Saturday 22 December 2012

We Bury Our Own

This interesting exhibition by Christian Thompson at the Pitt Rivers Museum is concerned with the repatriation not of artefacts but of photographic images and not with their physical repatriation but with what he describes as their ‘spiritual repatriation’. Christian is an Aboriginal artist and Oxford student and in We Bury Our Own he presents eight photographic self-portraits and a video installation based on his response to the Australian photographic collection at the Pitt Rivers Museum.

I was captivated by his methodology rather than the images he produces. In his artist’s statement he describes his process: ‘I lamented the passing of the flowers at the meadow, I lit candles and offered blood to the ancestral beings, looked into the black sparkling sea, donned the Oxford garb, visited the water by fire light and bowed at the knees of the old father ghost gum. I asked the photographs in the Pitt Rivers Museum to be catalysts and waited patiently to see what ideas and images would surface in the work.’

The photographs in the ethnographic archive have a direct and spiritual connection to the people depicted in them. Christian uses his art as a vehicle to deliver the spirit of the images back to the land through his self-portraits incorporating ideas about his transcultural identity. His work links to meditation and the votive. In some images he places crystals on his eyes to channel the spiritual world into the physical, and photographs himself in this way, in formal Oxford dress with the addition of flowers, butterflies, textiles or other artefacts. The resulting images appear strange and incongruous perhaps mirroring the very idea of ethnographic collections.

Thursday 13 December 2012

Past Masters: MA alumni exhibition

This exhibition in the Foyer Gallery, Farnham, shows the work of nine former MA students from the University for the Creative Arts. It includes the work of two jewellers, Tara J Murphy and Tom McDowell. Tara has continued her work with recycled objects, but has moved into using found objects from second hand sources to produce more figurative work. Tom transforms children’s drawings of animals into quirky wearable pieces. Ros Perton is a ceramicist who uses a variety of clays to question the traditional use of materials. Louise Renae Anderson is also interested in materials and describes her weaving process as a form of meditation. John Joyce’s interest in materials challenges the viewer’s notions of reality, with his sculpture of a bronze bird appearing to lift a paper carrier bag. The work of photographer, Richard Brayshaw, also aims to challenge the viewer by using psychological effects elicited by the physical environment, in particular by looking at transitions between safety and security. I found his images of steps leading into turbulent water very effective and disconcerting. The other photographer in the exhibition, Roger Buchanan, explores roadside verges.

Emma Rawson uses glass to explore the inner world of solid forms. I particularly liked her houses within houses (shown above) and the glimpses of materiality trapped within them that appeared to change as you moved round the work, referencing memories hidden within the home. Bruce Marks also uses glass to consider identity, in particular fragile states of mind, rendered as delicate glass balls lying on a bed of nails. It was interesting to see the work of these nine students, who completed their MAs over the last few years, and to see how their work has developed since their final MA shows.

Sunday 9 December 2012

Kimono designs and Japanese Lolita fashions

Having just been to Japan, I spent time in some of the department stores admiring the kimono and obi fabrics. I was also pleased to see so many women wearing the kimono on the streets and when visiting shrines and temples. I saw these three girls on the way to the Kiyomizudera Temple in Kyoto wearing their beautiful traditional kimono. I also saw some examples of the ‘sweet’ style of clothing, the photo below was taken in the Takeshita dori area of Tokyo. This style of overgrown girlishness seems slightly sinister to me though and reminiscent of Grayson Perry in his alter ego Claire.

Visiting the V&A Japanese galleries last week revealed that there are even more styles of modern Japanese clothing. The exhibition there shows examples of the sweet, gothic and punk styles as well as the Japanese Lolita look. The latter differs from the others because it is based on traditional dress rather than on Western dress. Examples range from the demure kimono by Mamechiyo Modern to designs by Takuya Angel whose work is based on machismo and samurai armour.

The photo above shows a demure kimono by Mamechiyo Modern in the V&A exhibition. Her aim according to the accompanying label is to make the kimono an affordable everyday form of clothing. She incorporates non-Japanese elements into her designs such as the headdress, choker and lace embellishments. As a Western viewer I think the traditional kimono is beautiful as it is and I can’t see the need to add foreign elements to it but perhaps if you have grown up with the traditional types you want something a bit different.

