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Converging Lines: Needlework in English Literature and Visual Arts
III/ Widening Web

Reproduction as Genealogy in Anna Torma’s Textile Art

Kirsty BELL


Diverses conceptions and pratiques de reproduction sont au cœur des œuvres de l’artiste canadienne de la broderie Anna Torma, même si les matériaux et les techniques de l’artiste entravent la reproduction manuelle, mécanique ou numérique de l’œuvre elle-même. La reproduction est à la fois un acte créateur, une généalogie littérale et métaphorique et une nécessité biologique ; elle devient une sorte de moteur de création dans les broderies de Torma. Grâce à son appropriation des œuvres artistiques d’autrui et grâce aux thèmes récurrents de biologie et d’évolution, Torma crée des généalogies artistiques et familiales qui démontrent de nouvelles manières de réfléchir à la reproduction de et dans l’art des textiles.

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  • 1 While Torma describes the 1992 version as playful and warm, the recreation 20 years later uses cold (...)

1Canadian embroidery artist Anna Torma has a compelling story about a lost work of art. In 1992, her work Everyday Poems was to be part of an international exhibition in Belgium. However, before the opening, Everyday Poems was stolen from the walls of the gallery and never recovered. About 20 years later, while preparing a retrospective for the Bellevue Art Museum in Seattle, Torma realized that she needed to include the lost work. In 2013, she recreated Everyday Poems, this time with variations that would evoke the distress at having lost the original, along with new elements that responded to world events in 2013. Torma used the same title, a similar composition, and the same embroidery techniques. The result is significantly different. Due to the parameters of her artistic medium, the vagaries of memory, and the contingent challenges – even impossibility – of accurately replicating the 1992 version, the artist chose to make a new work that includes elements of the lost piece while distinguishing itself from it in colour and some elements of content1.

2In an era of digitization and mass-production, how do textile handworks contend with intersecting practices of creating, recreating, and reproducing? With respect to reproduction in particular, in the fields of art and literary criticism, Walter Benjamin’s 1936 essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” still resonates. Because new technologies suggest to some that the virtual can replace the real, that the digital copy is a satisfactory substitute for the original, Benjamin’s assertion that “[i]n principle a work of art has always been reproducible” is worth re-examining 80 years later in the context of contemporary textile art (212). The story of her lost embroidery illustrates how Anna Torma has approached the matter of copying her own work and it suggests that reproduction of the artwork is not possible or even desirable.

3Torma’s work most often consists of multiple large transparent fabrics, embroidered with drawings and text, and she places one over the other such that the bottom layers show through the top. Many of her pieces are also double-sided, the front and back typically showing different colour schemes, but the same careful stitch work. Her work displays varied methodologies: appliqué, collage, drawing, dye-work, and thousands of hand-embroidered stitches. Plants, animals, sculptures, words, human figures, and fantastic creatures animate the panels. In describing her 2011 work Bagatelles, curator Peter Larocque uses adjectives such as “playful,” “passionate,” and “provocative,” terms that also describe her whole oeuvre. Looking at Torma’s complex large-scale embroideries, it is eminently clear why making accurate copies of such multi-dimensional, textural, and immersive art is impossible.

  • 2 In this essay, the term “appropriation” is used to convey Torma’s strategies of integrating other w (...)

4In spite of this, various concepts and practices of reproduction are central to Torma’s work, even when the artist’s materials and techniques impede manual, mechanical, or digital reproduction of the work itself. Reproduction is at once a creative act, a literal and metaphorical genealogy, and a biological imperative; it becomes a sort of guiding principle in Torma’s embroideries. Furthermore, Torma uses words and images in order to create interartistic works that explore myriad cultural and scientific topics while also offering a commentary on their own fabrication. Torma’s textiles are an exchange between explorations of reproduction as appropriation, generation and procreation on the one hand, and, on the other hand, handwork techniques that by their very nature make exact reproduction of the art itself unachievable. In order to ascertain how reproduction is productive and dynamic in this context, this analysis will look at two overlapping topics: Torma’s appropriation2 of work by other artists and artisans, from found fabrics to her husband’s original sculptures; and the interconnected themes of human sexuality, biological reproduction, and evolution in her work.

