Taking Time: Craft and the Slow Revolution

Organized by Craftspace, a craft development agency based in Birmingham, England, this exhibition sets out to, in the words of curator Helen Carnac, “reflect on a slow revolution: consider ideas around time and process, material and value, site and locality, relationships to community, and the changing nature of production and consumption.” Nineteen artists represent a range of craft materials and disciplines including ceramics, textiles, and jewellery. Carnac concludes that a “slow culture quake” is underway and proposes that the exhibition “offers a thrilling reminder that every object has a story behind it and that the art of making matters hugely to all of us.” Dovecot Studios, Edinburgh, Scotland (January 18–March 22) was the second venue of a tour that will continue into 2011 in the United Kingdom.

What we today broadly term the Slow Movement began with the International Slow Food Movement in 1989. Until then, celebrating slowness had become something of a problem. Anyone who has worked with textiles knows that speed is often not an option, but we don’t spend much time talking about it. In this way, the textiles included in this exhibition struck me as work that happens to be slow, rather than electing to be slow. For example, Amy Houghton’s Cardigan Study (2008), a stop-motion animation, looks like a beautiful X-ray of a sweater slowly unravelling. To sit and watch this process is an act of patience, which is ironic because the images are, in fact, replaying faster than real time.

Rebecca Earley’s upcycling project Top 100 Shirts (1999–2008) [FiberArts January/February 2009] is the antithesis of fast fashion and shows the reconsidered values now found in garments we have previously been quick to discard. Matthew Harris treats his materials with similar care in Echo Cloth No. 1 (2009); he stitches and restitches the surfaces to create a patchwork of fabrics dyed in watery, bleeding colors. In stark visual contrast is Heidrun Schimmel’s wall panel of white thread handstitched on black transparent silk and cotton fabric in Between the Lines (2004). Here the monochrome palette, composed of sections the size of a sheet of paper, suggests something mechanical that dissolves as each wavering line comes into focus (much like the grids of an Agnes Martin painting).

Sue Lawty applies the same sense of order that underpins her tapestry weaving to create Calculus (2009), a grid of tiny pebbles the artist combed from England’s northern beaches. From a distance, the pebbles suggest a graphite drawing. Closer inspection reveals the op-art effect that dances before your eyes when you try to gauge the tiny but present depth of the work. At the opposite end of this control spectrum, Shane Waltener’s Garland #21 (2009) hung like a demented spider’s web in the corner of the gallery. Viewers were invited to knit their own contribution to the work on-site, resulting in a cheerful mess of textile enthusiasm.

The Slow Movement grants us all permission to make and think slowly. While this may not fundamentally change the way many textile practitioners work, it does mean that we can talk about it again.


The exhibit will be on view at Millennium Court Arts Centre, Northern Ireland (through September 25).

FiberArts Magazine (Sept./Oct. 2010: 52-53)