Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

Poems to Wear


Poems to Wear
Myrna Myers Gallery
11, rue de Beaune, Paris
May 17 – June 24, 2006

This exhibition brings together a stunning collection of Japanese costumes dating from the late 18th to the early 20th centuries alongside contemporary Kimonos and wall hangings by the French textile artist Marie-Hélène Guelton. Ironically, it is Guelton’s arashi dyed textiles that often feel as though they belong to a long gone era, while several of the historical examples on display feel disconcertingly contemporary. These chronological contradictions are possible in part because of the Kimono’s silhouette, a shape that has remained remarkably constant for centuries. Guelton’s respect of these proportions inverts the time gap between the historical and contemporary versions; but it is also the subtlety of her palette and sensitivity to detail (elements so often erased by the machines which weave and dye our contemporary fabrics) that makes her contemporary work feel, if not historical, then timeless.

Duponi and Tussah silks and the Pina and Abaca cloths woven in the Philippines are Guelton’s fabrics of choice. In particular the partially degummed Tussah silk provides Guelton with a beautifully textured surface that is less absorbent of dyes, resulting in a soft palette which suggests the faded beauty of antique textiles. In contrast, historical examples such as the simple blue and white silk noshime (no. 3) belie their age to feel as contemporary as Guelton’s creations feel historical. But this is not to say that Guelton designs textiles with only the past in mind. Evidence of the considerable scrutiny she imposes on the historical techniques she has mastered is also apparent throughout this body of recent work. For example, her technique of stitching delicate sutures from both sides of the fabric as a resist technique and, after dying, removing only a portion of the stitches to leave the ridges and tails of some of thread in the finished work, is one eloquent trademarks that challenges traditional production techniques.

Unexpectedly, this exhibition also offers eco-fashion enthusiasts some sage lessons. Examples such as the Kimono undergarment of dark checked and striped patchwork silks with contrasting areas of brilliant reds and pinks (no. 11) is described in the accompanying catalogue essay, penned by gallery owner and namesake Myrna Myers, as a Kimono undergarment fashioned from “silks most probably taken from worn out clothing.” Rather than a heavy handed recycling aesthetic which preaches its morals at the cost of aesthetics, this work cleverly conceals its need to work with scraps by integrating stylized imagery with the available fabric fragments. “Inspiration,” Myers concludes in reference to this work “transforms a utilitarian garment into a picture.”

Modern Carpets & Textiles (summer 2006: 13)