Tuesday 4 December 2012

The Lost Prince: the life and death of Henry Stuart

This exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London showed paintings, drawings, manuscripts, books, and armour reflecting the life and death of Prince Henry. He is mainly forgotten now, but at the time of his death, as an 18-year-old glamorous prince, there was a national outpouringof grief. He seems to have been an attractive character, interested in collecting art, as well as the usual male pursuits of the time such as hunting, riding and fighting and several of the portraits by Robert Peake the Elder show him in dynamic settings and poses such as hunting and on horseback. He was also interested in fine clothes and lace and the artists of the time, including the miniaturists Nicholas Hilliard and Isaac Oliver, depict these textiles in fine detail. I was particularly impressed by the depiction of the fringe on the cover over the horse in Robert Peake’s portrait of the Prince on horseback. Henry came to England as a boy of nine in 1603 shortly after his father James I inherited the throne on the death of Elizabeth I. His untimely death left his younger brother Charles as heir to the throne. After viewing the exhibition you were left wondering whether the charismatic Henry might have avoided the Civil War that erupted during the reign of Charles I with such unfortunate results for the country and, of course, the king himself.

Thursday 29 November 2012


This exhibition of contemporary art developed from lace at Nottingham Castle showed work by Lucy Brown, Joy Buttress, Nicola Donovan, Cal Lane, Teresa Whitfield and Timorous Beasties. It is part of the Lace:Here:Now project celebrating the Nottingham lace industry and showing how lace has inspired these contemporary artists.

In ‘Worn’ (above), Joy Buttress had embellished vintage undergarments to explore the disparity between women’s class status and wealth, using motifs from the Nottingham lace archive. She is interested in ‘the capacity of lace to be both beautiful and repulsive, particularly when it becomes stained, brittle and discoloured with age’. I liked the way the embroidery marked the cloth and was hidden within its folds. Suspending and lighting the work exposed its lantern-like beauty but also revealed stains which could not otherwise have been seen.

Nicola Donovan showed ‘Still’ (above) an installation in which lace machine carriages and bobbins were suspended by threads across a corner of the room forming a lace-like pattern in their immobility. I also liked her ‘Bloom’ interventions in which circular pieces of lace were stuck to small areas of the wall suggesting the appearance of mould. Timorous Beasties exhibited a black net curtain hanging from the ceiling to floor down the atrium of the stairwell, which looked effective with a strong shadow behind it. It was shown next to a drawing of antique lace by Teresa Whitfield produced as a collaborative project with 20 volunteers in Brighton. Cal Lane showed some of her cut iron lace spades and covers and Lucy Brown exhibited an installation of deconstructed lace garments. As well as the contemporary work, several pages of lace samples from the archive held by the Castle were on display. I was also interested to see the Battle of Britain lace panel produced between 1943 and 1946. In conclusion, there is plenty to see in this exhibition, both traditional lace and contemporary textiles, and it is good to see lace being used as the inspiration for contemporary work.

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Journeys in lace

This exhibition of the work of students and staff at Nottingham Trent University is based on the archive of lace held at the University. It was all of a high standard but some of the highlights for me were Tessa Acti’s lace birds from embroidered nylon mesh (shown in the image above), Chloe Blount’s hand drawn lace patterns made up of lettering telling the story of Nottingham lace, Georgina Pierce’s PVC coat machine embroidered to give a hem looking like a lace pricking, and Claire Bradshaw’s laser etched printed panel which revealed its lace as a shadow behind it. The exhibition was well displayed and the use of lighting was excellent giving interesting shadows on the floor and the walls. Examples of lace from the archive were also on display as well as an evocative film of the archive by Joy Buttress and drawings of lace and fashion designs incorporating lace; I particularly liked Yashmin-ul Siraj’s beautiful drawings. It was good to see how many innovative and varied ideas had come from a study of the lace archive.

Monday 19 November 2012


The symposium ‘Lace: heritage and contemporary textile practice’ held at Nottingham Trent University brought together a variety of interesting talks about different aspects of lace as part of the Lace:here:now project. The day began with Julian Ellis telling us about the engineering embroidery and lace work carried out by his company to produce components for industry and surgery. Teresa Whitfield then described how she produces her painstaking drawings of antique lace with a fine pen and ink. She has several pieces in an exhibition running at Nottingham Castle and the next speaker was the exhibition manager, Deborah Dean, who told us about the exhibition and introduced another participating artist, Lucy Brown, who spoke about large scale pieces deconstructing lace garments. Danica Maier talked about two of her recent lace projects. One in which she used lace ribbons and pins to produce anamorphic sexual images on the wall in an exhibition at the Courtauld Institute and another which came out of a residency in Paraguay where she worked with traditional Nanduti lacemakers to produce sexual imagery using the circular motifs of that lace. Paul Simmons from Timorous Beasties spoke next about the subversive net curtain designs that the company has produced (one of which was also displayed at the Castle exhibition). As I am researching into net curtains, I was delighted to hear him extol their virtues and suggest that they should be used more often in interior design. He also noted how difficult it is to photograph lace, particularly at windows, a problem I have also come across, and suggested that this might be one of the reasons why it is difficult to advertise net curtains to interior designers. The day ended with Lesley Millar talking about her recent exhibition ‘Lost in Lace’ at Birmingham and describing her new project ‘Transparent Boundaries’. During the day there were also opportunities to visit the lace archive, view ‘Journeys in lace’ an exhibition by staff and students at the University, and attend the private view of ‘Laceworks’, the exhibition at Nottingham Castle – I will blog about them all in separate posts. All in all, the day was a great success, it was interesting to hear about traditional lace and lace techniques being used in new and innovative ways and good to see the interest generated by the symposium and the exhibitions.

