One of the course Research Points is to visit at least one contemporary textile exhibition. Last weekend I was able to go to Tamworth, 5 or 6 hours drive north of Sydney, to see the 1st Tamworth Textile Triennial exhibition. The Tamworth Biennial exhibitions were held 1975 – 2010. In this report I will follow the guideline questions from the OCA course. I don’t have any photos to share – click this link to go to the photo gallery on the Tamworth Regional Gallery website.
Is there a theme? I was not able to form a clear understanding of the major theme while there. Within the exhibition there was information provided by the curator, Patrick Snelling, in a video presentation and the catalogue that the theme was developed in the early stages of preparation while visiting with the artists. There were various phrases – “the end of which is connected to the beginning”, “sensory, haptic and emotional responses”, “slow making and sustainable practice”, “collaborative … influencing other disciplines”, “traditional and machine technologies” – but no single succinct statement. I have just checked his website and found “The exhibition title Sensorial Loop implies sensory and emotional responses to working with traditional and contemporary materials, processes and tools that are instinctive and connected to the trend of slow making.”
The clear secondary theme was the tools used by artists. Each exhibit had an associated sign with a graphic and artist’s statement about their tool(s).
Is it well displayed? Yes, it was very well done. The gallery is fairly new (2004), the large room neither too full nor too empty. The display method was carefully considered for each piece – for example Meredith Hughes’ organic fabric configurations were supported on bright steel pins, like specimens in a butterfly collection, while Cecilia Heffer’s postcards were individually suspended on more rustic nails, brief messages from far-away travellers.
Is the lighting appropriate? Most of the pieces were well lit, with spotlighting and attractive patterning on the floor below some free-hanging works. There was one area that was rather flat and uninteresting in its lighting.
Is there enough explanation of the exhibits? Each work was accompanied by a sign with an edited version of the catalogue text. As well as artist, title, materials and dimensions, it gave the artist’s statement about the work and a particular highlight of one or more tools used. In general it was informative and I think would enhance understanding and enjoyment for viewers with or without textile backgrounds. While the shorter text was appropriate for display purposes, I thought the editing for Meredith Hughes’ work was unfortunate. There was no mention of her use of digital printing and the desired “deception” and “curiosity about the authenticity of the woven qualities of the cloth” (quotes from the full statement) were totally lost on my interested but unversed in textiles companion who simply accepted the apparent woven material.
Is it visually stimulating and interesting? Yes, there was great diversity but overall a coherence. The inclusive curatorial approach led to a lively debate with my companion. Our focus was Would you like some cake? by Tania Spencer. This is a 1 metre diameter donut shaped piece, a knit-like structure suspended from the ceiling. It is made of mild steel formed with bolt cutters and a bending jig and is strongly reminiscent of chain link fencing. To me it was visually interesting, well displayed, fit well in the overall exhibition, had strong links to traditional textiles in structure and in emotional content (based on the artist statement) – but it isn’t itself a textile. My companion disagreed. We stood there and looked and debated and disagreed for quite a long time. Wonderful!
Some selected exhibits in more depth:
Lucy Irvine, Continuous Interruptions
When was the piece made and by whom? 2011, Lucy Irvine
What is it made of? irrigation pipe, cable ties, steel, rust proof paint
What are the approximate dimensions? 115 h x 180 w x 130 d cm. It consists of three separate parts placed closely together and wrapped from the front around the side and to the back of a free standing wall at the entrance to the exhibition.
Can you identify the techniques used? It looks like a form of basketry. The irrigation pipe is flexible, lengths laid beside each other and held together with cable ties. As far as I could tell each tie is separate, but they are carefully placed to form twill-like lines across the surface.
Is the work representational or abstract? It is abstract. It is deeply dimensional with hollows and voids, and is very sinuous like an old vine or a lava flow.
Where did the designer derive their inspiration? Quoting from the catalogue, “Continuous Interruptions interweaves ubiquitous man-made materials that facilitate the order of our contemporary lives into a form that celebrates the seeming chaos and infinite contingencies of the world beyond the boundaries of our knowing.” The artist addresses concerns about landscape, memory, the flux of our environment both physical and cultural.
How would you describe it – decorative, expressive, functional or symbolic? It’s certainly not functional. I found it beautiful and fascinating and while it would work in a commercial building I think it would look fabulous in the right home (not mine, which is 1950’s suburbia, but I’m thinking of a friend’s) – so decorative. There are also strong expressive and symbolic dimensions to the work.
To what extent does the piece refer to:
– tradition (technically or through images)? The structure has strong traditional links to weaving and basketry, but in materials, form and I think the artist’s concerns is contemporary
– a period of fashion? I am not aware of other work like this.
What qualities do you like or dislike about the piece? I like the play of light on the black surface – the piping is matt, the cable ties reflective, the curving shape catching the light or forming deep shadow. I like the combination of the very organic form contrasting with the formal twill placement of the ties. I also like the very tailored, finished, well-crafted look. The piping squashes to change direction, fitting together to fill what could be awkward spaces as the shape moves around. Rather strangely given the earlier discussion about what is textile, I had no trouble accepting this work as a textile. I can’t really justify the differentiation. Both use non-traditional materials, and the steel was smaller diameter (closer to “yarn”) than the piping. Perhaps it was that the placement was closer, forming a more solid-but-flexible surface. Perhaps I imagine the poly pipe is more giving and warm in the hands than the steel (of course I couldn’t touch either). It is a smaller step from a wicker basket to one than from a knitted doily on a table to the other.
