Lost in Lace reviewed

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.’

Linnert's fence (photo: Crafts Council)
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.
Tanabata Lace (detail) 2011. Suzumi Noda. Photo. Crafts Council. Lace, n. ‘an ornamental fabric made by looping, knotting, plaiting, or twisting threads into definite patterns.’
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?
Liz Smith
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.’

4 Comments

  1. anned 21 February 2012 at 7:00 pm

    I went separately to this exhibition, I really liked Lise Bjorne Linnerts embroidered fence work, I think I spent by far the most time looking at the photographs of that work or were the photographs the work?! i thought the space was a bit dark for them though and the book and photographs were small and intimate so I would have liked to have seen them in a more intimate kind of environment, I thought they seemed a little lost there with the more spectacular, architectural pieces of work. They were the most thought provoking and interesting for me though.

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  2. Katie Taylor 23 February 2012 at 3:34 pm

    I visited the exhibition separately as well and just found the whole exhibition so inspiring. My favourite by far was ‘After the Dream’ – Chiharu Shiota. It was just so moving and otherworldly… very dream like, and really quite unnerving. The inability to see a way of getting to the dresses felt disturbing and frustrating, they were consumed within twisted and knotted black threads from floor to ceiling.

    It was fantastic to see an exhibition of textiles that really felt exciting!

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  3. catherine muncey 26 February 2012 at 10:11 am

    I went to the exhibition with a friend and enjoyed it so much that I went back again a few weeks later. One exhibit that I enjoyed hasn’t been mentioned above: a display on a tv screen of a sequence of large photos of buildings in different locations around the world that, whatever the materials, have a prominent lace-like element. To me, some of them looked marvellous – partly because of their relative harmony with the buildings/spaces around them and partly because the faces of lace were either not in themselves four-square, or they had been arranged asymmetrically or in 3D curves. Some buildings looked rather simplistic, their lacey faces reminiscent of rectangular paper doilies! It surprised me that Birmingham’s new library, which is being constructed a stone’s throw from the Gas Hall, was not represented in this display, and nor was the ‘Cube’, a very recent and rather wonderful lace-faced addition to Birmingham’s cityscape. I reflected that the materials now available for building are what have made this trend in architecture possible. I like it!

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  4. Jennifer Wallace 10 March 2012 at 10:08 am

    The piece of work I thought about longest and most deeply both while I was in the exhibition and also afterwards was Fences by Lise Bjørne Linnert.

    In the exhibition, all you see at first is a series of very small photographs displayed on a wall. The photos all show the pieces of red stitching, either around a hole in a fence or between railings, and the way the photos have been taken means you have to look carefully to even see this in many of them. On her website, the artist says, ‘ … it is a trace of care informed by the manner of stitches and the labour of doing it. Simultaneously it is an intrusive performance done on private or official properties without permission. This very quiet, yet intrusive action, starts with the boundaries of me and you, mine or yours, open or closed.’ Those comments helped me to understand the work, and I wished there had been a longer artist’s statement like that alongside the work itself – which I initially only walked past.

    Later, because someone else in the OCA group was reading one of the artists books, I sat down and looked at one. Of the two media used – the photographs and the books – I think the books were the more successful. I think the text included is important – about the act of doing the stitching, including some of the responses to it. I also think the book form is an important decision, and if reproduced, could make this work widely accessible which is in itself avery political statement about the concept of this piece of work. But I can also see that photos on a wall work in a big exhibition.

    I don’t think this piece of work is instantly accessible, and for me, the text in the books opened doorways and made me engage in a way I hadn’t with just the photos. I assume it will be the same for a lot of other people. But knowing the backstory, I like this work more and more, and actually would love someone to have made a television programme about it. It’s a performance as well as a collection of textile mini-works, and the concept and big questions in it are things that relate to all of us, whatever environment we live in. So, weeks after seeing the work, I’m still thininking about it!

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