1. Torma’s use of work by other artists and artisans

5Anna Torma’s practice often involves a very literal sort of reproduction: she produces again words, images, and found textiles, placing them in a different context and reorienting their meaning. Firstly, her artistic biography underscores a line of influences and the importance of historical precedent. Born in Tarnaörs, Hungary, Torma is heir to a family tradition of needlework. She learned sewing and embroidery from her grandmother and mother. She studied at the Hungarian University of Applied Arts in Budapest, graduating in 1979. There, she discovered that the textile arts allowed her a certain freedom of expression, since they were seen as craft and were therefore spared the censorship imposed on painting and other more canonical artistic practices. Ever since, Torma has used this medium to subvert expectations and to explore a wide-range of topics, from daily life to botany to storytelling. Torma, her husband, and their two sons – all of them artists – immigrated to Canada in 1988. Since 2002, Torma has lived in Baie Verte, New Brunswick, a rural community not far from the Atlantic coast.

6Much of Torma’s work pays homage, either implicitly or explicitly to other creators, including her family members. Curator Peter Larocque identifies various traditions and artists who have influenced Torma, from “generations of needleworking customs where skilled embroiderers carry out their craft as a profession” in Europe, and Hungary more specifically, to art brut to North American avant garde artists such as Joyce Wieland and Judy Chicago who reclaimed sewing, embroidery, and quilting as art practices (6-8). Among these numerous precursors and influences, I propose to examine two examples: her use of found linens in Encyclopaedia domestica (2009), as well as the ways in which she integrates her husband’s sculptural work into Encyclopaedia domestica and Pedagogical Charts (2016). When Torma uses found linens in collages to comment on women’s domestic work, her remediation of this fabric is a form of reproduction. When she re-creates her husband’s bronze sculptures in thread, this too is a type of aesthetic reproduction. As we shall see, some specific examples from these pieces also create a bridge between the two approaches to reproduction in Torma’s work under investigation here: her use of art work by others and biological reproduction.

7Encyclopaedia domestica is a collage pieced together from found fabrics and original embroideries. This diptych has nearly monumental proportions: two large panels, each one measuring 364 by 116 cm, present hundreds of pieces of fabric. Curtains, doilies, sheets, tablecloths, old needlepoints, toile de jouy, and kitchen linens have been re-purposed and transformed by Torma into a reflection on domestic space and the place, until very recently, of women in European and North American cultures. Each fragment serves as both an entry in this encyclopaedia of everyday life and a challenge to patriarchal attitudes.

Anna Torma, Encyclopaedia domestica, 2009

Anna Torma, Encyclopaedia domestica, 2009

Fig. 1: Encyclopaedia domestica

Photo credit: István Zsakó

8The history of textile handcraft, and embroidery in particular, is closely linked with culturally determined views on women’s work, femininity, and feminism. Torma situates herself within this history, reproducing certain forms of traditional domestic craft while also renewing their meaning. When Torma talks about her large collection of found fabrics, pieces of which are integrated into Encyclopaedia domestica, her extensive knowledge and appreciation of their history is apparent. One item that recurs in the work is the falvédö, common in Hungarian households in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Used to protect walls or furniture from cooking stains, these white kitchen cloths were embellished with humorous or idyllic vignettes and proverbs, embroidered in blue or red – simple domestic items that Torma also uses as the inspiration for the Hungarian messages scattered across the work.

Anna Torma, Encyclopaedia domestica (detail), 2009

Anna Torma, Encyclopaedia domestica (detail), 2009

Fig. 2: Detail i) from Encyclopaedia domestica

Photo credit: István Zsakó

9Through the use of such fabrics, Torma’s collage reclaims the cultural value of women’s domestic work. Many of the older found pieces – doilies, a cross-stitched scene of a forest cabin and waterwheel, an embroidered cherub – could be considered kitsch and easily be dismissed as trivial. And yet Torma treats them with respect. They speak to her, she explains, and she is interested in their fabrication. She pays tribute to the women who preceded her, those who embroidered cloths and linens to decorate their homes and add a touch of colour and fantasy to everyday household items. Although Talia Schaffer’s study focuses on the ways in which mid-Victorians saw domestic craft as an extension of the woman’s body and reduced craft to a tidy, decorative product of a woman’s prettiness or elegance, her analysis also underscores a physical and emotional relationship between the craftswoman and her work that could elucidate Torma’s connection to found fabrics:

