Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

Pattern Crazy


Pattern Crazy

British Crafts Council, London

Taking a dramatic step away from traditional notions of pattern, this exhibition acknowledged what the curators, Carol McNicoll and Jacqui Poncelet, saw as a “revival of pattern” with a reworking of many common associations pattern holds (July 4 – September 1, 2002). The curators’ belief that pattern “underlies many of the structures that surround us” was evident in functional and non-functional objects, as well as those intriguing pieces of debatable decorative or practical nature. The exhibition expanded awareness not only of the manner in which pattern is used but also of the places where pattern is noticed.

Recent years have seen a renewed attention to pattern, both in contemporary design and academic research. Patterned cloth has reappeared on the fashion catwalk while books and magazines on the topic have enjoyed a renewed interest and popularity. Pattern Crazy acknowledges this revival, but continued interest forward from this moment of popular interest by dramatically broadening the definition of the term. McNicoll and Poncelet’s approach embraced all manner of pattern from the organic to the manipulated. The sheer breadth of examples assembled made one sensitive to the wealth of designed patterns as well as the coincidental and unplanned patterns that constantly accumulate around us.

On display were patterns formed by techniques that accumulate individual elements to produce a whole, such as collage and weaving, as well as those created through reductive processes. Catherine Bertola’s Scratching at the Surface was an example of a reductive process achieved by tearing into generations of papered-over wallpapering that so often accumulates in our homes. On a visual level the original motif and the torn paper uncannily resembled each other, establishing a dialogue between past and present, positive and negative.

Inspired by photographic images of another reductive process, Dr Bashir Makhoul’s Points of View was presented in a purpose-built room. Emerging from the brilliant colors and largely visual studies of many of the works, the walled room was papered with what initially looked like another study in pasted patterns. The chilling reality, revealed by closer inspection, was that the circular motifs at the center of each repeat were made from hundreds of photographs of bullet holes in mortar walls. The realization that the pattern was derived from violence and destruction was emotionally unsettling. But the engaging and sophisticated surface of the montage demanded a pause for thought far more powerful than that commanded by the shock value of a fleeting glance.

Tord Boontje’s Wednesdays Light used positive and negative space to create three-dimensional floral patterns. As a chandelier, the work captured a sense of spontaneity and whimsy that moves away from its ornate predecessors. In this work, as in many others, there is an apparent historical reference to the tradition of patterns in wallpaper design. The floral motif looked as though it have been peeled from its staid position on the wall, hastily wrapped, and draped from the naked bulb as an ad-hoc decoration. The delicate lines of the motif traced the edges and shadows of more traditional floral patterns while allowing light to filter and cast shadows of further patterns on nearby walls.

Another work based on light was Coloured Light by Chris Wood. The piece, composed of no tangible elements apart from the series of square pieces of glass projected as a 90-degree angle from the wall, cast brilliant colors onto the wall, creating checker-board stripes of color. Here the surface of the work, the dimension most often associated with pattern in wallpaper and printed textiles, was untouchable. The series of sharp cut glass edges jutting from the wall quickly reversed any tactile associations the viewer may have brought to the work.

Several events for the public were held in conjunction with the exhibition. Education evenings to which teachers and college lecturers were invited allowed exploration of the collaborative opportunities the exhibition offered. Two family days were scheduled for exploring pattern in poetry and music alongside the visual.

Pattern is a ubiquitous and often unnoticed phenomenon in the world around us. Pattern Crazy made great strides to correct this oversight and acknowledge the varied and original ways in which pattern exists in the world today.

Surface Design Journal, summer 2003: 44-45.