Friday, 30 November 2007

Indigo a blue to dye for

I saw this Whitworth Art Gallery Touring Exhibition at the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery. The part about the history of indigo dying was interesting and there were some lovely pieces of work illustrating the different uses of indigo.
I was most interested in the modern pieces, particularly the installation by Hiroyuki Shindo. It was made up of eight panels each comprising three parts: the central one in each hanging was patterned and the outer ones were plain, several of the outer pieces were see through. This made the piece seem lighter than I was expecting because the eight panels wafted slightly in the breeze. The sections of the panels were loosely joined by open stitching, which also enhanced their lightness. The installation was hung with four panels on each side and dyed indigo balls of string were placed on the floor in the central area. I thought this worked well because it tied the whole piece together and made it an installation rather than eight separate hangings. Unfortunately photography was not allowed.

Crafts magazine

Nice to see Crafts referencing lace on its front cover with a lace pricking and pins. All thanks to Catherine Bertola and the fact that she is exhibiting at the V&A in their craft for the 21st century exhibition ‘Out of the ordinary’. This issue has a review of the exhibition and also an article on the lace produced by Urh Sobocan and his grandmother Iva (see blog below).

Linked by a thread

This is the title of an article in Crafts number 209 on the lace produced by Urh Sobocan and his grandmother Iva. The combination of expert lacemaker and graphic designer has worked well and they have produced very individual work that retells their family story. Urh has also reworked the images digitally to produce interesting three-dimensional effects and shadows. Their website is

Fabrications, Craft in the 21st century

This symposium was held on Friday 23 November 2007 at the V&A in conjunction with the exhibition Out of the ordinary. I have full notes in my file but the main themes I found interesting are mentioned here.

Displaced making, when artists have their work made by professional fabricators, was discussed. The general consensus seemed to be that if this was acknowledge it was acceptable although many galleries have a problem with it because there are problems over authorship. Many of the works in Out of the Ordinary had required collaboration, for example between craftspeople and film makers and this seems to be the path crafts is taking.

In a discussion on displaying crafts, Jorunn Veiteberg noted that a white room is not a neutral setting for craft. Also, the amount of space round an artwork indicates its prestige and value. She also reminded us that experience is always mediated and that while aesthetics are still relevant in craft they are no longer relevant in art.

Sorrel Hershberg noted that what you call yourself affects the status of your work as does where it is shown. She also told us that in general craft horizons are seen as narrow – why limit yourself to only one thing? Immersing yourself in one technique hinders your design. This is why many artists embrace the technique of craft but refuse its nomenclature. I found this slightly confusing because I can see sticking to one craft could be limiting, but painters and sculptors generally stick to one ‘craft’ and no one accuses them of being limited!

Charley Peters concluded by saying that the V&A tries not to be the museum of technique. He noted that you don’t go to the Tate and see how paintings are made. I completely agree with this, so many people in the crafts world want to add technique to exhibitions, but all it does is devalue the ideas because you are effectively saying “look this is so easy anyone can do it” without explaining that it takes years to develop craft techniques to a high standard and beautiful craft is no use without the conceptual input into the work.

Out of the ordinary: spectacular craft

This exhibition at the V&A runs from 13 November 2007 to 17 February 2008. It includes eight artists who use crafts in a modern way. Their aim has been to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary and they have achieved this.

Olu Amoda uses nails and found metals objects to produce sculptures that have a very lace-like quality. He says that nails are small but lethal: a nail is able to defend itself but yields to the will of the craftsman – as do the pins Anne Wilson (see below) uses, and those used by lacemakers.

Catherine Bertola creates site specific installations that tell a story about the history of a space. She has used dust collected from the Museum to produce wallpaper that reflects on the past. I thought the way she had used units of cut paper to do this was useful to bear in mind for my own practice.

Annie Catrell uses glass to produce images that make the invisible visible and the ethereal solid. Her glass towers appear to trap tiny scraps of cloud.

Susan Collis produces work that at first appears to be stained and marked but on closer inspection reveals itself to have been finely worked.

Naomi Filmer is a jeweller who celebrates the human form by producing casts of different parts of the body and isolating them in glass lenses.

Anne Wilson and her team have produced a large map-like drawing on a table using bits of lace and pins. She has also used an animated film to show how the piece was made. The use of lace and pins in a non-lacemaking sense was interesting – the pins were used to pin down the lace specimens like insects rather than aid their production. The animated film was very effective and gave the pieces of lace and the pins a life of their own.

One of the main themes of the exhibition was show much collaboration there had been between the makers and those helping them to produce animations, sound tracks and display materials. Craftsmen are no longer working on their own in a vacuum. Craft has become a collaborative process. However, this may lead to problems with authorship, some of which were addressed in the symposium ‘Fabrications, craft in the 21st century’ which coincided with the exhibition.