Thursday 15 November 2012

Threads of silk & gold

The full title of this exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, is ‘Threads of silk & gold: ornamental textiles from Meiji Japan’. On display are tapestries, embroideries and dyed panels produced during the Meiji era (1868-1912) in Japan mainly for foreign markets. In fact many of them were made for the world fairs held throughout the later nineteenth century to showcase the technical and artistic skills of Japanese textile makers. Interestingly the Japanese do not distinguish between fine art and craft, as we do in the West, but quickly adapted their techniques to produce panels that could be hung as fine art for the Western market. The dyed panels and tapestries in the exhibition are beautiful, but my favourites were the exquisite embroideries particularly those of the indigenous birds and flowers because the shading and stitching are so subtle. The embroidery of a fully displaying peacock on a four-panel screen is so detailed that each barb of the feathers is rendered individually. Often when images are rendered so accurately they become lifeless but here the detail makes the images appear more vital. One panel depicting a stormy sea with seagulls is so lifelike the waves appear to surge out of the fabric, while another of a hawk on a snowy pine branch is so realistic you can feel the cold of the snow. Also on display are panels of oshi-e, a technique I had not come across before, which is similar to stump work embroidery. It was often used to make plaques for shrines and incorporates three dimensional images of people, made by pasting silk fabric over padding to represent bodies and clothing and then painting the faces. It was very skilled work and highlighted the same amazing technical ability as that shown in all the textiles in this exhibition. In the end, the success of this exhibition lies in the combination of beautiful art and amazing technical skills; perhaps the Japanese are right not to distinguish between art and craft.

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Bronte Parsonage

The Bronte Parsonage at Haworth is now a museum, which is furnished and decorated as it would have been when the famous literary family lived there from 1820 to 1861. Although the building has been extended and altered since then you get a real feeling of how they lived and their daily life. The house includes many artefacts including tiny shoes and clothes belonging to Charlotte, who was only about 4 ft 10 inches tall, and her wedding bonnet. There are also fragments of fabric and lace and a sampler by Anne, as well as examples of writing and sketches by Emily and Branwell, and many other items too numerous to mention. There is a pervading air of sadness in the house though as so many of the family died early; first their mother at the age of 38 in 1821, then Maria and Elizabeth aged 11 and 10 in 1825, while 23 years later, Branwell, Emily and Anne all died within a year of each other. It seems amazing that the members of one family, living in such a remote spot, who died so young, could have produced so many masterpieces of English literature. However, despite their youth they had many life experiences, first at boarding school and then as governesses in England and Brussels, combined with the effects of illness and death in those around them. As well as drawing on their personal experience and the landscape in which they lived, they also encouraged each others writing and creativity and shared a sublime imagination.

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Gost Log: Matti Braun

Gost Log at the Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol presents a selection of works by Matti Braun. I found the most interesting to be his installation, entitled R.T./S.R./N.S, for which he has flooded a gallery with water and placed cut logs in the space, which you have to walk over to get to the following gallery. His inspiration for this piece comes from an unrealised film about an alien crashing to earth and crossing a lake by walking over lotus leaves. I visited the exhibition during half term so for part of the time the space was full of children laughing as they jumped from log to log breaking the stillness of the water and at others quiet and peaceful as the water became a calm reflective mirror. Having to watch where you walked made you more aware of space and your movement through it, and the contrast between the quiet and noise of the visitors made you more aware of the environment as a whole. The rest of the exhibition included prints, silk paintings, and textiles, usually things I would be interested in, but I did not know the references from which they developed and found that hampered my appreciation of them, whereas the installation was interesting even without knowledge of its inspiration.

Thursday 1 November 2012

Blood on silk

This exhibition of work by Fiona Davies at the Hockey Gallery, Farnham, consists of huge panels of white, silk paper hanging across the gallery forcing the audience to weave a path through them. They reference shrouds, sheets, and body tissues and seem to breathe and move as the viewer passes between them. They developed from Fiona’s experience of her father’s ‘medicalised death’ and a subsequent project looking at the use of silk microchips to monitor blood inside the body. Having made silk paper for many years, I was impressed by the sheer size of the panels, but disappointed that there was no blood on the silk. The panels are hung at least a metre from the ground and I found the sight of other people’s disembodied legs distracting although it was reminiscent of the view seen under hospital curtains. Paradoxically, I found the view from the balcony looking down into the gallery much more immersive than actually being among the sheets. That meditative view allowed the vast size and beauty of the sheets to be experienced.

Saturday 27 October 2012

Transparent boundaries: the colloquium

This colloquium at the Farnham UCA campus brought together the Transparent boundaries project participants and others working with ‘Elders’. Mary Schoeser spoke about the role of Elders in shaping contemporary textiles and brought a preview copy of her new book ‘Textiles: the art of mankind’ which is a sumptuous volume packed full of colour photographs of textiles; it is published next week. Fiona Davies explained the ideas behind her exhibition ‘Blood on Silk’ which is currently showing in the Hockey Gallery, Farnham (I’ll review it next week). The work is part of a series of installations produced as a response to her father’s last illness and exhibited in his local church in Aberdeen, Australia, and Lincoln College, Oxford, where he studied as a young man.
The European participants from the Transparent boundaries project then described their projects, details of which can be found on the website, but which are all linked by lacemaking. Gail Baxter and I are the lead artists for the UK pilot project, which is based on lace and mapping, and together with Dee Brien, the coordinator of the group we’ve been working with, we described how we produced ‘Tracks’ the lace installation currently being exhibited in the Foyer Gallery, Farnham (see my previous post Transparent boundaries: tracks). The day ended with Tony Docker telling us about an initiative for older people based on the Duke of Edinburgh scheme and, the artist, Bob White talking about the works produced by artists such as Goya, Titian and Rembrandt in their old age and how they differed from their earlier paintings. It was an interesting day that brought together many people interested in textiles and lace and their use in contemporary art.

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Transparent boundaries: Tracks

Tracks is an installation currently being exhibited in the Foyer Gallery, UCA, Farnham. It is the first part of a project Gail Baxter and I are involved in as part of the Transparent boundaries project. Transparent boundaries is an EU project including partners from the UK, Denmark, Greece and Italy, the aim of which is to increase the visibility of the Elder using lace networks. Gail and I are the lead artists for the UK and have been running a series of workshops with a group of Elders to produce this installation and other pieces which are being exhibited to coincide with the first conference linked to the project on Friday 26 October. All the members of the UK Elders group were asked to map their movements on one day in September and from this data simple line maps were generated that could be depicted by threading a silver thread through garden mesh to mimic filet lace. We have held several workshops with the Elders at which information has been shared and they have produced the ‘lace’. It has been quite a challenge to produce a lace installation that is visually interesting, inclusive of all the participants, and suitable for those who do not necessarily have any needlework skills. More projects, workshops and conferences are planned for the UK and the other EU partners and you can see more about the entire project on the Transparent boundaries website.

Sunday 21 October 2012

Nao Fukumoto at Air 3

Nao Fukumoto is taking part in this exhibition at the Crafts Study Centre, Farnham, showing the work of some of the artists in residence at nearby UCA. Nao’s hand woven and natural dyed textiles are being exhibited in the stairwell. I liked the way these shawls were finished with a few wrapped tassels and button fasteners making them easy and versatile to wear. Two other examples of Nao’s work are ikat dyed and woven, blue and white textiles incorporating subtle squares of contrasting colours. All the pieces are beautifully made and subtly coloured. I only had time for a flying visit and particularly wanted to see Nao’s work. I’m hoping to visit the exhibition again to see the work of the other artists.

Thursday 11 October 2012

Framing space

I’ve just returned from hanging the Framing space exhibition at Artworks, Milton Keynes. Four of us (Gail Baxter, Sue McLaggan, Carol Quarini, Beth Walsh) are exhibiting work that has developed from lace and lacemaking under the joint name Liminal. I’m showing one of my Whispering series of net curtains (see the image above), which is hung appropriately in front of narrow, cobwebbed, gothic windows, perfectly placed to allow the curtains to re-read the domestic. Gail’s cubes of interlinked threads and paper fibre, inspired by the layers and lacunae of archives hang beside my curtains. Entitled ‘Reading shadows’, the work is designed to be lit from several angles to reveal yet more layers to the work. Gail is also showing Mediation which includes multilayered bobbin lace hangings linked to her research into museum collections and I am also showing images from my Embedded memories series.

Sue is showing several of her beautiful neckpieces. Designed as wearable pieces they also reference the way in which clothes and accessories are used to reveal or conceal the wearer’s identity and feelings.

Beth is showing several pieces including the series shown here entitled Soundscapes. The twelve bobbin lace vignettes are combined with the sounds of the sea recorded on the coast at Sheringham, Norfolk, over the span of a year. The evocative sounds are designed to be heard through headphones as the visual record of the year is contemplated through the lace.

The exhibition runs until 3 November and there are workshops, talks and meet the artist days throughout that time.

