Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

Julia Griffiths Jones


Julia Griffiths Jones: Stories in the Making
Mission Gallery, Swansea
November 12, 2005 – January 7, 2006

Julia Griffiths Jones translates surface pattern into structure. Her materials are, in many ways, antithetical: metal embodies stasis, while the textile cannot deny its own movement; metal is cold and smooth, the hand and texture of fabric pliable and ever changing. But for all these differences, Griffiths Jones’ painted mild steel sculptures in the shape of clothing are, first and foremost, textiles.

Embroidered patterns have been banished from our clothing for some time. The past few seasons have seen embroidery sneak its way back onto the catwalk, but for the most part our contemporary relationship with embellishment continues to be an uneasy one. Embellishment does not contribute to the structure of cloth; it merely resides on its surface. Some would argue it is frivolous, excessive, even downright unnecessary. Our clothing would continue to function without it. Or would it? The surface decoration of traditional Welsh and Eastern European dress which these sculptures record can be understood as a language in its own right, a language that communicates the wearer’s identity through the acknowledgement of culture, history and craft.

Critic and author of the exhibition’s catalogue essay Mary Schoeser coins the term “wire poems” to refer to the ongoing relationship Griffiths Jones has established between literature and her creative practice. Lines of poetry and excerpts from novels appear in many of work’s titles and we learn of the ongoing inspiration the artist draws from various authors through a list of explanations that briefly give background to each work on display. The written word is less evident in the material of the work than the explanations, but the magical way in which the sculptures look to be line drawings made right into thin air can be liked to the sights literature can conjure: those convincingly concrete and real images that reside in our mind’s eye and are born out of black marks on a white page.

With its vaulted ceiling and ample space, the Mission Gallery provided the breathing room these ephemeral works require without feeling hollow or empty. Arranged with a row of work to the left and right as well as a further cluster in the alcove of the building, the exhibition could not have been hung with more sensitivity. Ample lighting concealed all trace of the monofilament used to suspend the works and a few sculptures were placed close enough to the walls to cast shadows. Personally, I found that the presence of these shadows broke some of the “suspension of disbelief” felt throughout the exhibition, but shadow is certainly an element of the work and its selective presence adds a further dimension to the exhibition.

At the very core of works such as “Everything is better now” and “I would do for you” is the decorative language of traditional dress. It is a core that has long been overlooked within the broader field of applied arts, an oversight referenced in “Everyone thought it was kitsch”, a piece inspired by motifs from Hungarian domestic textiles obtained by the artist while conducting research in Hungary, which she explains was dismissed as kitsch by the staff at the Ethnographic Museum in Budapest. Ironically, while many of these works establish a clear relationship with the textiles which inspired them, touches such as the fringed edge of a shawl in “Homage to Calder” proved less engaging to the eye than the more abstract compositions of “I’m breaking through”, “Mixed up” and “How he unfolds in my life.”

Moments where wire most closely resembles thread, such as the carefully wrapped sections of collar also found in “Homage of Calder” as well as elsewhere in works such as  “Mixed Up” also offered some of the most satisfying viewing. But after all is said and done about the textile and its relationship to this work an enormous irony must be recognized: at their very best these works are devoid of material all together. Griffiths Jones undeniably refers to and scrutinizes the textile through the medium of metal, but it is when these sculptures convincingly float in space – as happens often in this exhibition – that one feels the presence of magic. And that is a craft itself.

Crafts Magazine (March/April 2006: 60)