Mapping the Future: Where Are You Now?
Textile Forum South West
The Brewhouse Theatre and Arts Centre, Taunton
23 February – 24 March 2012
Wendy Allan : Anne Amosford : Susi Bancroft : Jane Barker : Doreen Barnaville : Jo Beal : Debby Bird : Sue Bradley : Leslie Bricknell : Jayne Butler : Janet Clarke : Jan Connett : Claire Crompton : Anna Glassbrook : Sue Green : Fiona Haines : Liz Harding : Alison Harper : Liz Hewitt : Shellie Holden : Amy Houghton : Dawn Mason : Alicia Merrett : Brenda Miller : Jillian Morris : Jacqui Parkinson : Debbie Pawle : Julia Penrose : Helen Price : Julie Pryor : Carolyn Sibbald : Brigitte Stockton : Kay Swancutt : Carol Anne Tonge : Stephanie Wooster
Passers by did double takes at the tree opposite the Brewhouse entrance, partially clad in yarn and sprouting colourful globes like horse chestnuts. This invitation by Alison Harper and Jane Barker was a way marker into a more serious and questioning but still playful experience in the gallery.
Covering; binding; connecting; dividing; defining. These functions of textiles, manipulated by artists from Rosemarie Trockel to Claire Barclay, were more instantly apparent than the medium itself. Pieces stretched floor to ceiling, fanned out, bunched up, and established a spatial rhythm like moving through a loose mesh that linked disparate approaches to the mapping theme – from external journeys to conceptual maps to emotional and experiential psycho-geography.
Jane Barker’s Mahjong inspired straitjacket-robe for a giantess, ‘East to West’, held the space by its height and because it conjured an (absent and impossible) human form, reminding the viewer of their own intimate relationship with fabrics and their role in self definition. She described the piece as being about ‘simplicity, harmony and embracing imperfections’ but for me it also had darker connotations and a touch of absurd humour.
The only direct representation of the human form, Brenda Miller’s self portrait photograph ‘Knitting’, was taken on a hillside looking towards a horizon which, as she points out, is a construction dependent on your own viewpoint. A camping chair surrounded by in-process knitting seemed to invite the viewer to sit and share the illusion, from their position as hero of their own personally crafted narrative.
Claire Crompton’s ‘Sheep Country’ was an enigmatic segmented form atop a high plinth. Another interpretation of landscape, the paradoxical hardness of the three dimensional contour map reflected an existence tied to the land’s productivity and the pressures of commerce and consumer trends. Shellie Holden’s ‘Map drawing Cardigan – Cardiff 1952 revisited and stitched’ used a vintage Ordnance Survey map as painters re-used the backs of canvases; over time the original painting can reassert itself and appear in ghostly traces through the newer work. Here Holden overstitched the original’s outlines to create a decentring haptic map where left and right were reversed and interpretative tools missing.
Craft and digital technology teased one another in Sue Green’s hand and machine overstitched iPad ‘doodles’ ‘Connections’, attempts to map the pitch and tone of voices in overheard train conversations. Online project Tweave, created by Amy Houghton and Ed Holroyd, uses the sounds of craft to weave an aural fabric to which site visitors can add and explore to create their own thread: www.tweave.co.uk
‘Mapping the Future’ seemed more an exploration of the definition of mapping than the oxymoronic task of the title. Nevertheless it was like a nub on the skein of textile art’s history, a point from which to survey a continuity from past traditions to possible future directions. The works were brought together by what also differentiated them – an insistence on the personal and the experiential as inherent to both constructing and reading a map, of whatever kind – a gentle reminder that these things and the very act of making still have political currency. This exhibition may have been the last outing of Textile Forum South West in its current format. But anyone wanting to understand the breadth of contemporary textile practice should follow the onward progress of the group’s members.