[…] by the mid-nineteenth century, the handicraft’s most visible and urgent function was to signify womanhood. Craft items were made by the home’s female inhabitant and thus appeared to be an extension of her body, as well as carrying the signs of her taste and skill. The woman’s hands had held it, her mind had planned it, her eyes had gauged it, and she had communicated something of her intangible subjectivity to the completed object. (33)

  • 3 Interview with Kirsty Bell.

10For Torma, this communication between the embroiderer and the fabric is passed to her through her collage of found textiles, themselves a physical and tangible manifestation of someone else’s work, time, imagination. The connection between Torma and these women of the past is thus carried by the fabric and by the desire to make something beautiful, so much so that Torma notes that there are “vibrations” in her compositions.3 Her view seems to align with artist Sara Impey’s remark that there is “something resonant, almost magical, about an embroidered name that echoes down the generations and has lost none of its potency today as a physical link with the past” (16). For Torma, the fabric bears witness to the dreams and disappointments of these craftswomen, who often had no choice but to tend to the home.

11Rozsika Parker’s study The Subversive Stitch. Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine analyses how “[e]mbroidery has become indelibly associated with stereotypes of femininity” and “how women were taught to embroider as an extension of themselves” (2, 14). Such views became so entrenched, particularly over the course of the 19th century, that it has been difficult to dissociate the history of the practice from traditional images of femininity, as scholars such as Parker and Talia Schaffer note. As a contemporary textile artist, Torma seems highly conscious of this history and she uses it both to create a link between herself and the women textile artisans and workers who preceded her and to challenge outdated stereotypes. As Schaffer points out, “Handicraft stages a tension between historicity and modernity. It thus simultaneously embodies tradition and allows users to complicate their relation to the idea of the past” (7). One could even claim that Torma is, in part, reproducing gestures and stereotypes of the past while transforming them into something new. Torma’s very choice of artistic medium is thus essential to her exploration of domestic roles and patriarchal attitudes in Encyclopedia domestica.

12It may seem like a long reach from traditional kitchen embroideries to the pinup-style images from the 1950s and 60s that Torma also includes in the diptych. The former are examples of work carried out by women for practical and decorative purposes; the latter, of women as objects of popular entertainment. Torma’s collage in Encyclopaedia domestica associates the prayers and proverbs from the Hungarian tea towels with cartoon cut-outs claiming “I’m sexy and I’m sure that John will be mine;” and she layers a cartoon speech bubble stating “These women will drive me crazy” on top of drawings of figures in traditional Hungarian regional clothing.

13The conjunction of these seemingly disparate objects has a number of effects. Firstly, by salvaging found materials and juxtaposing very different types of images, Torma reproduces stereotypical perceptions of expected female roles in order to subvert them. The juxtaposition of such diverse pieces has a humour and an irony that encourage us to laugh at the triteness of the pop-culture or cartoon seduction. Again, the artistic processes themselves – embroidery and collage with found textiles – play a key role since this irony stems in part from long established stereotypes that embroidery is a craft of patience, restraint, seriousness, and commitment to domesticity. We do not necessarily expect it to be abstract, whimsical, provocative, or funny. The unique combination of various textile works in Encyclopaedia domestica also encourages us to think about questions of taste in relation to era and social class. By combining eclectic elements, the collage raises the question of what characterizes different kinds of cultural production: folklore, kitsch, mass media, original art. Torma incorporates textile pieces created by others, she re-purposes them, she produces them again in a new context, and infuses them with new meanings, thereby making re-production into both a creative act and a comment on creativity.

14Torma also appropriates the work of her husband, the sculptor István Zsakó. His ithyphallic bronze warriors, with stylized birds perched on their heads, arms, and penises, as well as Torma’s numerous embroidered renderings of them, evoke archaic art and the fertility and war cults of prehistory. Torma’s reuse of her husband’s work allows her to explore further the question of originality in art and to expand her reflections on gender and sexuality. In Encyclopedia domestica, she layers and juxtaposes his explorations of the masculine with her own explorations of the feminine and with those depicted in the found fabrics. This is another way in which Torma’s work explores creative practice itself: her choices of found fabrics combined with her own original texts and drawings have metadiscursive and self-reflective dimensions since her assemblages highlight the very materials and techniques involved in their own composition.

