Having made great play last month about restarting my
writing on textiles and weaving in particular I’ve had to pass on
last fortnight’s blog. I have broken my arm, and rather badly,
enough to warrant surgery and a plate of metal to pin a fractured
ulna. Yesterday I went to the hospital to have a full cast put on
my arm and a fresh bunch of x-rays. All seems well and with luck
I’ll be out of this plaster by the New Year.
Being unable to weave (I was just about to put a new warp on my loom) has
meant me being thrown back on reportage or musings. I still have good intentions to write more fully on my experience of the Warp+Weft shows at the end of October. In one sense this fortnight’s chosen subject – sculpture and weaving– was something very present in the Oriel Myrddin exhibition. So many pieces in that show curated by Laura Thomas were multi-dimensional: the works by Ann Sutton, Laura Thomas herself, Ptolemy Mann and others. What
is it that makes textile artists work in this way? Is it the lure of the sculptural aesthetic that continues to be such a vigorous element in our visual culture? Sculptors such as Anthony Gormley and Anish Kapoor continue to excite the imagination with work that responds both to physical landscape and to man-made space.
But notice the way I have arranged my title’s wording: sculpture and weaving. We know weavers like to be sculptural. Are there sculptors who work with weave? Well yes, and I discovered one quite by chance in a rather strange (read
challenging) exhibition at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds. Now don’t get too excited! The weave (as weaving) is not much to write home about, but it is seriously different from anything I have previously encountered, and this work did stand out in a show that had, for me, rather too many questionable elements.
Undone is a show in which a group of contemporary artists have engaged with materiality and the process of making sculpture. Instead of working with stone, metal or wood these artists have sought out materials that reflect our very
temporary relationship with so much of what our hands and bodies
engage with. Alongside the material these artists have employed
traditional and repetitive techniques such as plaiting, crochet, winding, stringing, shredding, binding, crumpling and . . . weaving.
Krysten Cunningham stood out from the eleven other artists contributing to
Undone. It was clear that her existing portfolio of work and her artistic preoccupations did not require a body of new practice. She was already doing it! Although represented by just two pieces this was enough to set me on a
search for more and a desire to think a little more seriously about how main-stream contemporary art can (and occasionally does) embrace the woven textile.
Cunningham’s weaving is really a kind of wrapping for the most part, though, as I was to discover there are pieces that have clearly been created on a loom. At the Undone show she presents a work that seemed representative of a number of previous pieces. Imagine a tripod holding a table on which sits a 3D assemblage (a warp structure?) of fused metal rods, and around and about these rods the artist has taken a thread (a weft?) for a journey into multi-dimensional space. I can imagine this piece, that takes up the space of a seated person on a chair, furnishing a portion of one of those West Coast open-plan living rooms we in the UK know from David Hockney’s paintings (more on such later). In fact, having said that, the piece does have a rather curious
quality about its form that suggests a kind of household shrine, something set apart, of no function except for its contemplative possibilities. It ‘is’, and its ‘isness’ has such limited referential content that the viewer can regard it simply as a kind of play with colour and line in space, a kind of sculptural doodle
if you like.
The piece devised for the exhibition itself was quite different, and from my
research unique in its form and content to Cunningham’s previous work. Penelope is a 5 foot length of twisted (woven?) ropes. The five strands of hemp rope have been dyed with natural dyes and tied in a rough knot at each end. The rope is then hung on the wall. Why Penelope? In Classical Mythology Penelope was the wife of Ulysses, who waiting and waiting for her husband to return from the Trojan Wars, spends her time weaving his shroud (though secretly unthreading it every night), and persistently fighting off disagreeable suitors, camped out in her palace, vying for her hand in marriage should she accept her
husband is, in fact, dead. In Classical Greek iconography she is always pictured weaving . . . with her legs crossed. Hence the rope . . . interesting and powerful feminist symbol perhaps? I liked, in fact I admired, this piece very much.
Earlier in the summer, when the Warp+Weft Symposium was announced I checked out all those giving papers because most of the names I just didn’t know. After the obligatory web searches one name in particular stood out and demanded attention. Anne Wilson describes herself as a visual artist who creates sculpture and often uses found material that is ‘rich in cultural meaning’. She has a really beautiful and effective website, a proper archive of
her work, the like of which I have tried to fashion for my own work. She first came to prominence in the UK with participation in the V & A’s / Craft Centre Out of the Ordinary exhibition. She exhibited a vast table-based
installation titled Topologies. But her presence at the Warp+Weft Symposium was to speak about her three public art projects Local Industry, Wind Up
Houston and Wind Up Chicago. The first is an extraordinarily ambitious coming together of weavers: handweavers and textile manufacturers in the city of Knoxville, Tennessee. The outcome: a woven cloth 24 inches wide by 75 foot and 9 inches long; a cloth of truly sculptural proportions.
