Posts Tagged 'CA1-P1-Research'

Research point – textile collections in a museum

A Research Point in the OCA course recommends visits to contemporary and historical or ethnographical textile collections. For contemporary, I wrote about Sensorial Loop here. Now taking a slightly different slant, in the past few weeks I’ve seen textiles in a number of non-textile-oriented collections, and have been musing over the different approaches taken in their display.

First up a trio at the NSW Art Gallery (which has the advantage of allowing photographs of most items in its permanent collection – although no flash allowed, so apologies for photo quality).

This magnificent Atsuita No robe is displayed centre stage in a section of the Lower Asian Gallery. It dominates the room in a large free-standing display. The space allowed both inside and around the cabinet together with the raised stand adds to the drama and visual importance of the piece. It is the only obvious textile piece in the area, which also contains ceramics, paintings and drawings, netsuke, etc. The lighting in the gallery generally is dim and the spot lighting enhances the textile and allows clear viewing of the detailed work.

The robe is Edo period (1603 – 1868), circa 1800, and is a theatre costume. The whirlpool and dragon design is in silk and gold, using ikat dyed threads for the warp (information provided on signage). There is further information and a photo on the gallery’s website (click here).

The workmanship of the weaving is just amazing. I’ve never seen ikat dyeing used in such a crisp, formal way – in fact it took me a long time examining the work to accept the information. The use of colour is very effective. I particularly like the flashes of brighter colour in the whirlpools.

This Kalinga skirt cloth from the Phillipines is a more modest cloth, more modestly displayed. It is in a back corridor in the upper Asian Gallery, quite a bright area. The piece is mounted in a frame behind glass -I had difficulty getting a reasonable photo, so apologies for the reflections of lights and the ceramics displayed on the opposite wall. The Gallery website has a much, much better photo – click here.

Once again the signage was very informative. Also once again I had trouble believing it, originally thinking it was embroidery rather than floating weft decoration (I’m still not totally convinced – I think there is a combination of techniques). I first took a close look at this cloth in February – notes and a schematic in my sketchbook here. The dangling beads and shell pieces reflect the triangular shapes in the cloth, and add an extra touch of colour and texture to the textile. They must look very effective when worn as a skirt.

The final piece I have chosen from the gallery is La Somnambule, by Rosslynd Piggott, made 996-97. Unlike the earlier two pieces of costume and clothing, this was obviously created as an artwork although elements are drawn from clothing design. In keeping with this there is much less information provided in the gallery – names and dates for artist and piece, plus a brief list of materials (silk, hooks, coathangers, perspex, stainless steel). There is much more descriptive and interpretive information, plus photos, on the Gallery website (click here).

This work is displayed in the Contemporary Galleries, at one end and rather separate from other work. This provides a sense of space and quiet that fits well with the piece.

It is a very beautiful and intriguing piece. I find it quiet and gentle, although the many hooks in one of the “nightdresses” and the unravelling in both could suggest more sinister ideas. The mirror-shaped perspex suggests a reflection and possible distortion, or perhaps a displacement “Alice through the looking glass” effect. Looking now at the photographs the disproportionate sleeves look somewhat reminiscent of a straight-jacket, but I didn’t get that sense when looking at the work itself – the beautiful, gleaming silk doesn’t fit that notion. It is much more a fragile, dreaming sensation.

Each of these pieces has been displayed in a different way by the Gallery. Each is in the company of its peers. I feel the Gallery has done an excellent job of considering the nature and requirements of each individual work, and appreciate the value clearly given to textiles as cultural and artistic artifacts.

In Canberra a few weeks ago (blog post here) we had some time in the National Gallery of Australia before going into the Renaissance exhibition. We wandered into a gallery of Impression and Post-Impressionism works, enticed further by one piece after another (including Sonia Delaunay‘s Dubonnet), and came to a large case of costumes from Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes and other Ballet Russes companies that followed. No photography is permitted in the Gallery, but I have included a link below.

