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.