Wednesday 30 January 2013

Transplantation: a sense of place and culture

This exhibition at the Crafts Study Centre, Farnham, shows the work of 12 contemporary jewellers based in Britain or Australia, who were asked to create a body of work in response to the idea of transplantation. Some such as Bridie Lander and Joungmee Do reflect on their own experiences of transplantation from one culture to another by considering the flora and fauna of the contrasting cultures. Others consider the transplantation of other people, such as Jo Pond reflecting on a community of Sisters who set up a boarding school for girls. Her thoughtful work includes small containers and thimbles and references communion, needlework and the rosary to consider the confined lives and loss of personal identity of these women.

Norman Cherry and Jack Cunningham both reflect on the Scottish diaspora; Cunningham with composite pieces incorporating fish and coral and Cherry with oxidised silver. I found Cherry’s necklace entitled ‘Bed or board’ interesting; it contains overlapping gate-like shapes, that resemble bed ends or prison bars, trapping a stylized human form and references Lincoln castle prison from where many prisoners were transported to Australia.

Lin Cheung has based her work on convict love tokens, which were given by prisoners to their loved ones before they were transported. Her work depicts a purse and a series of handmade coins made from her own melted down sentimental jewellery. Laura Potter has also made a series of artefacts known as goldweights representing items linking to the social history of Australian gold miners, while Roseanne Bartley uses found plastic artefacts to produce cartographic pieces. Jivan Astfalck has used found objects to produce a narrative of home. This work, entitled ‘Heimat’ is made up of six separate wearable pieces, including a lace collar, a brooch and some feathers, it is only when they are considered in sequence that the nostalgic story they contain can be read. In contrast, Anna Davern, Sheridan Kennedy and Nicholas Bastin have produced fantastical hybrid creatures to reflect multiple identities and unfamiliar environments. The exhibition, therefore, reflects twelve different views of transplantation, some personal, some historical, but all thought provoking.

Wednesday 23 January 2013

Mariko Mori Rebirth

This exhibition by Mariko Mori at the Royal Academy centres on the birth and death of a star. The most interesting piece is Tom Na H-Iu II, a large opaque glass monolithic structure in a darkened room. It is lit by hundreds of LED lights attached to a computer at an observatory in Japan which records the energy emitted from the explosion of a star and causes the lights to glow or darken. The effect of the lights makes the room appear to be bathed in a pink glow or mist which makes the experience seem quite ethereal and meditative. Among other works in the exhibition are a group of smaller monoliths lit by pastel coloured lights, a series of works on paper incorporating similar pastel colours and a large chain mail waterfall. Mori’s inspiration comes from ancient cultures and a universal sense of connectedness; she aims to fuse science and spiritualism. Although the work was visually pleasing I didn’t feel I was experiencing a connection with the universe. The pastel colours seemed too sugary, and part of the effect of ancient monoliths is their rough stone which has been worn by the effects of time; these monoliths seemed far too smooth and bland. So although I enjoyed the exhibition it was not as spiritually stimulating as the publicity suggested.

Thursday 17 January 2013

Fred Sandback

Although the minimalist sculptures by Fred Sandback at the David Zwirner Gallery, London, fill several rooms and the stairwell, the entire exhibition could probably be packed away into a small bag, because they are made of a few lengths of stretched acrylic yarn. The yarn is stretched horizontally, vertically or diagonally to produce planes of space that make the audience rethink ideas of space and volume. I thought the most effective were in the first gallery space, where six lines of black yarn were stretched from floor to ceiling in a diagonal line across the room, culminating in an L shape of red yarn. Although the whole piece was insubstantial it gave the impression of a solid wall in the gallery. In the same gallery, two ‘squares’ of black yarn were made from yarn stretched from floor to ceiling and joined across the top and bottom by two separate lines of yarn, producing what appeared to be two planes of intersecting squares. In fact, so real did these planes seem that you had to put your hand through them to check they were just air enclosed by a thread. I was amazed how perceptions can be altered by what are essentially a few lines of yarn in a room. The exhibition also includes some drawings, wall pieces and more yarn sculptures but it was those in the first room that impressed me the most.

Wednesday 9 January 2013

Silhouettes by Jane Elizabeth Cook

These exquisite silhouette illustrations produced by Jane Elizabeth Cook are on display at the Vale and Downland Museum, Wantage. They are amazingly delicately detailed and full of life and movement and reminded me of the work of Jan Pienkowski. Each one illustrates a nursery rhyme yet includes tiny narratives of its own. Even washing drying on a line is made to look interesting and poetic. Jane Cook was a successful artist and portrait painter when she married Henry Cook in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1868 the family moved to Wantage when Henry became headmaster of King Alfred’s Grammar School. Jane helped her husband build up the school and although she gave up her painting career she produced silhouettes of nursery rhyme characters for her children. The Autotype Company, also based in Wantage, produced several volumes of her silhouette illustrations of nursery rhymes and verse. On display in the Museum are one of these books and two pages of illustrations, which were recently acquired in an auction in the Netherlands; it’s good to see them back where they originated.

Wednesday 2 January 2013

Stitching and thinking: Mending at the Museum

This exhibition, incorporating the work of seven artists at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, is a response to the collection of darning samplers held in the Museum and is shown alongside some of these historical textiles. I found Janet Haigh’s vintage handkerchiefs with beautifully embroidered images and mottoes interesting, particularly as I include text in my some of my own work in a similar way (see a detail of ‘Patch grief with proverbs’, above). Making social comments using household linen, sewing techniques and wryly amusing text can be a powerful combination. I particularly like the way she includes a hand, needle and thread in each image emphasising both the handmade nature of the work and the artifice of the technique.

I also found the series of children’s aprons by Jilly Morris very effective (Mending takes time) particularly her contrast between labour intensive darning and the quick fix of a sticking plaster. Dawn Mason’s hangings in ‘Face to face’ explored the spaces formed between darned stitches in a sculptural way that linked to an essay in the catalogue discussing idea of thinking through making and how making allows thinking to develop in the ephemeral spaces that making opens up. In other work, Dail Behennah used wire to form ‘darned’ patches in ‘Holding it together’, while Jessica Turrell used bandages to repair and hold together the pieces of broken domestic ceramic objects. Basil Kardasis produced a protective cloak for his son from treasured ‘materials’ given to him by friends and relatives and Stephanie Wooster also used a mixture of knitted fabrics to form a composite base for embroidered text.

The Stitch and Think group was launched at a workshop in 2009, which explored the many uses of stitch as a visual language, and showed that for most participants stitching was ‘a meditative or reflective process that moved beyond the action of stitching itself’. Darning and mending were key themes for many participants, so a visit to the collection at Bristol Museum was organised, which inspired the work in the exhibition.