Anna Torma, Encyclopaedia domestica (detail), 2009

Anna Torma, Encyclopaedia domestica (detail), 2009

Fig. 3: Detail ii) from Encyclopaedia domestica

Photo credit: István Zsakó

15Torma continues her use of István Zsakó’s sculptural work in her 2016 installation Pedagogical Charts, two large panels (each measuring 178 x 137cm) that include vignettes from school textbooks, anatomical drawings, plants, names of botanical and zoological treatises, and numerous human figures, both realistic and abstract. This time, her schematic drawings of her husband’s sculptures are accompanied by embroidered notes about dates, dimensions, materials, and sometimes prices. After all, to be an artist is to create and also to manage those details that will allow one to make a living. By representing both the artwork and the practical details, and by integrating them into her own work, Torma is able to emphasize the intimate, artistic, and quotidian experiences she shares with her husband. She reproduces his work in order to show how their life together – indeed their life itself – is dedicated to artistic creation.

Anna Torma, Pedagogical Charts 1, 2016

Anna Torma, Pedagogical Charts 1, 2016

Fig. 4: Pedagogical Charts 1

Photo credit: István Zsakó

2. Biological reproduction in Torma’s work

  • 4 Deleuze and Guattari note that, on the contrary, the rhizome is an antigenealogy. Hybrid, layered, (...)

16Torma’s fabric representations of her husband’s sculptures express this artistic intimacy while also hinting at a familial and biological one: not only do the sculptures and drawings play on the theme of fertility, but she and her husband have two children who are also artists. Their work and their names also make it into Torma’s embroideries, as do sketches made by her grandchildren. Torma’s appropriation and repurposing of found fabrics made by other women, of her family members’ creations, not to mention her own original embroideries and the fact that she learned this art from her grandmother and mother, create multi-level affiliations. All of these types of re-production allow Torma to create intersecting genealogies of artistic influences and of family ties. Contrary to Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s conception of genealogies as linear or arborescent,4 Torma’s heterogeneous interpretation of them resists a tidy hierarchical structure.

17The fact that Torma develops this theme of family and of inheritances in a work that also thematizes evolution and biology deepens the connection between her appropriation of others’ work and the idea of biological reproduction. These lineages, at once artistic, intimate, and biological, are evocative of the links between creation and procreation. This conception of genealogy encompasses a whole constellation of other epistemologies also related to reproduction. Motifs of human sexuality are one aspect of Torma’s complex and nuanced exploration of biological reproduction. In addition to the pop culture images of seductive women and the embroidered depictions of István Zsakó’s sculpture that we have already seen, figures of semi-clothed women are recurrent motifs (for example in Vanitas from 2011 and in Pedagogical Charts from 2016). These representations are distinct from the explorations of women’s domestic work in Encyclopedia domestica; they are more evocative of games of seduction through body language and through dress. Even the cut out images of clothing that surround the female figures in Vanitas point to the importance of sensuality, appearance, visual, and tactile appeal in human sexuality. And while we can interpret these images as representations of pleasure, we can also consider the themes of sensuality and sexuality in light of Torma’s interest in creating connections, establishing relationships, and generating lineages.

18The recurring female figures may also be seen as archetypal Eves, a mythology which points to sexuality, seduction, and motherhood, themes in Torma’s constellation of topics related to both the history and role of women, and biological reproduction and genealogy.

