i Fabric: European Talent

i Fabric: European Talent
September 24, 2011 – January 29, 2012
Audax Textielmuseum Tilburg, The Netherlands

The Textielmuseum is an uncommon blend of archive and laboratory. It charts the history of Tilburg’s textile production, but has also invested heavily in current industrial weave and knit equipment. The outcome provides a unique contribution to textile knowledge today. Designers and artists are able to rent time, equipment and the expertise of the laboratory’s technicians to realise work. Simultaneously the centre commissions projects, allowing those who are unfamiliar with textiles to produce woven and knitted work, while experienced designers gain the space to experiment and develop short production runs.

Thirty-five European students of textile design make up the current exhibition. Curated in-house, Suzan Rüsseler explains the show’s criteria as: “A robust concept, innovation in the field of materials and technique, and aesthetic quality.” While Belgian, Danish, French, Finnish, German, Norwegian and Swiss students enjoy representation, three courses overwhelming steal the show. London’s Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts and the Dutch Design Academy in Eindhoven graduate the majority of work on display. This trend could be understood not only as a positive reflection of these institutions, but also the closure and limitations of many others.

Commissioned by the Textielmuseum, the Italian design duo Studio FormaFantasma’s thoughtful “Colony” series considers the legacy of Italian colonial occupation in Africa. Two large woven blankets of the three part series are on display here – “Asmara” and “Tripoloi”. Equally eye-catching is the work of Lenneke Langenhuijsen who travelled to New Zealand to study bark cloth. Her stitched “Wooden Textiles” collection exemplifies the sensitive update of traditional production methods.

Video appears throughout the exhibition – not as standalone work, but to capture time-lapse details in the production or responsiveness of materials and to introduce the working environments textile students can aspire to after graduation. The latter appears in three video portraits by the filmmaker Marleine van der Werf with the Belgian fashion designer Walter Van Beirendonck, the British artist Lucy Orta, and the head of design for the Danish textile manufacturer Kvadrat Anne Højgaard Jørgensen. The former is most successful when deployed poetically. Elaine Ng Yan Ling uses video to capture the movement of the shape memory materials in her woven “Techno Naturology” collection and Berit Greinke’s “Chrome (live)” records a screen printed motif as it slowly dissolves into a new pattern.

Curiously, the exhibition section devoted to work made as part of the European Textile Trainees (ETT) scheme was not the strongest of the show. Established in 2007, the initiative includes working residencies for European Textile students at the TextielLab followed by work experience in the region of Como, Italy. The scheme sounds excellent and time may help ETT find its footing. Display questions confound this exhibition as much as any other textile exhibition I have seen and alternatives to fabric suspended on monofilament need to be sought by all. These small concerns aside, it goes without saying that the combination of laboratory and archive, museum and studio, is a model Britain desperately needs. For now, we may be glad that such a crucial resource exists at all.

Selvedge Magazine (issue 44, Jan./Feb. 2012: 89)