Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

Jilly Edwards: Off the Wall

Crafts Study Centre, Farnham
Dec. 6  – Feb. 24, 2006

This exhibition sets out to “challenge the way we perceive woven tapestry by rethinking the manner of display and by taking the display ‘off the wall’.” With this premise in mind, it was somewhat surprising to see that the gallery walls were not entirely blank. Several tapestries framed behind glass and preliminary studies on paper suggest a juxtaposition between conventional modes of display and the central work of the exhibition: “Textures of Memory.” Displayed coiled and draped upon a pedestal and around two columns in the centre of the gallery, this tapestry of cotton, linen and wool is of unusual proportions, measuring twelve metres long by five centimetres wide. Further tapestries of similar scale were coiled and displayed in the gallery’s two glass cases, a format that obscures much of the weaving from view, but makes the work all the more intriguing through what lies hidden and obscured at the centre of the bundle.

What look to be fragments from longer tapestries – ten shortened segments of a similar width – are suspended inside small clear boxes displayed on pedestals set around the gallery. Like the centrepiece, these boxes are indeed not ‘on the wall’, but they are fussy. In contrast, the wound bundle in the centre of the room and several others in the display cases feel like a natural response both from the fibre and the maker to the removal of tapestry from the wall. Transport and travel are, in some ways, what this exhibition sets out to record and the coiled tapestries, more than the boxes, lend themselves to this sense of movement. Several sketchbooks on display record the journeys the artist has taken around the world, suggesting that her weavings are in some way a diary of her travels. This is confirmed in “Ticket to ride”, a hinged collection of train tickets that create another weaving, this time a transportable sketchbook, lending itself to, and confirming, the urgency of recording countless departures and arrivals.

Another element of travel – time – is also evident throughout the exhibition. Textiles, through the very nature of their making, mark time. Edwards new format, in which long strips of weaving emerge from five by seven centimetre sections that refer to either days or weeks, are reminiscent of a filmstrip, another inescapably time-based medium. The longer you spend with each segment the more engrossing they become. Colours appear in clusters, reappearing across the course of a week or month, suggesting a certain logic and thrift to this abstract but unquestionably personal system of record keeping. Sections of these linear tapestries are tagged with phrases such as “markings-tracking” or “journey into” and a date. I learn that they are in fact kimono tags and paper quills bought by the artist in Japan (evidence of yet another journey) that separate the frames, but I can’t help but find them a distraction, an unnecessary addition to the eloquent voice asserted by the weaving. Unused warp also dangles on display, explained as the future, the time ahead of us that we have left to record.

If we are truly to take the tapestry off the wall, then I would have liked to be able to walk through a gallery of rolled bundles, responsible for my own movement among these precious weavings, rather than shielded and separated from their surfaces. It is in the shape of “Texture of Memory” that the tapestry feels most natural and evocative, revealing – like our own recollections – only portions of the lengthy journey it has recorded.

Selvedge Magazine (2006: 90-91)