19Another striking element in Torma’s thematization of biological or sexual reproduction is the scientific dimension. Long interested in biology, Torma almost studied medicine. Human anatomical drawings, rendered in embroidery or in silk screen, figure prominently in many of her works. More specifically, images and words related to biological reproduction, genetics, and evolution are recurrent in a number of her embroideries. In Pedagogical Charts, references to fertility, to genetics, and to evolution abound: anatomical drawings are placed next to the Latin names of plants and to botanical images; scattered throughout are references to classic scholarly works in biology such as Lamarck’s Philosophie zoologique, Pliny’s Histoire naturelle, Darwin’s On the Origin of Species; there is also a plethora of references to evolutionary and genetic phenomena presented either in words or in images: Devonian fish, Lucy (twice), Australopithecus, homo erectus, “dominant and recessive phenotypes,” to name a few. Even her more abstract work Random Landscape contains a reference to Lucy and presents some schematic likenesses of embryos. Torma produces and reproduces these words and images, many of which recur throughout her installations; she juxtaposes eclectic motifs; she layers her fabrics, creating complex strata. All of these techniques are ways in which her work itself evokes the natural world, suggests an almost organic composition (despite its very deliberate creation), and demonstrates the generation and re-generation of meaning.

Anna Torma, Pedagogical Charts 2 (detail), 2016

Anna Torma, Pedagogical Charts 2 (detail), 2016

Fig. 5: Detail from Pedagogical Charts 2

Photo credit: István Zsakó

20Torma’s interest in biology comes in part from environmental concerns. Just as she uses Encyclopaedia domestica as a means of questioning traditional roles ascribed to women, she uses Pedagogical Charts in order to promote scientific reasoning, in order to underscore the importance of scientific fact. The use of text alongside the images accentuates Torma’s point of view on crucial social questions. Torma is one of a number of contemporary artists who use textile craft as a means of engaging with current issues. As curator Sarah Quinton explains it in a 2005 essay for the exhibition catalogue Close to you: Contemporary textiles, intimacy and popular culture, artists are

engag[ing] craft as a contemporary activity that can encapsulate personal, social and political spheres as a lens onto today’s world […] [T]hey are expanding the frame of reference for classical handcrafted textiles (private, domestic, functional, driven to a great degree by technical virtuosity) and they are doing it through their personal responses to a public environment of corporately promoted consumption. (5)

21The discursive aspect of Torma’s work – the social and environmental messages that she develops – accompanies a highly self-reflective, intermedial and meta-medial consciousness. It also underscores the ways in which Torma’s embroidered texts and images can offer a personal response to broader social and cultural concerns.

22Pedagogical Charts is not Torma’s only work to demonstrate the extraordinary interdependence of humans, plants, and animals and to explore biological reproduction as a (the?) primary life force. Her 2011 installation Bagatelles also clearly highlights the vital importance of preserving the natural world. Bagatelles is composed of 5 multi-layered double-sided panels that explore gardens, plants, and botany. The profusion of words and images lends itself to a consideration of how the plant world grows, expands, reproduces. Bagatelles also continues a long-standing tradition of gardening and embroidery. In her history of gardens in embroidery, Thomasina Beck refers to a “cross-fertilization” between the two dating at least to the 16th century since “embroidery refines the eye for the garden” and “the art of gardening generates an endless succession of ideas for needlework” (155). In this way, Torma again pays homage to the history of her art, and particularly to the women who have embroidered gardens before her.

23Furthermore, while Bagatelles is primarily about plants and the natural world, it is hard to ignore the pun in the title itself. Bagatelles obviously refers to the celebrated Parisian rose garden and also translates as “trifles” or “trivialities” in English. Furthermore, the fact that “bagatelles” is a familiar French term for a sexual liaison is pertinent to Torma’s work. Through its form, content, and title, Bagatelles connects the issues of women, the history of embroidery, biology, and sexuality.

24The fact that Torma uses embroidery to depict and comment on biological reproduction and sexuality undermines the outdated yet persistent associations between purity and embroidery. As Rozsika Parker notes:

Domestic arts were equated with virtue because they ensured that women remain at home and refrain from book learning. Ignorance was equated with innocence; domesticity was a defence against promiscuity. By the nineteenth century embroidery was to become synonymous with chastity. (75)

25Just as Torma’s use of domestic handwork in Encylopedia domestica allowed her both to create a relationship with her precursors and to subvert traditions, her depictions of sexuality and biology also play on the history of embroidery and all its attendant associations and stereotypes. Had she painted the same compositions, her explorations of women’s work and her depictions of biological reproduction and human sexuality would not carry the same weight. It is because she subverts the expectations of the medium by oscillating between both a reproduction of traditional practices and motifs and a refusal to reproduce out-dated themes that Torma’s embroidery becomes a creative means of conveying ideas about social, cultural, and scientific phenomena.