The Wind Up projects occupy a very different world. They are curious gallery-based installations which have something about them that aligns Wilson’s work to the highly balletic and ritualistic later work of composer
Karlheinz Stockhausen with whom I worked in the 1980s. What Wilson
constructs in the Wind Up: Walking the Warp is a performance and a sculpture.
A team of four warp winders create a warp 40 yards long on a 17’ by 7’ frame that can be viewed from the street-side windows of the gallery. The wound warp is then cut off and given to weaver Sara Rabinowitz for the ‘next stage of the Wind Up’ project.
Examining Anne Wilson’s work on her website alone has been enough to persuade me that here is an artist of a very high order indeed. At a time when here in the UK we are at long last going to experience the work of Anni Albers, and alongside young contemporaries who acknowledge their debt and influence, Anne Wilson seems to display a refreshing take on Albers strand of
modernism and with an articulate voice about what is happening in her world, and what her vision is all about. Her latest work embraces and connects glass to weave, and like the steps Albers took from weave into jewelry into (and finally) print, it all makes such sense. When I go to Chicago in the NewYear for a performance of Conversations in Colour (a BBC Commission that celebrates Goethe, Josef Albers, Lucretius and Bridget Riley) I shall be keen to seek out her exhibited work and possibly the person – she is a professor at the Art Institute in the windy city.
Back in snowy Wakefield my loom is empty of a warp, but my tapestry frame (complete with its invaluable clamps – thank you Fiona Hutchinson – for the suggestion – and the Handweavers Studio – for their supply). I came back from Fiona’s Edinburgh workshop with some photos of leaves on a flight of steps. From these images – grey stone set against vibrant autumn reds and yellows – I have fashioned a design for a small tapestry (see opening image) and had made a good start on the tapestry itself just before my accident. I spent some serious time and effort pulling this design together, and am gently satisfied with
where experiment took me. We’ll see if it looks well woven as it appears to do on paper.
3 weeks seems such a long time not to be able to weave, but I can study,
design, research and think. When I can drive again I shall be going over to Ruthin to see the Albers exhibition . . .
One exhibition I did get to in the snow and ice (the winter in the UK started unexpectedly early this year) was the newly re-ordered permanent exhibition at Cartwright Hall in Bradford. It was a revelation frankly, and I recommend a visit if only for the imaginative bringing together of western and eastern culture that so mirrors what Bradford the city declares. For me there was a most
memorable moment, hard to forget, ever to forget. That was seeing
David Hockney’s The Large Diver, an assemblage of 12 sheets of painted pressed paper pulp. I have long enjoyed a book of Hockney’s paintings from the 1970-80s containing many of these swimming pool paintings, but I had never realized most of them were so big! Finally, a few words about what might become a companion piece to Fifteen Images, my collaborative piece that brings together composition, textiles, digital animation and performance.
Soon after my accident a kind friend sent me a get-well card of a young courtesan writing a letter. The print was by the 18C Japanese artist Utamaro. I was reminded seeing this card of a collection of little books by Utamaro in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. The books focus on the natural world: birds, insects and shells. Gifts from the Ebb Tide is the title of the latter and it is not only a collection of 36 images of shells and seaweed but 36 ‘crazy’ poems created by 7 poet friends of the artist who he took to the seaside (with plenty of sake) to create the poems he needed to accompany his paintings. The conception and execution of this little book is a wonder . . . and I’ve been
wondering at it ever since. I have some ‘ebb tide images’ of my own, and although I announced in my last blog a moratorium onwriting poetry, I’m afraid the desire to see if I could mirrorthose ‘crazy’ 5 line poems, and in the same vein and technique as the Japanese, just got the better of me. The photos are to become starting point for animated textile images with music for solo flute. As with 15 images my idea would be to combine digital and gallery presentations. I realize with this little re-discovery that I continue to be intrigued by the
possibility of bringing together different media. The poetic word can send such a powerful and concise message about something made, displayed and performed. It can set the scene, establish the mood, secure attentiveness, position time and place. For me the Chinese and Japanese remain the masters of such coming together. Both paintings and notated music so often carry such concise inscriptions. Here’s one by Cid Corman: