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.