Monday 8 October 2012

The yellow wallpaper

This exhibition at Danson House references the novella of the same name by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Curated by Tom Gallant, it contains his ‘Dress 09’ based on the story of the yellow wallpaper and complementary works by five other artists linking to Victorian culture. The novella is based on a rest cure for a Victorian woman, which requires her complete isolation in a bedroom decorated with yellow wallpaper, and describes her descent into madness as she sees a figure like herself trapped behind the wallpaper and attempts to tear the paper down to help the prisoner escape. Tom Gallant’s intricate wallpaper ‘Iris’, inspired by a William Morris pattern and containing images of all seeing eyes, and his ‘Dress 09’ both reference the novella directly. The dress, constructed in collaboration with Marios Schwab, is made of laser cut corded silk over painted silk crepe and cleverly reproduces the effect of the top layer gradually peeling away from the underlayer. The false shadow, by forming a layer of shed skin, also adds another dimension of unreality.

Two of the artists had produced site specific work for this exhibition. Fiona Curran had laser cut plywood to produce oversized wall patterns. Based on an 18th century floral silk pattern, she had embellished them with icing sugar to reference the origins of the Boyd family fortune (A delicious garden, 2011).

Ligia Bouton had combined comic book images of a superhero and Victorian wallpaper to produce an installation including images of the hero taking on ‘an army of furniture monstrosities which embodied the excesses of Victorian furniture’. This work ‘The adventures of William Morris man’ particularly resonated with me because Ligia’s anthropomorphic use of furniture has links with the way I use net curtains to comment on the domestic. As a whole, the exhibition also included furniture, photography and animation and many layers of interest, all in a gem of a venue at Danson House.

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Art of change: New directions from China

This interesting exhibition of installation art at the Hayward explores ideas of transformation and impermanence. All the artists are Chinese and most of them have become used to producing impermanent works of art, which are often closed down by the authorities, or developing performance or interactive art that can be performed anywhere. When you enter the exhibition you are confronted by Xu Zhen’s Untitled, an exercise machine that you are invited to operate by remote control involving no effort at all. Another witty piece by the same artist is Just a blink of an eye showing someone half way through falling (see the image above). To experience Happy Yingmei by Yingmei Duan you had to stoop through a tiny door to enter a grotto of twigs forming a little forest where the artist spoke poetry to you. It was quite dreamlike and intense because it was so personal. It says in the catalogue that she ‘chose to become an artist because it did not require her to speak’ which seemed strange as she was the only artist in the exhibition actually speaking. Her other piece in the show was a performance in which actors interacted with shelves on the wall, which reminded me of Francesca Woodman’s photographs.

Having made silk paper for many years I was fascinated by Liang Shaoji’s work which is all based on silkworms, apparently the silkworm symbolises generosity and its thread represents human life and history. His Nature series allows the silkworms to produce their silk on Chinese lattice windows, stones, small iron beds made by the artist and large ‘chains’ hanging from the ceiling – although I think the worms had some help in placing their silk. The lattice windows in particular were beautiful. In an installation to the side of this room there are four round trays of silkworms at various stages of their life cycle with tiny microphones on each tray; when you enter the second room you can put on headphones to hear the sounds from the different trays. Outside the room are three round panels of silk threads produced by the worms. The whole installation was quite meditative.

The exhibition shows the work of nine artists; those I’ve described are just my favourites. So there is plenty to see and also a digital archive of their previous installation work if you still want more.

Thursday 27 September 2012

Ballgowns: British glamour since 1950

This exhibition at the V&A was not quite as sumptuous as I was expecting. The problem with all clothes is that they emphasise the absence of the wearer and although many of these clothes had been worn by the famous and the glamorous, without the bodies inside them there seemed to be something missing. This was accentuated by the images projected onto the alcoves of the upper gallery of the clothes being skilfully modelled, where David Hughes’s photographs brought the dresses to life. Nonetheless there are some beautiful gowns on display even if they aren’t all ballgowns - evening dresses might have been a better description but doesn’t have the same ring to it. However, it was interesting to see the development of fashion over the years and how that has mirrored social change.

Friday 21 September 2012

Ismini Samanidou: Topography recording place and mapping surface

Ismini gave a talk about her textiles on Wednesday evening at the Crafts Study Centre where there is currently an exhibition of her work (see above). I had already visited the exhibition (see my blog Moving pictures in July) and been amazed at the expressive poetic surfaces Ismini can produce by weaving. She described her philosophy as seeing beauty in the everyday and expressed the idea that ‘through weaving you understand life better’. She comes from a scientific background and said she was drawn to weaving because it incorporates boundaries and rules. Much of her work is concerned with layers and disturbing boundaries and incorporating them to produce new surfaces and textures. She has spent time in different parts of the world photographing fascinating surfaces, leaf patterns, sand ripples, water currents and other layers linked to the elements. Her current project deals with ephemeral ever-changing cloud formations.

