Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Lost in lace

This exhibition, curated by Lesley Millar, brings together a group of international artists who reference lace in their work, some of them quite tenuously others more overtly. The exhibition fills the Gas Hall at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and spills out in to the foyer and on to the street over the entrance, so there is plenty to see.

Annie Bascoul, Piper Shepard and Michael Brennand-Wood have use lace as a basis for their work for many years and the pieces they present here are all large and stunning. Annie Bascoul has produced over sized Alencon needlelace to form a wall enclosing a feather bed hung over an erotic French poem written in wire. Piper Shepard has reproduced a point de gaze needlelace flounce by hand cutting and perforating black paper. This again is very large, hanging between the columns of the hall, and in fact shaped to accommodate them so that when it is exhibited again it will bear the memory of this hall. Michael Brennand-Wood has used lace themes in his work for many years. Here he has linked them to military images and emblems to produce roundels that in combination appear to look like reticella lace.

Chiharu Shiota uses black threads in her work to produce a lace-like web that encloses five long white dresses. On the night of the private view, this installation could only be seen from behind a crowd, but visiting later with fewer people around it was possible to walk further into the room and feel immersed and trapped in the web, like the ghostly dresses. Tamar Frank also uses threads to produce a web, but a more geometrical one than Shiota, rather like those string and pin pictures which were popular many years ago. The threads are linked to a light display and they are light reactive so retain a memory of the light even when the lights are extinguished, producing different patterns as you walk round them.

Nils Volker doesn’t seem to reference lace at all but his installation is very effective nonetheless. It consists of a wall of Tyvek bags that are inflated and deflated by electronic fans in such a way that the wall seems to be breathing and moving in quite a mesmerising fashion. Another unusual material is the light sensitive cement used by Alessia Giardino to produce lacelike patterns from city pollution.

The centrepiece of the exhibition is the beautiful inverted crystal cathedral by Atelier Manferdini made of strings of Swarovski crystals, which is based on Gaudi’s cathedral in Barcelona.

In all, twenty artists are represented in the exhibition and the work varies from photographs to textiles, paper and video. The accompanying catalogue is excellent, with numerous pictures of the work in development and showing how the ideas developed. I also have to declare a vested interest because I have an essay in it as well. The exhibition is definitely worth visiting to see how lace can be used as a basis for contemporary work, how it can be refigured in different materials, and how ideas about lace can be challenged.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Lost in lace: concealed and revealed

This exhibition, curated by Gail Baxter at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, accompanies ‘Lost in lace’ an exhibition of international artists who reference lace in their work. Gail’s exhibition in the Bridge Gallery uses lace and artefacts from the Birmingham Museum store to tell the story behind the exquisite face of lace. The exhibition shows that although beautiful lace was bought as a fine ornament and to display the status of the wearer it was also the means of earning a bare living for many in the working class.

The exhibition shows many different types of lace, both bobbin and needlemade, from fine Chantilly to homemade tape lace and discusses many aspects of lace linked to social history. There are examples of lace bobbins, prickings and a lace pillow showing how lace is made by hand. Several portraits and items of clothing show how lace was worn at different times, including one of Lady Mason wearing a Bedfordshire lace collar pinned at the neck, with a leaf pattern familiar to today’s pattern collectors. There are also examples of lace from the collection of Mrs Cadbury, a keen local collector of lace who donated much of her collection to the Museum. There is also an interesting little sketchbook belonging to Frank Taylor Lockwood with a charming watercolour of net curtains at his scullery window. In one of the many clever links Gail makes between the exhibits we find he worked at Cadburys during the war and she then goes on to describe how lace curtain machines were used to produce mosquito netting for the troops.

This is a fascinating gem of an exhibition which holds plenty of interest for the lay person and the lacemaker. Newcomers to lace will be amazed at its variety, beauty, intricacy and history while lacemakers will gain new insights and enjoy some of the interesting pieces from the Birmingham Museum store on show for the first time.

Don’t miss it when you visit Lost in Lace – it’s in the Bridge Gallery next to the shop.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Bite-size: miniature textiles from Japan and the UK

This exhibition at the Daiwa Foundation, curated by Lesley Millar, celebrates 15 years of collaborative textile exhibitions between Japan and the UK. 51 artists are represented, who have all worked with Lesley on previous exhibitions, and all had to produce a miniature work, which in most cases were displayed on identical white plinths around the gallery.

It was interesting to explore the exhibition without a catalogue to try and identify the artists; some were easier than others and there were some surprises. With so many exhibits it is impossible to describe them all, but some of my favourites were Philippa Lawrence’s Something from nothing, a frothy mass of seared parchment; Clyde Oliver’s Little cairn, made of slate with a pebble carefully balanced on the top; Kiyonori Shimada’s Division, a small sculpture of gathered cotton cloth trapped in a simple wooden shape; Reiko Sudo’s Polygami, an exquisitely folded polyester cloth; and Kaori Umeda’s Red and white, made up of small polyester polyps linked and trapped by red threads.

At a lunch on the day after the opening some of us were lucky enough to hear some of the Japanese artists describing their work and the inspiration behind it. Many of them had tried to include a link between Japan and the UK into their work for the exhibition, for example Chika Ohgi had referenced the star patterns prominent in the sky over London and Yuka Kawai had used materials brought on a previous visit to London. The friendship and good humour shown at the lunch revealed that on many levels, the exhibition certainly succeeded as a celebration of AngloJapanese textile art.

Insight into beauty II

This exhibition at the Japanese Embassy in London showed contemporary craft inspired by Japanese materials, techniques and design. As expected there were several ceramic exhibits but, more interesting for textile artists were the panels by Beverly Ayling-Smith, the basketry by Mary Butcher, and the kumihimo braiding by several artists.

Beverly Ayling-Smith’s panels of black textiles, part of her Nigredo series, formed an impressive introduction to the exhibition. She explores the emotional states of melancholia and mourning and references Japanese cloth. The braids by Jacqui Carey, Jenny Parry, Makiko Tada, Sandy Jessett and Edna Gibson provided an fascinating display of new developments in kumihimo, some of which were three dimensional and others quite lace like.