26Furthermore, we cannot ignore the fact that Torma uses the threads themselves in conjunction with her biological and anatomical texts and images to evoke, at least metaphorically, filiation, affiliation, family trees, genetic and ancestral ties. As biologists have proven and Torma has reproduced in art, there are very real organic evolving layers beyond the linguistic metaphors: the very threads and fabrics are rhizomatic, meandering, and indirect. And despite certain conceptions of genealogy and evolution as chronological, the reality is that these phenomena are not linear either. Torma’s work, with its repeated patterns, with its proliferation of images and words, with its predilection for curving organic forms, underscores this. For the viewer, Torma’s large-scale embroidered works are exploratory spaces that cannot be “read” in a linear manner either. The focus is on the sensual, the haptic, and the textural. Viewing them is an intellectual and a sensory experience that corresponds with the notion that reproduction is, for Torma, less about copying than it is about generation, propagation, and multiplication.

27For Torma, the technique of embroidery is one of repetition, patience and time, as she adds stitch upon stitch, layer upon layer. She can complete two embroidery hoops a day. It is almost as if time itself is marked by the accumulation of stitches. With its iterative and incremental nature, we could even liken the process itself to a sort of evolution. Curator and critic Petra Halkes takes this analogy even further:

Working with the movement of the needle and thread, up and down, behind and in front, over and through, back and forth, gathering and dispersing, repeating and renewing, holding on and letting go… is being in touch with the flow of life itself. (12)

28All of these aspects of Torma’s art and handwork, along with her interest in motifs that repeat, with variations in colour, tone, shape or scale, act as a multi-facetted response to the sameness and anonymity of mass-production, as other craft often does. While celebrating proliferation, Torma’s work is also a celebration of the individual and of the identity of self: her own, her family, the artists and craftswomen whose work she re-produces in her own, and even the scientific figures whose writings she references in thread in her embroidered panels.

29Finally, in the case of the found fabrics, the material itself is what ties Torma’s embroidery to the work of other generations of women. Likewise, in the case of the silk, linen, and cotton fabric and threads, the material is what ties Torma’s work to the life cycles and reproduction in the natural world that so inspires her. In other words, the fibres are an index, according to C. S. Peirce’s typology: they are a very part of the cultural heritage of previous generations and, as organic material, they come directly from the biological life cycle that Torma explores. Walter Benjamin talks about the “unique existence of the work of art” and the authenticity and authority of the original. What seems important here is less the question of authority, and rather the “unique presence” of the hand of the artist (217, 214). Even if a machine could reproduce the myriad techniques Torma uses in a single work, her acts of creativity and patience would be lost, as would be the very literal connection of generations that seems to define her practice. By using techniques inherited from her grandmother and mother and by choosing materials, techniques, and themes that evoke diverse genealogies, Torma creates an aesthetic of generating and appropriating, of producing and re-producing, that defines her practice. For Torma and her craft, reproducibility is an aesthetic and epistemological choice, perhaps even a cognitive model, a way of thinking and of viewing our place in the world.

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Ashley, Kathleen and Véronique Plesch. “The Cultural Processes of ‘Appropriation’.” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, vol. 32, no. 1, Winter 2002, pp. 1-15.

Balint, Adina and Kirsty Bell. “L’imprévisible à l’œuvre : les aléas du processus de création.” Nouvelle Revue Synergies Canada, “(Se)Raconter la création” dir. Adina Balint and Kirsty Bell, no. 10 (2017).

Beck, Thomasina. Gardening with Silk and Gold: A History of Gardens in Embroidery. David & Charles, 1997.

Bell, Kirsty. “Filiations : lieux artistiques et mythologiques d’Anna Torma”/“Filiations: Anna Torma’s artistic and mythological sites.” Translated by Helge Dascher, Les Mythologies singulières, Les Éditions de Mévius, 2016, pp. 18-31.

Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Translated by Harry Zohn, edited by Hannah Arendt, Illuminations, Fontana/HarperCollins, 1992, pp. 211-244.

Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. Mille plateaux : capitalisme et schizophrénie. Les Éditions de Minuit, 1980.

Halkes, Petra. “A Life of Lines.” Anna Torma. Tangled, with Past Tales, exhibition catalogue. L. A. Pai Gallery, 2015.

Impey, Sara. Text in Textile Art. Batsford, 2013.

Kellman, Tila. “Anna Torma: From Narrative into Uncertainty.” Anna Torma. Bagatelles and Other Layers, exhibition catalogue, St. Francis Xavier University Art Gallery, 2014.

Larocque, Peter. “Anna Torma. Bagatelles.” Exhibition catalogue, New Brunswick Museum, 2011.

Peirce, C. S. Semiotics and Significs. Edited by Charles Hardwick, Indiana UP, 1977.

Parker, Roszika. The Subversive Stitch. The Women’s Press, 1984.

Quinton, Sarah. Close to You: Contemporary Textiles Intimacy & Popular Culture. Textile Museum Canada/ABC Art Books Canada, 2008.

Torma, Anna.

Torma, Anna. Personal interview with Kirsty Bell. 3 Mar. 2014.

List of illustrations

Fig. 1: Anna Torma, Encyclopaedia domestica, 2009. Photo credit: István Zsakó.

Fig. 2: Anna Torma, Encyclopaedia domestica (detail), 2009. Photo credit: István Zsakó.

Fig. 3: Anna Torma, Encyclopaedia domestica (detail), 2009. Photo credit: István Zsakó.

Fig. 4: Anna Torma, Pedagogical Charts 1, 2016. Photo credit: István Zsakó.

Fig. 5: Anna Torma, Pedagogical Charts 2 (detail), 2016. Photo credit: István Zsakó.

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1 While Torma describes the 1992 version as playful and warm, the recreation 20 years later uses colder metallic tones, giving a particular colour and form to the loss itself. For Torma, the metallic tones repulse the spectator, creating distance between viewer and the work, thereby reflecting and evoking the loss. In an interview with me, Torma noted that the somber colours also allude to world events, such as the Boston marathon massacre in April 2013, that were in the news as she was recreating Everyday Poems. Therefore, the recreation does re-produce some elements of the original, but also opens the possibility of responding to subsequent events and feelings.

2 In this essay, the term “appropriation” is used to convey Torma’s strategies of integrating other works of art and craft into her own, not to suggest a dynamic of imposed power. Likewise, Kathleen Ashley and Véronique Plesch agree that appropriation in art is not always used to gain power over another: “What all of these recent postcolonial analyses suggest is that ‘appropriation’ is potentially a two-way process, one in which exchange and creative response may take place” (6).

3 Interview with Kirsty Bell.

4 Deleuze and Guattari note that, on the contrary, the rhizome is an antigenealogy. Hybrid, layered, and multifaceted work such as Torma’s seems to alter these conceptions.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Anna Torma, Encyclopaedia domestica, 2009
Légende Fig. 1: Encyclopaedia domestica
Fichier image/jpeg, 180k
Titre Anna Torma, Encyclopaedia domestica (detail), 2009
Légende Fig. 2: Detail i) from Encyclopaedia domestica
Fichier image/jpeg, 196k
Titre Anna Torma, Encyclopaedia domestica (detail), 2009
Légende Fig. 3: Detail ii) from Encyclopaedia domestica
Fichier image/jpeg, 180k
Titre Anna Torma, Pedagogical Charts 1, 2016
Légende Fig. 4: Pedagogical Charts 1
Fichier image/jpeg, 252k
Titre Anna Torma, Pedagogical Charts 2 (detail), 2016
Légende Fig. 5: Detail from Pedagogical Charts 2
Fichier image/jpeg, 200k
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Kirsty BELL, « Reproduction as Genealogy in Anna Torma’s Textile Art »E-rea [En ligne], 16.1 | 2018, mis en ligne le 15 décembre 2018, consulté le 17 janvier 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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Kirsty BELL

Mount Allison University, New Brunswick, Canada
Kirsty Bell is Associate Professor of French at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Canada. Her areas of research include representations of artists in fiction, ekphrasis, and discourses of creation in visual and literary arts.

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