Ismini described her textile journey beginning with her original interest in photography and weaving, through teaching and her residencies, and her enormous piece Timeline made in 2009 for the Jerwood space, culminating in the current exhibition at the Crafts Study Centre which has brought her work of the past 10 years together. Ismini charmed us on Wednesday evening with her talk, her personality and above all with her exquisite textiles.

Monday 17 September 2012

Heatherwick Studio: Designing the extraordinary

This exhibition of the work of Thomas Heatherwick’s Studio at the V&A was fascinating and comprehensive. It covers architecture, engineering, sculpture, shop design and even Christmas cards. As you enter the exhibition you are invited to roll off your own ‘catalogue’ from the apparatus shown above. This results in a long ribbon of paper about 1 metre long and 10 cm wide, which puts you in a playful mood for what you are to see. I found it interesting to see how people then customised their ‘catalogues’ – I rolled mine up, other people folded them (zigzag or straight), some hung them over their arms and one woman used hers as a scarf. So before we’d even entered the exhibition we were being encouraged to be creative.

Many of the earlier designs had been made by Heatherwick when he was a student and had developed from folded paper and linked wooden forms (for example Pavilion 1992 at the Cass Sculpture Park which I’ve photographed before, see my post in November 2007). The exhibition is packed with interesting ideas, showing their inspiration and how they were developed. One of my favourites is the Rolling Bridge (2004) in Paddington Basin which curls up to form a hexagon on the side of the canal then unfurls to form a bridge across the water. I hadn’t realised though that it had been developed to form a Large Span Rolling Bridge where two of them unfurl from opposite sides of a river to meet seamlessly in the centre – poetry in motion. I was pleased I visited the exhibition after the Olympic ceremony because it included a model of the Olympic cauldron and videos showing how it was developed and tested - another magical engineering feat from the Heatherwick Studio. The exhibition runs until the end of the month and is definitely worth a visit.

Friday 14 September 2012

Beauty is the first test

This exhibition at the Pump House Gallery in Battersea Park explores the link between crafts and maths and extends to four floors of this light and airy gallery space. At the private view on Tuesday, Liz Cooper, the curator, gave a guided tour of the exhibits explaining the background to some of the pieces and why she had chosen them for the exhibition. Playing with counting, colour or pattern were common factors. Many of the pieces, such as Janette Matthews’ laser cut silk and Ann Sutton’s embroidered squares seemed to be formed from precise mathematical shapes but incorporated a looseness of construction that gave them increased depth. Lesley Halliwell’s spirograph shapes (shown here) also showed the makers hand as her pen ran out mid-pattern, while her series of formal patterns were produced on the insides of used envelopes, contrasting the rigid and the informal. Michael Brennand Wood’s floral patterns (shown here) also combined formal patterns with a riot of colours and floral shapes.
Mathematics underlies many of our craft processes, just think of counting and patterns, but we often incorporate them instinctively without conscious thought. As a textile practitioner this exhibition made me reconsider how interlinked maths and crafts are and how often one depends on the other. In the words of the mathematician G H Hardy, from whom the title of the exhibition originates, ‘Beauty is the first test; there is no permanent place in the world for ugly mathematics’.    

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Yorkshire Sculpture Park

The Yorkshire Sculpture Park is a beautiful, tranquil space that includes magnificent old trees, a lake and wonderful scenery. Our time was limited so we couldn’t explore the whole area instead we investigated the indoor gallery (an exhibition of Joan Miro’s work) and the area around the lake.

I was amused by the Ha-Ha bridge by Brian Fell (2006), which crosses a dip in the landscape. I’d always thought a haha was a dip at the edge of a piece of land providing a boundary without disturbing the view but this one was in an impressive woodland setting where the trees were sculptures in their own right.

It is worth a visit to the Park just to see, or I should say experience, James Turrell’s Deer Shelter (2006). The installation is formed from a former deer shelter and the access from the front is through a banked entrance that resembles a prehistoric long barrow. You then have to enter a small passage and find your way to a chamber with stone seating round its edge and an open roof space, which again feels like entering an ancient sacred space. The stone seating is constructed with a sloping back so you look up to the open sky through the roof. Seeing the sky framed yet moving and shifting is mesmerising and very meditative. Turrell’s aim was to ‘create an experience of wordless thought’ in this ‘Skyspace’ and he has achieved this beautifully.

Our walk down to the lake led us through grazing sheep and past a weir. On the other side of the lake, David Nash’s 71 charred and oiled oak steps looked impressive leading up the hillside but we did not have time to explore them. I feel I only had a quick sample of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, but I was impressed with what I saw and will definitely pay it another visit when I have more time to explore it fully.

