Monday, 28 July 2014

Exhibition visits during assignment 2 – Spring-Summer 2014


Matisse – Cut  outs at Tate Modern
This was one of those blockbuster shows that Tate Modern puts on that draws large numbers of people. The exhibition space was very busy and hot, but there was also a lot to be studied and looked at. Thankfully the works were mainly large so you could see them fairly well at a distance. Matisse worked with large scissors, cutting into gouache painted paper sheets. In a film shown in the exhibition he was seen chopping this paper, with an assistant holding the paper as he went on with his work.

Apart from the wonderful colours, the lively and life affirming shades of green, yellow, red and blue and fantastical oceanic or lush paper verdures and flowery collages, what struck me most of all was the energy Matisse seemed to have to get all this work done. He was elderly at the time of all this work, he had been very ill, and still looked unwell, sitting in his wheelchair, and nevertheless he managed to create one large scale work after the other, almost frenetic with work and energy.
This was what amazed me most. Of course the work was interesting: here were those images you see in poster sales at universities, but here there were pencil lines and piercings from pins apparent on the paper, not necessarily visible on cheap posters. These lines and pin holes showed how he had worked on composition, and again in a film footage you saw an assistant holding up strips of paper against a design for a cope; she was looking at him whilst moving the strip in tune to his demands for accuracy in where it should be placed. The work was very colourful and aesthetic, organically fluid shapes suggesting leaves, flowers and human (female) bodies covered large areas of wall. You came out feeling light and as full of summer as the weather was on the day I went. It was a fine exhibition with much to ponder….

Contemporary Ceramics gallery, London
Just briefly – I went to this gallery before going to the Vikings exhibition at the British Museum across the road. I love ceramics, the variations in glaze texture, colour of glazes and the clay or stoneware material, and the sense of a material handled and formed. There were many fine things there, simple, minimalist style vessels, pots that aspired to Japanese glazed aesthetics, and sculptural things. Whether large of small, many vessels were fine. I have a preference for the Far Eastern aesthetic and like to see how the ceramicist works with the glaze material, the events developing the finished object in the kiln, and was pleased to see pots by Margaret Curtis, who works in this way. In contrast Kyra Cane’s work was fine, almost transparent in its simplicity. Her vessels in the gallery were very pale, with a drawn line, but inside, in the bottom of the vessel you found a bright yellow glaze, as a little gift or surprise to anyone looking inside it.

Vikings – life and legend - the British Museum
Although not showing much relating to textiles in this exhibition, I was looking forward to it very much. At times I seek out some of my Scandinavian roots in Viking mythology and Icelandic sagas, which are fascinating tales of lives lived in harsh conditions and wildly fantastical imaginations. And the exhibition was very good - there were many artefacts from Scandinavian museums, German and various Russian and Ukrainian collections. One problem was the large amount of people blocking sight of some artefacts and labels in the early parts of the exhibition. The display was thematic, showing objects devoted to for example trade, the idea of the warrior and the culture of travel and conquest (a large boat had been lent by the Roskilde Viking ship museum) and religion. There was a small ‘meet the ancestors’ section, and plenty of pieces, including large gold jewellery items, that showed Viking designs and how they transformed in encounters with other cultures.

I was particularly interested in the small section on religion because this was one of the area that explicitly involved women's culture; a couple of metal staffs were explained as belonging to spiritual women, who may have been sorceresses. The Museum showed items found in such a woman’s grave, where plant stuff had been found that could have contained hallucinogenic properties.

Surprisingly I also found that a silver object I had seen photographically reproduced on the Internet possibly of Odin and his ravens, Hugin and Munin, was a tiny little charm sized object. The craftsmanship of the Vikings was amazing – the level of skill and insight into materials was quite outstanding in some of the objects on show. If there had been fewer visitors and more time to stop and ponder objects I would have gained more from the exhibition, as it is I was still pleased to have seen the objects and will continue to dip into the Viking culture and wold view for inspiration.

Dansk Gobelinkunst, Trapholt (design museum), Kolding, Denmark

Dansk Gobelinkunst is a group of Danish tapestry weavers who work on and promote contemporary tapestry art. The work they do is very varied and spans images from the abstract to the more illustrative. They concentrate on wall hung pieces and in the exhibition I saw there were no free hanging pieces, and neither were there any that used 3D forms.

There was much to admire in this exhibition though; I really enjoyed looking carefully at some of the work, and seeing them in the flesh rather than in pictures. I have a number of catalogues and monographs on tapestry artists, and in photographs this type of textile work loses a lot. In real terms the tactile nature of wool, silk or linen is more apparent, the subtle use of colour or certain techniques becomes much clearer.
I have a personal preference for abstraction, and the graphic in textile design, and there were really good pieces here that looked at thematic ideas and pulled out essences of things, such as Anet Brusgaard’s Tatouage II, which was a black tapestry with a design inspired by body scarring and tattooing from African tribes. The black was a matt and receding wool, but each ‘scar’ was a dot woven using gold and coloured metallic threads. This worked very well and cannot be appreciated from any photographs I took.

Other work I enjoyed very much was Anette Graae’s the heaven/sky above me (Himlen over mig) Anne Marie Egemose’s The Barrows at Høje Bjerge (Jordspor-højene i Høje Bjerge) and Hanne Skyum’s Black Crows (Sortkrager). All the tapestries in the exhibition seemed to follow a craft tradition of engaging with the material of fibre and colour, but they still engaged interesting themes and symbolism, and the three mentioned here looked at ideas that I have been exploring myself (crows and barrows) or used the warp as well as the weft in the design (as does Berit Hjelholt, whose work was not in the show, but which is worth mentioning because it follows a similar Scandinavian design language of something spiritual in a symbolic visual language). This use of the exposed warp and weft in design was taken to a further level by Anne Bjørn, whose work was an open weave using white and yellow linen that was mounted some distance from the wall. This allowed the thread to throw shadows onto the wall behind the work. I wonder how this type of work is kept stable in transport and moving the work, the lacy effect makes it look quite fragile and vulnerable.

Relating tapestry weaving to assignment 2
Tapestry is a slow and deliberate process that deals with construction and the structure of the fabric. This is a technique being covered in a later assignment and contrasts very much with printing, which is a surface process (part of ass 2). Printing and surface design is a particular process which requires planning and consideration of lay-out, but so does tapestry. What differs more radically between the two is the purpose of these disciplines: printing is potentially a surface technique emphasising pattern, for fabrics to be used in furnishing or fashion. These fabrics will be cut up and shaped into a final object, whilst the tapestry is the final thing, often painterly, it is a means to combine the artistic idea within a structure.

When sampling for tapestry or other constructed techniques a relatively long time is spent on just a single sample. whilst I found in sampling for print that you have to work fairly fast (as the paint dries up), and you can make 10-15 samples in a couple of hours once all materials and tools have been set up. This may have something to do with the modernity of print as we now experience it. Tapestry weaving is a very old technique, more than a 1000 years old, and although there are technical routes to faster weaving techniques (I am thinking of the jacquard looms that make up Grayson Perry's tapestries, less of cloth weaving machines), the traditional technique is slow. Printing on the other hand, although maybe also old - wood block printing has been used in Asia for centuries - in the West much printing is now done by machines, for fashion and furnishing use. There are of course other printing styles, more artistic endeavours, using layering and various techniques, however this is still fast compared to some tapestries that can take a year for a weaver to make.

I guess this is an unfinished discussion, as I feel there is more to say about surface decoration, including batic, shibori and other means of bringing pattern to the surface of cloth, however that is perhaps for another time.

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