Simon Periton

Simon Periton had decorated the tunnel leading from the underground passageway to the V&A with his piece ‘The anti (sic) room of the Mae Queen’. He usually works with paper but all this work was in metal. His aim was to make a chamber in which an icon of the Golden Age of cinema merges with the pagan goddess of life. The references to Mae West and the May Queen eluded me when I saw this installation, but it formed a very attractive entrance into the V&A nonetheless. However, his use of units may be something I reference in my own practice.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Urban FIELD Symposium

This symposium was organised by the Craft Study Centre and complemented the Urban FIELD Exhibition held there earlier in the year. The aim was to bring the rural and the urban into contact. The first speaker was Deidre Figueirdo who spoke about promoting craft practice in the urban setting among immigrant communities. Love Jonsson talked about the revitalisation of Swedish crafts and how craftspeople are now talking about their work in terms of craft not art or design – they are reclaiming craft with pride. They are making functional items rather than art works. He helped to set up iaspis a Swedish initiative aimed at involving Swedish craft in the international scene. Sabrina Gschwandtner the founder of KnitKnit magazine spoke after lunch. She told us how knitting in the USA is being used as performance art, graffiti and sculpture. The Graffitti group in Houston, Texas, enclose things in the street, such as door knobs and telegraph poles with knitted cosies then record people’s reaction to them and publish them on MySpace. Sabrina described other contemporary knitters including Dave Coles who makes conceptual sculptures, such as a huge teddy bear made out of insulation wadding, and Kat Maser who made the Nike protest knitting - both shown in the Radical lace and subversive knitting exhibition. Finally Ian Hunter spoke on repositioning the crafts in the context of rural regeneration and environmental sustainability. It is encouraging to see the crafts being revitalised and used in modern subversive ways. I liked the knitted graffiti. The day after the symposium I saw smoothie bottles in Sainsbury’s with little knitted hats on promoting a scheme to help the aged – so they weren’t being subversive just used to represent the elderly – bands of knitting would have been subversive but hats weren’t. That’s the fine line in crafts - you can be ironic but there is the danger that it comes over as kitsch or even the other way round!

Monday, 5 November 2007

Snow Queen

We went to see the Snow Queen at the New Theatre Oxford on Thursday night. Lots of interesting costumes particularly the red and black ones for the gypsies, the white lace-like ones for the snow maidens and the snow leopard costumes. The dancing, sets and costumes were good but somehow it lacked the wow factor we were hoping for. After some thought we decided that was because the principal dancer had no main male partner so there was no set piece pas de deux to impress us.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

The Textiles Collection at Farnham

The Textile Collection is available on line at Linda Brassington explained to us how the collection could be accessed and how the online images can be saved. The objects in the archive can be found under the headings: function, origin, maker/designer, raw materials, cloth structure and process.

Cass Sculpture Foundation open air park

The Cass Sculpture Foundation open air sculpture park featured on the Culture Show on Saturday night when it was shown from the air. There are so many amazing sculptures in this park in Goodwood and they are so beautifully displayed that it is difficult to choose a few to illustrate this blog. The first thing you see when you arrive are Wendy Ramshaw’s magnificent gates which part across the centre for you to enter. Then on your left the simple, but very effective, Loop by Ellis O’Connell.

Other favourites of mine were Thomas Heatherwick’s Pavilion (I am a great fan of his and particularly like his bridge at Paddington) and Confessional by Cathy de Monchaux.

Julian Wild’s System No. 19 appealed to me because of its lace-like qualities. On a more monumental scale I found Jon Isherwood’s Passages, origins and circumstances very interesting and I also admired how Stephen Cox had set out Catamarans on a granite wave. The study centre contained models of many of the sculptures in the park. While outside the centre was this amazing water feature that filled and emptied and refracted the images of the trees behind it.

The sculptures are all placed so that they can be admired individually and can be seen from different viewpoints and glimpsed through different avenues of trees. They are cleverly sited so that each one appears on its own and can be appreciated by walking around it but clever juxtapositions of views enhance the viewer’s experience.

Rezia Wahid exhibition

Lovely exhibition of Rezia Wahid’s cloths at the Crafts Study Centre. She uses silk and merino wool to weave fine lengths of cloth. She hangs them in air so light can travel through them. Also on display are some of her sketchbooks and a video of dancers wearing the cloths in different ways and moving with them to enhance their air-like quality. The way the cloths are displayed is the way I like my silk paper and lace pieces to be seen with light passing through them and enough space for people to walk round them. The cloths are simply hung over an acrylic rod and pinned in place, so they move with the breeze. I will also use photos of the exhibition to illustrate my research on how textiles are hung in large gallery spaces.