Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

Art Tapestry 2

BY JESSICA HEMMINGS

Art Tapestry 2

Nordjyllands Kunstmuseum, Aalborg, Denmark (November 7, 2008-January 11, 2009)
West Norway Museum of Decorative Art, Bergen, Norway (February 7, 2009-April 13, 2009)
Musée Jean Luçrat et de la Tapisserie, Angers, France (December 15, 2009-May 15, 2010)
Konsthallen Art Museum, Luleå, Sweden (August 28, 2010-September 26, 2010)

Organised by the European Tapestry Forum, forty-four works are included in this juried exhibition drawn from seventeen European countries. Many of the tapestries included are startlingly large, with attention to the skills of production put before conceptual content. In the wake of the messy craft pandemic, I’m not sure this is a bad thing.

The upside of an exhibition that primarily celebrates skill is the enjoyment factor to be found in the simple pleasure of viewing beautiful handmade textiles. Here the evidence of considerable commitment to a labour intensive process such as tapestry commands its own pause for thought. It was only when faced with so many examples of skilful craft did I realise what an uncommon sight this is.

I am not dismissing the importance of conceptual content or the need to explore experimental techniques. But perhaps what this exhibition does best is to remind us of the beauty skilful making provides. The press material for the Bergen venue, where I saw the exhibition, uses Romanian artist Gabriela Cristu’s Uvedenrode, a poster-like reproduction of vivid colours and incredible detail that looks as though the surface could have been painted. Here the realisation that the image is not a feat of Photoshop provided a novel form of shock-value.

Elsewhere the unique qualities of fibre, rather than paint, take centre stage. British artist Maureen Hodge’s Flying Home to Arkadia sets jet-black fibres against the reflective surfaces of what looks to be gold leaf. French artist Catherine Libmann’s uses raffia to create an unusually rough surface and Danish artist Gudrun Pagter’s Transparent juxtaposes clean geometry and primary colours with the textured line of fibrous hairs. Unfortunately, the accompanying exhibition catalogue did not include mention of materials, which would in many cases have been helpful.

Examples of less traditional work are also in evidence, although on the whole they are not as powerful as the sheer impact provided by the scale created with conventional construction techniques. German artist Peter Horn’s Going for a Space Walk in Jupiter’s Umbra challenges the expected single flat rectangle of tapestry with four smaller related works. Three of the four squares overlap each other and share imagery that moves across each of the works, like a series of snapshots collaged together to represent a larger scene. The disconcerting element to this otherwise thoughtful piece is the change in hue from indigo to purple in the top square. The change is not distinct enough to feel intentional, but the meaning behind this shift is difficult to grasp. Elsewhere examples of works that move beyond the gallery wall tend to draw too much attention to their installation and pull attention away, rather than to, the textile.

The Norwegian venue provided ample space for enjoying this sizable exhibition. For Europeans at least, the comprehensive touring calendar will hopefully allow viewers several opportunities in the coming year to see this work first-hand. The considerable effort that must have gone into organising four exhibitions venues should be commended as the exhibition catalogue provides a record, but is no substitute for seeing this work in person.

Surface Design Journal (winter 2010: 60-61)