This exhibition visited by a group of OCA students and tutors recently challenged many traditional perspectives of lace and presented a wide interpretation of the theme by contemporary textile practitioners. My overwhelming first impression of the exhibition was the sheer scale of some of the work on display; from Atelier Manferdini’s Inverted Crystal Cathedral, (see video showing this being installed) to Annie Bascoul’s Jardin de lit, lit de Jardin. Closer inspection of both works invited speculation with regard to materials, processes and techniques and surprising connections emerged between the work of artists, architects and designers. The seemingly random structure of the inverted cathedral, for example, revealed similarities between the careful placing of the fine wire threads from which the crystals were suspended and working models used by Antoni Gaudi to plan the construction of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. The scale and construction techniques used in Annie Badscoul’s work led to speculation and admiration with regard to the physical demands made of the artist when manipulating materials. Pat Moloney added: ‘The first exhibit as you entered the exhibition space was that of Naomi Kobayashi, a series of tall paper towers, far enough apart to look through but impossible to walk between. The shadows it created, led your eye towards the central exhibit, an amazing construction of a glass crystal cathedral by Elena Manferdini, which when lit added a touch of bling to an almost monochromatic show. Naomi ‘s work seemed to create a barrier, allowing you to pause for a while before deciding which direction to take around the exhibition. The fact that there is no set route through the exhibition is intentional, each person must choose their own pathway, discovering spaces, defining their own point of view to experience the feeling of space, the overlapping layers and movement through space.’
The exhibition as a whole encompassed traditional and non-traditional textile materials and genres. Lise Bjorne Linnert’s work, Fence, was perhaps the least scrutinized exhibit by many, but for me, raised some very interesting issues. On the first viewing of an unassuming display of small photographs, it was evident that in each photograph, the artist had used red thread in to highlight a hole. Each site was carefully chosen and ‘carried out as an intrusive performance done on private or official properties without permission.’ Although for the viewer, this gave the superficial frisson of carrying out an illicit and subversive activity, another layer of meaning was revealed by reading the accompanying notebook in which the subject and context of each photograph was explored in greater depth. Contextual statements by the artists and individuals interviewed by her highlighted the collaborative power of image and text in providing the viewer with the opportunity for deeper levels of interpretation.
A personal favorite was Suzumi Noda’s Tanabata Lace. Her large scale textile hanging was constructed from linked cardboard Jacquard punch-cards, lacquered and rethreaded vertically. As a recycling junkie, this piece had great appeal for me on a number of levels. I liked the re use of a previously functional but now redundant item to recreate a highly decorative and delicate textile work. The repetitive and regular arrangements of the cards themselves echoed the repetition of the jacquard weaving process. I also began to speculate on the cards and their function in a previous working life. Although themselves mundane in the extreme, they were instrumental in creating beautiful woven jacquard fabrics. I liked the way in which past and present, functionality and non-functionality was reflected in the final outcome. Perhaps elevation to their current status of textile art justly rewards their past labours.
The exhibition provided many opportunities to consider the effectiveness of a range of approaches to displaying textiles in a gallery or site specific space. Tamar Frank’s A thin line between space and matter, explored the three dimensional possibilities afforded by working with a single thread; ‘the pattern defined by the space in between the threads: by the emptiness.’ The work was directly informed by the artist’s visit to the Gas Hall where she was inspired by its impressive space and ornamental arches. The effect of standing inside her dark structured space with its neon lit curving thread shapes was breath-taking. I felt as though I had truly reached the dark side of the moon.
The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery’s own collection was also an inspiration to Kathleen Rogers whose work focused on a fragment of antique Chantilly lace. The lace was magnified to such an extent that the fineness of the lace appeared as a strong, sinewy, rope like structure. The slow movement of the microscope across the surface of the lace revealed fibre, detritus and a constantly shifting abstract pattern. The accompanying sound of a silk worm munching through a mulberry leaf created a sinister and eerie experience, reminding me of the fragility and inevitable disintegration of all things textile.
In total, this was a fascinating, thought provoking and challenging exhibition which gave OCA students the opportunity to gain a personal perspective on the work of a range of contemporary practitioners. I think everyone had their personal favourite. What was yours?
OCA Textiles tutor
Pat Moloney adds: ‘For those students who didn’t make the exhibition, I would urge you undertake your own research of this exhibition through internet searches. The exhibition has an excellent website, with details of the artists involved, you can then refer to the individual artists’ websites. Look too, at website of the previous exhibitions. Textural Space and Cloth and Culture Now. The work of International Textile Artists is very different to the textile work produced here in Britain so take a look.’