Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

Follow a Thread

BY JESSICA HEMMINGS

Follow a Thread
Dovecot Tapestry Studio, Edinburgh
November 12 – December 31, 2009
Harley Gallery, Nottinghamshire
January 16 – March 21, 2010

Tapestry enjoys a healthy following in Edinburgh. A number of graduates from Edinburgh College of Art’s unique tapestry course (now “Intermedia”) have made careers of the discipline. This, combined with the longstanding presence of the Dovecot Tapestry Studio in the city have contrived, in the best possible sense, to keep the influence of tapestry in Edinburgh alive and well. In this exhibition, curated by Amanda Game of IC: Innovative Craft, we are provided with a snapshot of where that legacy leaves us today.

Jo Barker and Sara Brennan, both graduates of the ECA tapestry course, create engrossing surfaces that dwell on the technical possibilities of tapestry: fine threads pack into densely woven troughs, high twist yarns pucker and colour manages to look as though it is seeping across the surface. Brennan’s Broken White Band with Pale Blue uses her familiar misty palette to suggest the feeling rather than the look of a place. Barker, who I thought was already a bit of a colour wizard when I saw her solo exhibition in 2008, manages in her new work Radiance to capture an even sweeter note.

Other exhibitors, also graduates of the tapestry course at ECA, now apply some of the sensibilities tapestry fosters to their work with different techniques. Linda Green presents a magical shelf of miniature weavings stretched taut around found objects, some woven on as little as four warp threads. As a group, these objects evoke the sense of magic that shells, sticks and ribbon provide in childhood. Here it easy to imagine little hands lost in the act of constructing an imaginary world, perfectly oblivious of any need to compete with an ‘adult’ sense of scale or practicality.

Anna Ray’s magical embroideries exist on an equally intimate scale. Here the contrasts appear within each composition. Some, like Amaranthus are thoroughly covered with scribble-like lines of white stitch that frame a floating black and pink seedpod. In Spit the canvas is bare, with the exception of a flock of elongated figures on spindly legs, each with their back turned away from the viewer. In tiny black stitched handwriting reads the enigmatic statement: “He told me they could spit at me / I never went near them again.”

Filmmaker Matt Hulse reveals very different preoccupations than those I have seen textile artists explore in film and video. In his six-minute work, individual undulating rows of stitch are pulled in and out of focus accompanied by an unsettling (rather than rhythmical) audio of what might be the creaking stool of a seated tapestry weaver. Hulse’s trademark ‘blemishes’ on the screen, magnified smudges and the odd pesky hair, approach the craft of filmmaking in a far more material way than the slick production we are conditioned to expect.

Occupying its own wall is the recently completed tapestry Easter, woven at the Dovecot Tapestry Studio. The work is a technically accurate translation of a painting by William Crozier, something that tapestry lends itself to and that the Dovecot are expert in creating. But reproduction is a very different beast to tapestry as a primary tool of investigation. It is the latter that Barker and Brennan so convincingly explore and the former that Easter offers. The two are so fundamentally different in approach and ambition that comparisons are basically unfair, but put in a room together their intentions jar.

In every other respect, this is a beautifully curated show that presents textiles with the consideration and professionalism they deserve. More exhibitions of the calibre apparent here might begin to show the general public the sophistication and magic contemporary textile practice is capable of.

Crafts Magazine (Jan./Feb., 2010: 60)