Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

Cloth & Culture NOW


Cloth & Culture NOW

“Cloth & Culture NOW” exhibits an ambitious selection of contemporary textiles by 35 artists from six countries (Estonia, Finland, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania and the UK). “In each of these countries,” curator Lesley Millar writes in the catalogue’s introduction, “textiles have traditionally played a central role, both economically and also as a carrier of the narrative of place, of cultural particularity.” While many other nations could warrant inclusion under this remit, this eclectic mix proves an interesting point. Because textiles traditions are culturally specific, contemporary practice, as it matures, is beginning to look far less global and more specific than previously acknowledged. Aesthetic hierarchies that have come to define an increasingly particular taste in contemporary British textile practice are here discarded. The work in its place is kitsch, delicate, dated and nuanced – impossible to judge through a single set a cultural values. Instead of Tesco-culture and globalisation there are reflections of a world that is not one seamlessly interlinked network of cultural references and styles. Nor does every nation aspire to this ideal. Millar looks beyond the post-modern hybrids full of clever cultural intermingling, to celebrate instead an idea many have forgotten: cultural specificity.

In the Sainsbury Centre’s space, work is split across two levels, and attention is disrupted by the shop in between. Notable gems in the display include the lead and linen constructions in Call and Response by the UK’s Sue Lawty, which balance the textile with its seeming opposites. Unfortunately, the final panel in the series, a video work, struggles to hold its own against the sensitive rendering of materials both in the earlier panels, as well as in Maxine Bristow’s (also UK) almost unnervingly precise Backrests ref. 762/398. Latvian Zane Berzina’s Membranes series of delicate material studies provide much needed contrast in scale, although a ‘less is more’ approach may have strengthened this grouping. A Winter’s Day by Outi Martikeinen, Finland, measures over three metres square, but depicts a landscape drawn from tiny fibre clusters pulled through the white surface with industrial needle-felt technique. As an antidote to industry, Latvian Peteris Sidar’s knitted and stitched gloves provide a poetic representation of labour, repair and object memory.

This exhibition offers a far less contrived reflection on contemporary textile practice than we are used to seeing. As a whole it is not easy on the eyes, perhaps because it speaks in so many tongues, but it is a curatorial approach that takes the same level of risk we ask of our best contemporary textiles. Not least for this, it should be commended.

Modern Carpets & Textiles (spring 2008: 13)