Oakland County.

To find more info on Minglings: A Journey Across Time and listen to the audio tour, visit the Flint Institute of Arts website.

Read more articles by Xzavier Simon.