Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

Caroline Broadhead

BY JESSICA HEMMINGS

Caroline Broadhead: New Work
13 October – 11 November, 2006
Barrett Marsden Gallery, London

Decorative flourishes aren’t the sort of thing we are allowed to be enthralled with in the present climate of concept driven textile art. Broadhead confronts this prejudice head on with “Exchange of Views”, a large installation that is part of her current exhibition of new work. The work’s giant lace pattern fills, from floor to ceiling and wall-to-wall, the entire back wall of the main gallery space. Comprised of sections of hand cut mirror, the installation is a visually seductive continuation of Broadhead’s well-established investigation of the temporal and ephemeral.

Tessa Adam’s accompanying writing on the work refers to the Narcissus-like quality of the piece as “we search for ourselves in the fragmented reflections.” My experience was in fact quite the opposite, as I attempted to find a way to view the work without seeing the distraction of my own image. Regardless of whether one is trying to find or limit their reflection in the work, both require a dynamic engagement from the viewer. Pacing back and forth rewards the viewer with ever changing glimpses caused by shifts and changes of reflection that colour the mirror and then escape out of sight.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this installation also suggests narratives that extend far beyond its initial decorative impact. The pixilation of the pattern alludes to the digital image and the prominence of technology as record keeper in society today. But when scrutinised at close distance, the work does not answer to our conditioned expectation of mechanical precision. Instead the hand cut edges of the mirror reveal imperfections that suggest something far more individual and intimate. Our fragmented, digitised selves reflected in this suburban curtain have not been stamped out by machine, but slowly cut by hand. Strangely, the little gaps, the spaces where the grid of ninety-degree angles does not quite hold true to its course, allow the work breathing room. As a result, the scale of the project is evidence of considerable labour, rather than invisible mechanical toil.

The influence of Broadhead’s residency earlier this year at the Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle can be felt throughout the exhibition. A series of eleven vitreograph prints record, not the traditional etching or engraving of a glass plate that is inked and then transferred to paper, but stages of the plate’s shattering. Starting out as almost complete darkness apart from a faint spidery crack, the series grows both increasingly faint but also more detailed. The series is dangerously subtle, apart from the small shards of glass that are visibly lodged in the paper’s surface – punctuation points that make the skin crawl because of their associations to pain. On the wall opposite, three large charcoal drawings on paper explore equally illusive qualities. Here the shadows of each of her daughters loom large, with the white soles of each pair of feet the most distinct key to understanding the rest of the bulbous form.

This exhibition reveals Broadhead as an established artist willing to drive her practice into new and uncomfortable terrain. The results are uneven. “Exchange of Views” has certainly learnt from and built upon “Proposal for Space”, shown at COLLECT earlier this year. In comparison, “The Sound of Breaking Glass” and “Over to you” seem like the beginnings of new journeys. After leaving the gallery, I stood on the street and looked back at her giant lace curtain, which hangs at the final, rather than initial, perimeter of the space. I wonder if its location may share similarities to Broadhead’s approach to her practice: a carefully constructed curtain of privacy turned inside out.

Selvedge Magazine (2006: 90)

home page: Caroline Broadhead “Exchange of Views”