Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Lost in lace

This exhibition, curated by Lesley Millar, brings together a group of international artists who reference lace in their work, some of them quite tenuously others more overtly. The exhibition fills the Gas Hall at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and spills out in to the foyer and on to the street over the entrance, so there is plenty to see.

Annie Bascoul, Piper Shepard and Michael Brennand-Wood have use lace as a basis for their work for many years and the pieces they present here are all large and stunning. Annie Bascoul has produced over sized Alencon needlelace to form a wall enclosing a feather bed hung over an erotic French poem written in wire. Piper Shepard has reproduced a point de gaze needlelace flounce by hand cutting and perforating black paper. This again is very large, hanging between the columns of the hall, and in fact shaped to accommodate them so that when it is exhibited again it will bear the memory of this hall. Michael Brennand-Wood has used lace themes in his work for many years. Here he has linked them to military images and emblems to produce roundels that in combination appear to look like reticella lace.

Chiharu Shiota uses black threads in her work to produce a lace-like web that encloses five long white dresses. On the night of the private view, this installation could only be seen from behind a crowd, but visiting later with fewer people around it was possible to walk further into the room and feel immersed and trapped in the web, like the ghostly dresses. Tamar Frank also uses threads to produce a web, but a more geometrical one than Shiota, rather like those string and pin pictures which were popular many years ago. The threads are linked to a light display and they are light reactive so retain a memory of the light even when the lights are extinguished, producing different patterns as you walk round them.

Nils Volker doesn’t seem to reference lace at all but his installation is very effective nonetheless. It consists of a wall of Tyvek bags that are inflated and deflated by electronic fans in such a way that the wall seems to be breathing and moving in quite a mesmerising fashion. Another unusual material is the light sensitive cement used by Alessia Giardino to produce lacelike patterns from city pollution.

The centrepiece of the exhibition is the beautiful inverted crystal cathedral by Atelier Manferdini made of strings of Swarovski crystals, which is based on Gaudi’s cathedral in Barcelona.

In all, twenty artists are represented in the exhibition and the work varies from photographs to textiles, paper and video. The accompanying catalogue is excellent, with numerous pictures of the work in development and showing how the ideas developed. I also have to declare a vested interest because I have an essay in it as well. The exhibition is definitely worth visiting to see how lace can be used as a basis for contemporary work, how it can be refigured in different materials, and how ideas about lace can be challenged.

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