Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

New & Norwegian: A World of Folk


New and Norwegian: A World of Folk

Stavanger, Norway
5 July – 5 October, 2008

Any exhibition curated by the trend guru Li Edelkoort is going to command a following. While Edelkoort’s reputation may pique your curiosity, the exhibition itself is a real trick to find. If you are tenacious enough to locate the venue, the benefits of the rather bleak industrial setting near the waterfront of Sandnes rapidly become apparent. Housed in a former sewing factory, the less-than-inviting building boasts lots of space. The exhibit is grouped into thematic communities, delineated through the construction of partial roofs and walls. The resulting atmosphere is an unusual, but appropriate, tension between the domestic and industrial in equal measure.

The press release explains that “work by 100 of Norway’s established and emerging designers, craftspeople and artists, alongside key European players who have influenced the international modern folk movement,” is on display. International modern folk movement smacks of oxymoron, folk art often grounded in context and history rather than international and modern. In fact, much of the exhibition and catalogue text is couched in the peculiar idiom of trend prediction speak that is probably best when not read literally.

Perhaps the sheer scale of this exhibition makes the uneven quality of work inevitable. Remarkable and the wholly unremarkable ceramics, jewellery, woodwork, metalwork and textiles are displayed shoulder-to-shoulder, evidencing the curator’s breadth of contacts, but not a cohesive exhibition strategy. While the exhibition is part of Stavanger2008 European Capital of Culture, it is apparent that some of the most notable work was not Norwegian, a point that dilutes the national and cultural emphasis of the endeavour.

Nonetheless, inspiring textile work is on display. Kristine Fornes’ captivating work with print and embroidery suggest magical narratives imbued with a sense of innocence and wonder. Seen in person, these modestly sized works reveal far more detail than the camera lens captures. Kiki van Eijk’s carpet of oversized embroidery stitches references the pixilation that rules our digital world, but is constructed in loops of material, rather than virtual, reality. Åse Ljones peaceful embroideries often personify the little populated Norwegian landscape to great effect, although here it is a shame that the works are stacked in front of each other. This presented one of very few display problems. Cleverly, Gunvor Olsen’s white quilt “Vinterrreise” is displayed high on an angled roof, asking viewers to think anew about where our eyes travel in an exhibition space.

Craft celebrities, if such a thing exists, are also present: Marcel Wanders “One Minute Delft Blue”, a clever pun of traditional ceramics; Marimekko a black line print of cows on a white tea towel; American Alabama Chanin’s Revolution Collection of autumn/winter 08-09; Tord Boontje “Witches’ Kitchen Collection” and “Shadowy Chair” show this much celebrated designer’s continued ability to work across materials. Solveig Fagermo’s embroidered chair uses recognisably traditional embroidery patterns on a modern upholstered chair and footstool. This unexpected clash provides an articulate reference point for contemporary craft. Not only is updating and reinterpreting the past of value, but so too is respect for the potential to recreate traditional motifs in new contexts.

The real showstoppers of this exhibition came in the form of two quite unassuming works: a digital animation by Karin Ahlin and Ragdolls For My Daughter by Margrethe Loe Elde. Ahlin’s four-minute video uses cloth to communicate a tragic narrative with tremendous power and empathy. In particular, the introduction of hand made materials does much to break down the slick façade of the digital world to show a more human side. Similarly, Elde’s use of found materials to create a series of toys, perched on a worn shelf, show the potential of hand made objects to convey powerful emotions. While the objects are technically for children, the work possesses tremendous emotion. In this massive exhibition you do have to sort the wheat from the chaff. But the sorting, and the short flight to Norway, is well worth the effort.

Selvedge Magazine (issue 25: 91)