Friday 31 August 2012

Cloth and memory: Dismantling the exhibition

It was very sad to take down the Cloth and memory exhibition on Tuesday. It seems only yesterday we were hanging it all. The room seemed empty and forlorn with nothing hanging on the walls or windows and everything packed into a few cardboard boxes. Although it does show what a large exhibition can be produced from two or three boxes and a few folded curtains! However, a memory of the installation remains embedded in the fabric of the building and will always be part of the history of Salts Mill. Remnants of pins and tally marks remain as silent witnesses to the exhibition as the door closes and the room enfolds its memories and secrets once again.

Thursday 30 August 2012

Cloth and memory: The seminar

About 30 people attended the Cloth and memory seminar on Friday 24 August at Salts Mill. We three artists (Carol Quarini, Beverly Ayling-Smith, Bob White), the curator (Lesley Millar) and the Chair (June Hill) discussed the exhibition and the ideas behind it with the audience. Some of the main themes centred around how memories are recorded and embedded and how metaphor is used to explore these ideas.

I was asked what drew me to the gothic and explained that it was the boundaries delimited in the gothic and their unstable, permeable nature that attracted me. I am interested in liminal spaces, fluid boundaries and transparent membranes as much for what they reveal as what they conceal. I am also drawn to things that can be sensed but not seen. I try and use this ambiguity and fluidity in my work to incorporate multiple layers of meaning. These ideas of layers and fluidity are also used by Beverly and Bob in their work.

It was pointed out that the pins in my installation were beginning to rust but I felt this was a positive engagement with the site as the pins were embedding themselves into the fabric of the building. A member of the audience pointed out that pins were also used as amulets and thrown down pin wells in Yorkshire as talismans for good luck. I had not considered that before so I will follow that idea up. The theme of repressed violence in my installation expressed in the pins and needles piercing the cloth and the images of broken shards of glass was also discussed. Talking about gothic novels revealed a couple I had not read but which seem pertinent to my work. Asked whether I might consider writing a gothic novel I replied that my installation was a small narrative of its own and I think I shall stick to the medium of textiles rather than print!

Saturday 28 July 2012

Moving pictures

This exhibition of weaving by Ismini Samanidou at the Crafts Study centre contains some beautiful pieces. She is interested in observing time and place, and her recent work seems to involve taking photos to record fragments of places such as crumbling walls, peeling paint and clouds and then reconstructing the surfaces on woven textiles. For students of weaving there is a wealth of information here: there are mood boards, photos, work in progress and numerous samples showing how she works and where her inspiration comes from. However, I was just impressed by the beauty of the hangings. My favourite was Momijigari, a piece she made in response to visiting the maple tree gardens in Kyoto. There were so many layers and shadows and hints of trees and leaves held within it that it seemed to have captured the essence of the trees themselves – just beautiful.

Tuesday 17 July 2012

Cloth and memory: The theme

The Cloth and Memory exhibition opened at Salts Mill on Saturday and runs until 27 August. Now it is all up and open I thought I’d write about the theme behind my installation, which explores the process by which memories are embedded into cloth and the fabric of a building.

When I came to Salts Mill for my first research visit I was struck by the atmosphere in this room and the layers of peeling paint whispering of hidden stories embed in the fabric of the walls. The large windows are the main feature of the room and when I first came here they showed a gradual progression of being blocked up, which suggested the idea that the room was gradually closing in on itself and its memories.

So I imagined a young woman sitting in the corner sewing and the installation starts in the corner with her chair and embroidery frame suggesting she has just left the room. But when we look at the curtains behind we see that they are pierced by pins and needles in the traditional tally pattern of counting units of five. This contrasts with our idea of the contented seamstress because these marks also suggest a prisoner marking time, while the misuse of sewing equipment suggests a subversion of the domestic.

At the second window is a similar net curtain but the ends of this one seem to be gradually solidifying and turning into stiff board. The curtain has lost its airy transparent nature and is becoming hard and opaque. In the third window we see the next stage of the process - the net curtain is being absorbed into the cardboard and the tally marks are metamorphosing into chalk marks on board. The succeeding windows show the card being gradually turned into brick and the tally marks seeping into the walls until by the sixth window they disappear completely, suggesting the windows are insidiously becoming blocked up as cloth turns to stone, sanctuary becomes prison, and memories become part of the fabric of the room.

Are we just witnessing the embedding of memories over time? Perhaps not - the cross stitch samplers between the windows reveal the thoughts of the trapped embroiderer. The full text of the sampler reads: ‘I sew a long seam and my pins and needles help me for sometimes the thread escapes me’ but when parts of it are removed we find hidden messages within the main text saying ‘help me’ and ‘I long for escape’.

