Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Power of making

This exhibition at the V&A is a celebration of contemporary craftsmanship. I have seen it three times now. My first visit took place soon after it opened, it was packed with people and it was difficult to see the exhibits let alone read the labels and there was no list of exhibits – the handout was a glossary of craft techniques and processes without indicating to which exhibit they referred.

My initial reaction was annoyance that the items were not being given adequate space and there was no list of what there was to see. A good example was Susie MacMurray’s ‘Widow’, a black dress pierced with long steel pins, which was in a case with other ‘garments’. In contrast, in her recent solo exhibition a similar dress ‘A mixture of frailties’ had a room to itself, presumably because in that case it was being treated as art rather than craft.

I later read that the curator of Power of making had been inspired by the way objects are displayed in the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, based on their function and how they solve a particular problem. As a contemporary cabinet of curiosities Power of making is successful. It includes a range of crafts and shows how those skills can be used in a contemporary way to make functional and decorative objects.

My subsequent visits to the exhibition were more successful than the first, mainly because the crowds were not so large and it was possible to spend more time looking at the exhibits. There were several fascinating things on show and some of my favourites were ‘Alphabet’ a series of pencil stubs with the alphabet sculpted from their lead points by Dalton Ghetti (shown in the photo), ‘Physalis earrings’ by Nora Fok, and Susie MacMurray’s dress ‘Widow’. Many of the exhibits were ingenious as well as beautifully made, hence my third visit, but I would have liked to have had the time and space to look at them in more detail.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Magnetized space

This exhibition of the work of Lygia Pape is being held at the Serpentine Gallery. The centrepiece of the exhibition is ‘Web’, as series of thin threads tightly strung in interlocking, sloping columns from the floor to ceiling, lit so that different parts of the work are visible as you move round it. I first saw it in Venice (from where this image comes) but felt it was more effective here, probably because the space was more intimate and the lighting was more effective at producing an ethereal feeling as the columns seemed to float above the floor.

Other pieces in the exhibition included ‘Book of time’ a series of brightly coloured blocks with sections cut out of them, painted in contrasting colours and applied to the surface in different arrangements. This piece filled the entire wall and was quite fascinating for the ingenious way the shapes had been reconfigured. It complemented a series of paper explorations into folding and cutting and a film of pages from a ‘Book of creation’ being unfolded to produce different shapes and forms. Many of these would be a useful start for thinking about three-dimensional work.

I also found the engravings interesting. These included ‘Weavings’ which are woodcut shapes on Japanese paper and a series of panels of parallel lines with shapes ‘cut’ out of them and placed at angles to the original lines. They seemed so simple yet had obviously taken time to produce and construct and further reflection revealed that the shapes would not fit back into the spaces left for them.

There was a lot to see and think about in this exhibition, but the star of the show was definitely the ‘Web’.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Material matrices

This is a solo exhibition by Catherine Dormor at the St Pancras Crypt Gallery. It focuses on the structure and behaviour of textiles to explore the link between touch and sight as registers of perception and is part of her PhD research.

St Pancras Crypt Gallery is a large gallery containing many different sized spaces, nooks and crannies and Catherine has used the space well; it felt full without being crowded. The exhibition includes sculptural work and hangings, as well as video and audio to express properties of cloth such as oscillation, caress and shimmer. The work varies from the detailed properties of cloth in the ‘within’ series of lightboxes, which focuses on individual threads, to the overall feeling of that cloth against skin in ‘skin-flow’ to express the perception of cloth. The image shows Catherine with ‘becoming’ in the main vault of the gallery.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

The eyes of the skin

This is Susie MacMurray’s first solo show and it is being displayed at Agnew’s Gallery in London. She transforms common objects such as wine glasses, gloves, feathers and hair into beautiful sculptures that are not quite what they seem at first glance and comment on the human, generally the female, condition.

‘Maiden’ is a traditional glass fronted picture frame enclosing, or trapping, a line of fish hooks attached to the background by human hair. This cleverly references so many aspects of maidenhood, the loops of hair, the fine hooks waiting to trap or be trapped, the idea of plenty of fish in the sea and the fact that the entire line is identical and itself trapped behind glass.

‘A mixture of frailties’ also addresses the female condition. A white wedding dress made entirely of rubber gloves stands serene as it billows out into the room. The fingers of the gloves form a beautiful scalloped edge to the skirt, but what a cautionary tale they suggest. This has resonances with ‘Widow’ another dress by MacMurray presently on show in the Power of Making exhibition at the V&A. By contrast, ‘Widow’ is made of black leather and incorporates 43 kg of long dressmakers’ pins in fine rows forming glittering sharp fringes down the length of the dress.

The show at Agnew’s also includes some of MacMurray’s pen drawings of hair nets, which she has used in previous installations. These are large, well over a metre in both dimensions, and beautiful in their detail.

What appeals about this exhibition, and in fact all of MacMurray’s work, is that the work is beautiful but has sinister undertones, the familiar becomes strange and we are seduced and repulsed at the same time.