I’m just back from Harrogate where Gail Baxter and I exhibited our latest lace projects in one of the gallery spaces at the Knitting and stitching show. Gail’s work concerns netting, recycling and sustainability and mine was a series of veils inspired by nineteenth century gothic novels and their authors. The link between the two was the use of netting – fishing net for Gail and the fine net of wedding veils for me. The space was a different shape from our gallery at Alexandra Palace, which had been the first venue for the exhibition. The square gallery at Harrogate allowed us to group the work more effectively and I was pleased that my veils could be seen as a complete body of work and the relationships between them could be appreciated. The gallery was also at the entrance to the show so we had a constant stream of visitors who were interested in finding out the background to the work and the inspiration for it. I was especially pleased that at the end of each day several people leaving the show came up to us and said that they thought our exhibition was the best in the show.
Friday, 18 November 2016
It’s always difficult to know how much information to put on labels. Some galleries insist on dimensions and materials, which I’ve always thought rather odd if you have the work in front of you. For my latest exhibition of veils at the Knitting and stitching show I decided to give a flavour of the concept behind the work to pique the audience’s interest. For example, for ‘Pinned down’ (the veil fringed with pins see pic above), I gave the title and then added ‘A sparkling fringe of pins hides the sharper reality of conjugal bliss and domesticity’. That describes the work but doesn’t explain all the research into nineteenth century domesticity and gothic novels that lies behind it. The veil, and the idea of the pins forming a fringe, clearly resonated with many people and made them smile and those who were interested came over and we had a more detailed discussion about the ideas behind the work and the contrasts evident in using sharp pins within a soft veil. In many cases people were interested in one veil and reading the label made them realise how it related to the other veils and fitted into the body of work on display. The veils are attractive in their own right and I also wanted the labels to convey the idea that they are artworks not bridal wear. I thought that giving some idea of the concepts behind them would dispel that idea. For example, I would have thought that ‘Marriage lines’ with the text ‘Jane Austen’s equivocal view of marriage, pinned in place using her own system of rearranging ideas’ would have deterred most brides. Not all however – as some people did ask if I made bridal veils for sale!
Thursday, 10 November 2016
The Hybrid lace exhibition in Limerick displayed a pleasing combination of traditional antique and contemporary lace, as well as drawings of lace, experimental work and a video showing the process of making machine lace. Some of the most beautiful designs (see above) came from the archive and were the work of Cecilia Keyes from Kinsale, who studied lace design at the South Kensington School of Art and won many prizes for her lovely work.
The image above shows how the traditional and modern were brought together in one part of the gallery. On the far wall is my triptych ‘Dust, decay and disintegration’ a combination of linen bobbin lace and silk paper, which is complemented by Gail Baxter’s stunning black and red, bobbin lace hangings entitled ‘Tracing the thread III’ on the left. In the centre is ‘THX.OBJ’ a robe of plastic lace by Nora O’Murchu and Hua Shu, and in the background Ruth Duignan’s two ‘Simple stitch’ blouses, one in red the other white, fabricated from tulle embroidered with a simple running stitch in a variety of threads inspired by native hedgerows, rushes and reeds. Traditional work was shown in the glass cases and modern lace drawings were displayed along the wall.
Much of the contemporary work used unusual materials to construct lace. For example, Dawn Cole’s print entitled ‘Wound in back and bullet came out in front’ (above) uses text from the diary of the World War I nurse Clarice Spratling to create images that resemble fine lace. Jane Murtagh’s etched and patinated copper entitled ‘The Lace maker’s garden’ is based on thoughts of a winter garden and the work Florence Vere O’Brien undertook to revitalise the Limerick lace industry at the end of the nineteenth century.
Neither Roisin de Buitlear nor Michael Canning are lacemakers but both have referenced lace in their work. Roisin with her beautiful lace etched on hand-blown glass and Michael with his diptychs inspired by Limerick lace, memory and loss, rendered in oil, wax, ash, and soot on linen. In contrast, Fiona Harrington and I are lacemakers and use traditional techniques in a modern way. Fiona with her pictorial pieces, such as ‘The chicken’ and ‘The lighthouse’ that combine Kenmare needle lace and Carrickmacross lace. And me with my three hangings entitled ‘Memories are made of this’ (above) which uses bobbin lace, made from string, and silk paper to depict the disintegration of memory with Alzheimer’s disease. It was good to see that the students from the Limerick School of Art are also being encouraged to use lace techniques in novel ways and interesting to see some of their experimental pieces and designs as part of the exhibition.
Tuesday, 1 November 2016
This conference in Limerick was linked to two exhibitions of lace and interventions throughout the city by the artist NeSpoon whose work is shown below. We were welcomed by Jacqui Hayes from the Limerick Archives and then addressed by the Mayor of Limerick. The conference was opened by Dr Matthew Potter, Historian from the Limerick Archives and organiser of the event, who talked about the history of Limerick lace. Giordana Giache, Lecturer at the Limerick School of Art and Design and curator of the exhibitions, then spoke about the liminal space that exists between the traditional and contemporary and the creativity that can be found there.