Beside the ‘windows’ hang three small net curtains, embellished with tambour lace trims that include the ambiguous phrases, ‘I never laid a finger on her’ ‘I can see through you’ and ‘Appearances can be deceptive’. They are all phrases that could be used to describe any net curtain, none of them have fingers, they can be seen through and they mask appearances. But here the curtains seem to be discussing a situation suggesting that they have agency and are playing an active role in the events of the room.

‘I never laid a finger on her’ suggests that someone has come to some harm and the speaker is protesting their innocence. ‘I can see through you’ indicates that someone has been found out. While ‘appearances can be deceptive’ indicates that all is not as it seems.

Photographic images of those three curtains, taken in sites within Salts Mill, seem to confirm this. We see the curtains trying to hide the evidence, obscuring the view and showing that appearances can be deceptive.

So rather than revealing the gradual solidification of memory with the passage of time we seem to be witnessing its gradual erasure and destruction of the evidence.

Further images of the curtain pierced with pins and needles reflect the claustrophobia of living behind bars however small and feminine they may be. And show that the scars remain even when the illusion of freedom is attained and the thread that binds is loosened.

So although something is trying to erase the memories in the room and destroy the evidence we are left with the idea that memories do remain embedded in cloth whatever the attempts to eliminate them.

Friday 13 July 2012

Cloth and memory: Setting up

We’ve spent this week setting up the Cloth and memory exhibition. Everyone at Salts Mill has been extremely helpful and although it’s been tiring it has also been fun. It’s great to see everything in place at last because with such a large installation you never really know whether it is all going to work as a whole until you see it in place at the venue.

I tried as much as possible to get everything ready in my studio and pack it into units that were fairly easy to transport and were ready to be installed at the site. With the invaluable help of Gail Baxter (who also took these photos) and Dave at Salts Mill we managed to hang 4 long curtains (over 3 metres each) pierced with pins and needles, and 3 small curtains with tambour lace on them. We also attached 4 big pieces of cardboard with pins or tallies on them to the wall. We also hung 4 samplers and 9 large photographs (1 metre by 66 cm each) and installed a DVD. The only thing I had to do at the site was to mark some of the bricks with tallies – which I could only do in situ.

I’m pleased with the way it has all come together and I’m looking forward to the official opening tomorrow. The exhibition runs until 27 August and also features the work of Beverly Ayling-Smith and Bob White.

Monday 2 July 2012

Cloth and memory: transitions

The idea behind my installation for the Cloth and memory exhibition, to be held at Salts Mill over the summer, is that the windows are gradually being blocked up trapping the inhabitant of the room. So each window has to show a progression from the one before it. When I first saw the room my work is being exhibited in, the third window was blocked up by thick card so I decided to use cardboard as a backing for that window. Therefore the first window has a net curtain hanging at it, the second window has a net curtain with card backing behind the lower half suggesting it is being turned to stone and the third window is mainly cardboard with the remains of the curtain on it as you can see here.

I started by applying the cloth to the cardboard but realised that the join between the two had to be more subtle and suggest that the cloth was becoming part of the fabric of the building. I then set about distressing the cloth with scissors and a blade – not as easy as you might think because the pins kept pinging out of the cloth and I had to keep searching for them, then finding where they’d come from and replacing them. When I thought the cloth was distressed enough I glued it to the card and then added some tallies to the bare card to fill the remainder of the window. The idea being that the tallies metamorphose from pins to marks on the card, then to marks on the bricks of the building, and finally in the last window they disappear completely as they have been absorbed into the fabric of the building.

Thursday 21 June 2012

Cloth and memory: Marking time

I have been so busy adding pins and needles to my curtains for the Salts Mill exhibition that I haven’t had time to blog or do much else. It took me 8 hours to add all the pins to the first curtain and although I’ve speeded up since then it still takes well over 7 hours to complete each one. It certainly represents marking time and embodies the relentlessness and tedium of such a repetitive task. As well as pinning the curtains I’ve been writing my statement for the catalogue, choosing images and writing captions as well as various admin tasks like working out insurance values and organising all the fixtures and fittings I’ll need to hang everything. The exhibition opens on 14 July and we are hanging during the previous week so not long to go now.

Thursday 7 June 2012

Cloth and memory: Curtains

I have now made the curtains for my installation at Salts Mill as part of the Cloth and memory exhibition to be shown in the summer. They are over 3 m long and I have made four of them so far. Unfortunately the fabric I bought was not quite wide enough to span the window space so instead of making one curtain for each window I’ve had to make two, by cutting the material in half and adding a lace trim to each edge. I’ve finished them off with a frill along the bottom so they look similar to the smaller curtains I’m using on the other side of the room. Now I have to add the pins and needles to them which is quite a task as three of the curtains have to be covered in pins and the fourth has to be more than half covered. I’m going to leave them out in my studio so I can add a few pins every time I pass them.