There were 9 or so costumes in the case, with diffuse lighting above and spot lighting from the very high ceiling. Signage explained the fragile nature of the pieces. Unfortunately the case was at the end of a cul-de-sac in the gallery layout – it gave a good view at a distance to bring visitors in, but you couldn’t move around to see the sides and backs of the costumes.

A dress designed by Giorgio de Chirico for the Ballet de l’opéra russes á Parie production of Pulcinella in 1931 and 1932 particularly attracted me given the current OCA work on painting and printing. There is a photo on the Gallery’s website here. The full skirt has been stamped and painted with blue paint in simple triangles and dots. It is clearly hand-done, and achieves a very lively and spontaneous air. The bodice has been painted with large scrollwork and a fleur de lis kind of shape. There are curious stuffed shapes on the shoulders, yellow puffed sleeves and for me there is an overall almost cartoonish feel. I can imagine the skirt lifting and swirling as the dancer moved.

Another favourite was attributed to Picasso, elements from a production of Le Tricorne. Detailed information was given putting the costumes and production into their historical and design context. The costume, including men’s breeches, was fairly plain, but there were little bobbles that I thought may have been crocheted attached to the seams – again with lots of potential for movement during the ballet. Other costumes used raw edge applique and tassels sewn on, again with a cartoonish, raw, fresh and handmade appearance.

Overall the quality of information provided and the variety of textile work used was very interesting and satisfying.

The final exhibition is Travelling the silk road: ancient pathway to the modern world at the National Museum of Australia, also in Canberra. The exhibition is organised by American Museum of Natural History, New York. It had only been open a day or two when we went and a few things weren’t quite set up (a film show, a few of the exhibits not working).

The exhibition is telling a very big story – the “Silk Road” was many routes through many cultures and countries over 600 years. It cleverly does this by taking the visitor on a journey to four cities on the road. It is educational, entertaining, interactive. You can walk in dappled light under a grape vine and smell the spices and scents of the markets while camels snort in your ear (the lights bright spot lights, the grapes plastic, the scents under sliding covers in barrels so you could try to guess what they were, the camels recorded and thankfully not spitting). You can tell the time using the “stars” and a model astrolabe (set at a height convenient to children). You can find links in culture and technology on an interactive map (set at a convenient height…). There was a huge setup explaining a karez underground irrigation system – I’m glad to have learnt about this remarkable achievement.

I feel really conflicted about this exhibition, because in many ways it was wonderful but I found it sterile and distancing and unsatisfying. It was so artificial. It was so well intentioned. It was so cheesy. It was so polished. It provided nice little chunks of information conveniently packaged for my consumption. I should add that my companion knows far, far more about the Silk Road than I do, she has visited three of the four cities featured, and she really enjoyed the exhibition.

Focusing back on textiles, there was no stinting the information and carefully designed displays on all the stages of silk production. Entering the exhibition you immediately see a huge replica of a Tang era loom, dressed in gleaming rich golden yellow silk. There are shuttles, a thread winder, bobbins, a roll of woven cloth… of course I tried to read too much into it – the position of the beater looked impossible, the roll of finished cloth on the cloth beam had never been woven on that loom, whatever, whatever – not relevant to the purpose of the exhibition. I liked a display based on a reproduction of a scroll that illustrated all the processes of sericulture, harvesting the cocoons, through winding off, processing and weaving the silk. I was pleased with myself for recognising Michael Cook on a video (I used to follow his blog wormspit). There was a lot of use of modern silk in patterns based on possible silk road trade goods. Further on there was an interesting set of items showing the diffusion of designs from textiles to ceramics to architecture.

I think the problem for me as a textile obsessive is that in a way the silk wasn’t real – it was a tool, a part of telling a wider story. In terms of entertainment and education it didn’t matter that everything was a reproduction – and large pieces of bright coloured cloth are much more eye-catching than tattered, stained, precious remnants woven by someone’s hands centuries ago. I don’t want slick presentation and everything given to me, I want some spaces for my imagination and a sense of my own discovery.

With all this negativity I don’t want to put people off visiting this exhibition. It has a lot to offer. I just tried to make it something is isn’t – something that fits into a research point about an historical or ethnographical collection of textiles.

Sensorial Loop

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.


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