Wednesday 25 January 2012

Golden spider silk cape

This golden gossamer cape on display at the V&A until June is made from the silk of over a million golden orb spiders, which are native to Madagascar. Apart from the extraordinary material it is made from, the cape is a beautiful object in its own right. It is hand woven and embroidered with motifs including spiders, while the golden colour is natural. Gossamer cloaks are unlikely to be seen on the high street though. Not only does the fabric contract when it gets wet, but it also took about 4 years to make in the workshop of Simon Peers and Nicholas Godley in Madagascar and involved a team of spider collectors as well as weavers and embroiderers.

Thursday 19 January 2012

Todo Sobre Mi Padre (All about my father)

This exhibition at the Craft Study Centre, Farnham, features the ceramics of Nicholas Arroyave-Portela and is a personal journey looking at his identity. The works are untitled but all reflect his sense of not belonging to one place and the fractured nature or multiplicity of his identity. Some of them were quite literal with shattered maps showing the route his father had taken from South America to England via Spain. Another shows a fractured Union Jack in muted colours with a shape like the outline of South America at its broken centre. These pieces reminded me of maps of tectonic plates and although I appreciated the sense of upheaval they represented I felt these were the least successful pieces in the exhibition. The work that I found more interesting was the piece with layered clay folds that appeared to ripple over each other enclosing layers of place and identity; it was less map-like, more enigmatic and therefore more subtle. Interestingly it also appeared more like a textile than the flag piece and the gradual shading from one side to the other made it appear even more three dimensional. Arroyave-Portela made his name with hand thrown vessels and some of these are also on show in this exhibition but he has now moved into making these more conceptual wall pieces.

Wednesday 11 January 2012

The Bayeux tapestry

The original Bayeux tapestry is displayed in Normandy but I discovered that Reading Museum has its own copy, embroidered in1886 by 35 members of the Leek Embroidery Society. It tells the story of the Norman invasion of England in 1066 and like all history is written from the perspective of the victors, so William’s right to the throne is emphasised and much is made of the oaths of fealty William forced Harold to swear. It is over 70 m long and about 40 cm deep and is displayed in a purpose built gallery so you can walk round and see all of it. The original is thought to have been embroidered in Kent but the names of the embroiderers are not recorded. In contrast, along the lower edge of each panel of the copy the name of the worker is embroidered. This is the only indication that the panels have been worked by different embroiderers as the work is an exact copy of the original, apart from one naked man who has been given a pair of shorts in the Victorian copy. The tapestry is beautifully displayed and well worth a visit. The Museum website about the tapestry also provides images of the entire work and lots of extra facts.

Sunday 1 January 2012

Postmodernism: style and subversion

This exhibition at the V&A looks at postmodernism as it developed from 1970 to 1990. I had not realised that it owed its origins to architectural theory but the first part of the exhibition was devoted to architects and architectural models, mainly Italian. This section was summed up by Hans Hollein’s 1980 Fa├žade for Strada Novissima, which comprises a series of full sized columns reprising the history of architecture, including one broken one hanging from the ceiling under which you have to walk to get to the following section.

The exhibition was extensive and as well as architecture included furniture, posters, clothing, jewellery and household items. Some of my favourites were Richard Notkin’s Double cooling tower teapot and Alessandro Mendini’s armchair painted in pointillist style by Paul Signac and Barbara Kruger’s ‘I shop therefore I am’ slogan on a carrier bag. Giulio Paolini’s 1984 L’altra figura made up of two identical ceramic busts on plinths staring at another bust shattered on the floor between them was also amusing and an interesting reflection on life.

Vivienne Westwood’s punk subversion of 1980s power dressing and Cinzia Ruggeri’s dress with the stepped ziggurat skirt entitled Homage to Levi Strauss were interesting reminders of the 1980s. Apparently Levi Strauss’s writing on bricolage was important for Postmodernism. I had thought bricolage was a general term to describe a means of assembling ideas but the definition in the exhibition was a ‘cut and paste assembly of existing elements by hand’.

The exhibition showed that postmodernism covered a wide range of media and ideas. It tended to be self consciously clever, amusing, ironic and inventive and to sample and appropriate ideas from many sources.