Martha McDonald – Weeping Dress – video and activated dress from performance
When was the piece made and by whom? 2011, Martha McDonald
What is it made of? The basis of the work was a performance. Displayed was the “activated dress” from the performance and video documentation of the performance itself. The video soundtrack of fiddle (Craig Woodward) and singing (Martha McDonald) was quietly audible throughout the exhibition.
The dress was sewn from crepe paper fused to calico to a simplified Victorian dress pattern (fitted bodice, wide skirt etc). It was originally dyed black in a fugitive dye. In the performance the artist stood on a platform, wearing the dress. She generally took a passive stance, swaying slightly to the music, hands loosely held together. In the early part of the video she sang with the fiddle, using a greater range of arm movement. It appeared that her early movement triggered release of a liquid from areas around the shoulders and waist. The matt fabric of the dress gradually became shiny as the liquid slowly flowed down. Eventually dark drops started falling from the hem to the platform, to me looking like drops of blood, forming a pattern on the ground as McDonald swayed.
The dress on display was mounted on a torso form. At first it looked like a standard floor form, but I realised it was actually suspended by wires from ceiling to attachment points on the shoulders. The dress swayed very slightly in the air movement – you could increase the sway by walking past quickly – in an echo of the original performance. The crepe paper surface was worn and distressed, faded unevenly to light greys.
What are the approximate dimensions? 170 h x 140 cm in diameter
Can you identify the techniques used? The dress of crepe paper fused to calico and interfacing was machine sewn. Specialised dyeing techniques were used.
Is the work representational or abstract? It is representational, being the actual costume used in the performance.
Where did the designer derive their inspiration? The artist was exploring Victorian mourning rituals and etiquette. Women wore black clothing, which apparently often didn’t hold the dye, the running colour staining the body of the wearer. In the catalogue the artist writes “I am fascinated by how this public display of grief was experienced in such a private and corporeal way… I am interested in how the instability of the crepe paper suggests presence, absence, and our own impermanence.”
How would you describe it – decorative, expressive, functional or symbolic? It is expressive, exploring culture and emotions.
To what extent does the piece refer to:
– tradition (technically or through images)? The piece is based on traditional practices, interpreted and presented in modern ways.
– a period of fashion? The styling of the dress is clearly Victorian.
What qualities do you like or dislike about the piece? I felt the work was very personal and deeply felt, really trying to explore the experience of the women. It managed to avoid being trite or saccharine. The slight swaying produced by the hanging method was very clever. I like the idea of a performance element in textile art, and felt the combination of video and actual dress allowed the viewer to get a reasonable sense of the original performance. The faded, distressed surface of the crepe paper was beautiful – I would like to try using this myself.
Belinda Von Mengersen – The Dusting Cloth
When was the piece made and by whom? 2011, Belinda Von Mengersen
What is it made of? Silk voile, silk organza, cotton, rice paper, interfacing, direct digital print, paper, camel hair, alpaca fleece, and silk, cotton, and linen thread.
What are the approximate dimensions? 100 h x 150 w
Can you identify the techniques used? This is a layered, stitched textile piece – a quilt. It uses a digital print of a photograph taken by Belinda Von Mengersen, onto a translucent fabric – possibly organza. The visible layers underneath interact with the printed image. It is hand stitched in simple, uneven running stitch, the changing directions and voids of stitching emphaising elements of the image. The threads used in stitching are quite fine, in a range of neutrals. There are also threads and scraps trapped in the layers.
Is the work representational or abstract? It is representational. The photographed image is an interior – an old fashioned panel door, a section of wall above dark panelling. A dusting cloth hangs on the wall. The muted colours and transparent layers suggest a dream or memory of a place.
Where did the designer derive their inspiration? The artist’s statement refers to “a landscape of memory between the past and the present”, with dust “matter caught between states” and symbolic of the eventual disintegration we all face.
How would you describe it – decorative, expressive, functional or symbolic? This piece is expressive, giving a sense of contemplation and fond memories.
To what extent does the piece refer to:
– tradition (technically or through images)? The use of quilting reflects the domestic, interior subject matter.
– a period of fashion? The image gives a sense of past places, although I find it difficult to give a specific time period. The panelling suggests to me early twentieth century.
What qualities do you like or dislike about the piece? I like the quiet, contemplative nature of the piece. On reflection I am surprised that I didn’t get any sense of “down-trodden, oppressed maid or servant” – perhaps this was helped by the obviously fine material, silk not cotton. The impression was a sense of peace, of order and quiet pride in the home, possibly of a lost world. The dusting cloth itself was not stitched, which combined with the image to give a strong three dimensional effect which for me introduced an element of unease. The piece didn’t sit totally flat against the wall, which I felt emphasised the very textural, tactile dimension of the cloth – particularly welcome in an exhibition that pushed the boundaries of what is textile. My one criticism is that the lighting in this area was very flat and I thought the works looked a little lost on the wall.