Several papers considered this theme of the traditional and the contemporary. Veronica Stuart, the Chair of the Traditional Lace Makers of Ireland, shared some of her expertise in Irish laces and showed some lovely examples of antique and modern work. The researcher Dr Gail Baxter spoke about plain net, its history and decoration, and showed us beautiful examples of traditional and contemporary work. I described my historical research into Victorian domesticity and the gothic novels that critiqued it, which led to the ‘Whispering’ series of lace curtains (detail below) in which I use tambour lace to tell a tale and reflect on social issues.
History lecturer Dr Maura Cronin, explained how much lacemaking in Ireland had been linked to the relief of poverty through Boards set up to encourage Irish manufacture. She also gave my favourite quote of the day which was taken from a Cork newspaper in 1854 and referred to lacemaking as ‘a substitute for sluttish indolence’. Elite patronage of lacemaking was also discussed by Veronica Rowe, whose grandmother Florence Vere O’Brien had been instrumental in setting up the Limerick Lace School in the 19th century. Alex Ward, Curator at the National Museum of Ireland, spoke about the fashion for Irish laces during the 19th and early 20th century, and showed some lovely images and fashion plates. The paper by Dr Amanda Briggs-Goode, Head of Fashion at Nottingham Trent University, showed how lace design had been taught in Nottingham from examples in the NTU Lace Archive. While Shazia Boucher, Deputy Director of the Calais Lace Museum, spoke about the approach the Museum takes to the display of lace by highlighting both the industrial heritage and the fashion heritage.
Toni O’Malley spoke about the difference between an artist and a craftsperson and considered the difference in value ascribed to their work. The glass artist Roisin de Buitlear showed us images of her beautiful work (detail above), much of it embellished with fine engraved lace patterns. Roisin also started an animated discussion about the role of lace in the modern world and suggested that cities like Limerick should celebrate and own their lace heritage by weaving lace into everyday lives, for example by marking bicycle routes with lace patterns and decorating bins with lace motifs. A topic that left everyone with plenty of food for thought.
Wednesday, 26 October 2016
I’m looking forward to travelling to Limerick this week for the Hybrid lace conference and associated exhibition. The series of events are designed to celebrate Irish laces and in particular Limerick lace. Looking at the conference programme suggests that the history of Limerick lace will be investigated and celebrated but new developments and ways of using lace will also be considered, so it looks like a very interesting programme. I’ll be talking about my ‘Whispering’ series of net curtains, in which I use tambour lace (one aspect of Limerick lace) to tell a tale and consider the position of women, filtered through the lens of Victorian gothic literature. Two of my lace hanging series will also be shown in the exhibition. One is linked to my research on net curtains and the dysfunctional domestic, and the other on memories and how they deteriorate with age. The work of many other excellent lace artists is also being shown and I’m looking forward to seeing their work and the exhibition as a whole. It should be an interesting few days.
Thursday, 20 October 2016
The next time Gail and I will exhibit the work from ‘Lace at the edge’ is at Harrogate, still as part of the Knitting and Stitching Show. Our stand at Alexandra Palace was rectangular but the one at Harrogate is much more square so we are having to rethink our display. When we started planning the exhibition, the aim was to intermingle our work, but when we actually came to set up that just didn’t seem to work effectively, so we ended up with my work at one end and Gail’s at the other. I think now we’ve seen the work on display we have a much better idea of which pieces work well together which we’re bearing in mind as we redesign the stand for its new shape. Other factors we will have to consider are the placing of the stand. At Alexandra Palace we were quite well inside the gallery block, but at Harrogate we are right near the opening so we’ll have to consider air draughts blowing the work and of course the temperature if it’s cold. We had a few draughts in London when the ceiling vents were opened and they wafted my black veils about in a suitably languid and sinister manner, so let’s hope we achieve that effect!
Thursday, 13 October 2016
The book we had out for the audience to write in at ‘Lace at the edge’, our exhibition at the Knitting and Stitching Show last week, is full of interesting comments. Many say they thought the work was stunning, fascinating, inspiring or beautiful, which is always encouraging to hear. Others are more informative and comment on the ideas behind the work, the textures and techniques. But I think my favourite is ‘Wonderful exhibition – I’m glad that I took the time to read the labels, it made all the difference’, mainly because that was how I approached the exhibition. I wanted to make work that would look beautiful from a distance, so would be interesting to those passing by, but would have a deeper message for those who took the time to engage with it and find the stories hidden within the folds of the veils. Another aim was to show people that lace can be used as textile art and carry a deeper message - it isn’t just a decorative technique. I know I achieved that with many people who spoke to me about the work and I lost count of those who stopped to say how nice it was to see lace being displayed at the Knitting and Stitching Show.