Study Visit: Making Space Exhibition, Macclesfield, 6 August 2016

This exhibition is at the Silk Museum in Macclesfield, and runs until 3 September 2016. It features the work of the 62 Group of Textile Artists. The aim of the group is “to incorporate and challenge the boundaries of textile practice through an ambitious and innovative annual programme of exhibitions.” It is run along the lines of a co-operative, with a rigorous evaluation of new and existing members’ work, to keep the standards of work high.

Before the visit, I had picked out some artists’ work from their website that I wanted to look at:-

Source:- http://www.62group.org.uk/artists/

Four of these artists had work included in the exhibition.

The exhibition was displayed in an upstairs room in The Museum: exhibits were variously displayed:- free hanging; under perspex or glass; framed; set openly on plinths, or on the floor. I felt that some of the exhibits were rather crammed into corners and could be easily overlooked, so perhaps more free-standing display space would have been preferable.

There was a wide range of responses to the exhibition title of ‘Making Space’, from very loose associations, to connections with ‘outer space’ and more tangential and nuanced ideas.

I did not know any of these artists’ work beforehand (apart from the research mentioned above), so it was all new to me.

Helen Banzhaf‘s work appealed to me because of the quirky vessels she invents, the colourful nature of her pieces and the colour palettes she works with. The pieces are machine sewn, two-dimensional, framed pieces. There were two examples of her work in the exhibition.

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Helen Banzhaf Three Teapots 2, Cotton Threads on Calico

The link with the theme was that the teapots were ‘dangling in space’, which I did not think satisfied the brief. I felt that it was a very decorative and well-executed piece that I could imagine being popular as a wall decoration, or as a print, book illustration, greetings card design, or curtain fabric.

Richard McVetisIn Pursuit of Time series uses simple stitches with hand and needle to mark the passing of time – I think he means the traces of his occupation at that point in time.

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Richard McVetis In Pursuit of Time Hand Stitch on Wool

This artist had two other pieces that were like negatives of light pollution maps, showing the spread of human distribution. They were made up of thousands of tiny stitches spreading like bacteria across the fabric and showed “…pattern created at macro level by humans and their interaction with landscape and the space they inhabit”.

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Richard McVetis Light Abstraction Mid-East Cotton on Wool

Far better images of these works (without the yellow light and reflections!) can be found here on the artist’s website.

The work reminded me of Hilary Ellis’s thread drawings, that had formed part of my research for Assignment One. I was interested in the pieces from the point of view of building up an image that is more that the sum of its parts (tiny, similar units forming a more interesting whole), also the theme of repetition and variety resulting from tiny variations in movement by the artist, or random differences in the materials.

Isobel Currie showed a sculptural piece depicting a galaxy made up of three-dimensional stitches displayed in an acrylic box. The stars were deftly arranged to form swirls on the layers of thread and were made up of tiny beads. I had really liked the images of this artist’s work on the website, Interlaced Aurora, for example, (detail shown at top left in the first image), but felt that the beaded stars shapes in this piece were a bit too ‘pretty’. If I had been clever enough to conceive of and make this piece, I think I would have used variations in thread colour, or individually placed beads to represent the galaxy effect. The views from front and side were quite different, revealing the construction process.

Isobel Currie, Woven Star Galaxy Acrylic box, polyester threads, beads

Jane McKeating uses ‘visual narratives’ in the form of rag books, using print, stitch and textiles to record the past, present and future. Being a book lover, these particularly appealed to me.

The piece she had in the exhibition, however, was a wall hanging made up of a number of differently sized separate panels.

Jane McKeating Hello, How Are You? Cotton and rayon floss thread

These pieces were a combination of digital print and hand stitch. I admired her multi-layered stitching. The connection with the theme of ‘making space’, was, I think, about interaction and making time for what’s important in life – relationships, and shared experiences. I felt that the digital print worked well with the hand stitching and gave an interesting mixture of textures to a two-dimensional surface.

Debbie Lyddon‘s artworks were about capturing a hole – how surrounding nothingness gives it substance.

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Debbie Lyddon Holed Cloth 1 and 2 Cotton duck, linen, wire, wax, saltwater

These were displayed close to a corner and were too close to each other, so it was hard to view through the holes, which I thought was the important aspect of the artworks. However, I thought the use of salt water-soaked fabric was unusual and the way it had interacted with the metal and textile was interesting, as was the way the viewer interacted with the piece. The premise for the artworks was thoughtful – ‘making the invisible, visible’, and related well to the exhibition theme. All-in-all, one of my favourite artworks on display.

Julia Burrowes‘ three-dimensional artwork explores dementia, and the sometimes vibrant memories that remain, when the person (here represented by the tree, or rather space where the tree once was) has ‘gone’. I felt that the three-dimensional aspect of the work made one think of both physical components of the brain structure, and networks of interconnecting memories. I felt that this was a very poignant and personal piece for the artist (based on her own Mother’s illness) and found it quite moving to contemplate. The construction involved using recycled clothing imbued with memories, wrapped around ivy stems. The colour palette reminded me of Niki de Saint Phalle‘s resin sculptures that I had seen in Glasgow in 2013.

Julia Burrowes These Foolish Things Clothing, wrapping paper ribbon, fabric, ivy stem

My absolute favourite exhibits were those by Ann Goddard. These two sculptures were highlighting the plight of disappearing species and about ‘making space’ for nature and wildlife.

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Ann Goddard Extinction Cotton fabric, wax, thread, wire

These writhing ‘creatures’ I felt captured the death throes of unfortunate life forms failing to survive in their diminishing habitats, encroached upon by man’s insatiable use of resources.

Ann Goddard Hostile Landscape (two details) Cotton fibres, bristles, wire, concrete

This art work highlights the concreting over of the landscape, leaving nowhere for ‘seeds’ and other life forms to thrive.

Goddard says on her website that she aims “…to utilise the provenance and intrinsic qualities of materials, to evoke associations and carry the essence of ideas.” I think that it was a genius stroke to make the ‘seeds’ and ‘creatures’ into forms that do indeed remind you of other lifeforms without being specific. Priscilla, our tutor for the visit, and I disagreed about having them all the same size, colour and type. Priscilla would like to have seen more variety in the forms, whereas I thought that they represented a whole species (or indeed, all species) dying out. Each form the same and yet different. This also appealed to me because human encroachment/habitat destruction are themes that make me despair at times, and to see them featured in artwork made me feel that someone else cared about the issues, too.

There were many other artworks to view, but these were the ones that I had decided to study beforehand, or caught my particular interest on the day.

After a tour of the Jacquard looms at the Silk Museum (more of which another day!), four of us enjoyed a brisk look round an art shop before lunch and robust discussion of likes and dislikes; interpretations of the art works; what stage we were at in our OCA courses; possible places to ‘meet’ and critique each other’s work online, etc.

Review and Discussion

Our tutor for the visit was Priscilla Jones, who led us all in a lively review of the exhibition. Earlier in the day, Priscilla had described her own practice to me, and how she was moving into three-dimensional forms, rather than two dimensions. I was interested to hear that the 2D pieces sell much better (it makes sense, though, as it is easier to store and display flat artworks compared to 3D pieces).

There were some exhibits such as Lucy Brown‘s Ladies Companions (details shown below) that completely divided the students: some could not bear to even look at it because of the use of human hair. While I could fully appreciate their repulsion, I have a fine sense of the macabre, so found it horribly fascinating, although I could not quite make the link to ‘making space’.

Some of the artworks were universally disliked as being too ‘lightweight’ in content or inappropriate for this type of curated exhibition, or outdated. We also discussed the pieces we had really liked, and why we thought that was. There was quite a lot of variation in likes and dislikes, with some people loving pieces that others hated. I think some people were drawn to pieces that were either 2D or 3D, or related to their own practice. For me, the idea and context of the piece was important, but I am always drawn to certain colour palettes, and to sculptural forms. I think I will have to explore three dimensions at some point, until now most of what I have made is two-dimensional.

‘Relevance to the theme’ was another discussion thread. Some artists appeared to have just taken a piece from their existing catalogue of work and ‘made it fit’ the theme, rather than making a fresh and thoughtful new art work for the exhibition.

This led onto a discussion of whether one should evolve and make new and different artworks, or whether it was acceptable to churn out ‘the same old thing’. Customers may expect the artworks from you that they have come to love, and may reject a new change in direction (rather like a typecast actor). I think it is important to try new things and work with new ideas – to aim to be a Picasso or Hockney or David Bowie – to keep your own interest engaged, and to maintain momentum and energy. This debate chimed with my experience, having got stuck in a bit of a rut with two of my previous ‘product lines’ – felt appliques and patchwork union jack wall hangings – they were quite popular and resulted in a number of commissions, but I ended up feeling like a factory rather than an artist. I got a request to make a UJ quilt last week, although the original piece was meant to be a one-off comment on the state of ‘credit crunch’ Britain back in 2008! The need to earn a living and one’s happiness in making repeats and variations on a theme; or fear of branching out into new territory, were all mentioned as deciding factors.

Summary

As with the last study visit, meeting up with other students and our tutor for the day, was stimulating, and alleviates any feelings of isolation. Everyone there was quite happy to ‘agree to disagree’ on different points, backed up by their own arguments.

The exhibition had some thought-provoking work and has prompted me to think about working to an exhibition theme in the future; how work may be perceived by others; presentation of the work; curation; and layout of the display.

 

10 thoughts on “Study Visit: Making Space Exhibition, Macclesfield, 6 August 2016”

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