Review of the Exhibition – Sian Martin


A review by Sian Martin

This diverse exhibition by the Textile Forum South West was staged by the Brewhouse Gallery, Taunton. This venue is known for its exciting programme supporting contemporary art practice and thought-provoking shows. Congratulations to Curator, Tim Martin for hosting another group of innovative textile artists.

Congratulations, too, to the artists who challenged themselves to create such personal and imaginative textile pieces. Some spoke of heartfelt experiences, some recorded joy and all mapped a deep connection with their chosen story. These illuminating phrases quoted from some featured artists –

“to map the future I look to the past”

“to know where you are requires knowledge of where you have been”

It  was intriguing to absorb the artist’s statement along with their work. This helps to engage more fully with the work and the artist and to relate more fully with quite complex ideas. One tiny niggle was the difficulty in finding the exhibit numbers to relate work to artists’ information.  Perhaps a map to identify each one instead?

At first sight, many pieces seemed to recall past experiences and memories as in ‘The Souvenir Shop’ by Helen Price and Sue Bradley’s ‘Everywhere I Have Ever Lived’. Each piece recorded more than just a static idea and mapped out their story in lyrical detail, sometimes pictorially and sometimes with symbolism.

Many artists based their idea around the traditional visual map such as the two vibrant quilts by Alicia Merrett which could be viewed as the map of the same birds’ eye view at different times or state of mind. The intriguingly simple idea of the reverse stitched map by Shellie Holden gave us  a new view of old routes. Jacqui Parkinson used stitched and pieced folded bed sheets that hold journeys inside their folds – as a metaphor for a folded map. Anna Glassbrook enclosed a space to mark and plot 3 dimensional stitch patterns.

Journeys and travel were strong themes, personally developed as in Sue Green’s ‘Connections’ based on I-Pad doodles to visually record conversation snippets heard on a train journey. Others drew on much loved and familiar journeys made, such as Anne Amosford’s bus trip on the no 92 and Liz Harding’s sensitively drawn recording of her walk with Tiggy. Liz Hewitt noted the convoluted marks of life’s journey in a very long, partially unrolled stitched strip.

Some artists showed their individual views of the world, past, present and future through their own personal maps and commented on journeys of change and in time, mapping ideas that show how others make and have made our history. Julia Penrose made a very poignant statement in her beautifully presented ‘The only thing I have on my back is my shirt’,  tracing the journey of those forced to leave their home with no belongings using a deconstructed shirt. Fiona Haines observed her own journey from nurse to artist in her installation of hospital trolley, latex gloves and black threads ending in cleats. This assemblage strongly suggested the transition from one state to another, perhaps a metaphor for how Fiona’s life had come out of routine into freedom.

‘Butterfly Ball’ by Carolyn Sibbald assembled a cascade of symbols of different cultures. Assemblage was also used to suggest a solid in ‘States of Well-being’ by Debby Bird where delicate forms of silk porcelain  were suspended into a new whole mass. The artist’s statement suggests that this was one of a series of miniature globes. Rather than multiples, this single piece would have looked stunning if it had been made to fill the gallery.

Transient moments around a seaside bench, global events centred on an Icelandic volcano eruption, small cherished visions of an ultrasound scan and bridging of cultures in travel and fair-trade routes mapped places and time rather than movements. Debbie Pawle showed a  specific view of one fixed place in the timed photographs of ‘The Bench’ and Wendy Allen viewed colourful strips set in resin in her colourful ‘Community Allotments 2012’.

I enjoyed identifying the wonderful range of textile media and processes that in themselves connect beautifully with mapping, grids, networks, threading, weaving, linking, looping, piecing and pompom making. Amy Houghton’s ‘Tweave’ created an online artwork that recorded an evolving thread of sounds that stretched the media map into today and beyond.

It is difficult not to be seduced by the sensuality of materials, both textile and non-textile, seeing and ‘touching through your eyes’. How many of us enjoy making connections with the physical material of a piece of work that recalls sensations, situations and people? The walk through the gallery was full of these connections for me – the old French linen cloth that Kay Swancutt stitched into, the embroidery hoops that Jo Beal mounted her pieces within, the balls of Aran knitting yarn in Brenda’s Millers ‘Knitting’ and in Claire Crompton’s ‘Sheep Country’. Unlike one little girl, watched by her mother, I did resist the temptation of rolling over the sensuous felt strips of ‘Journeys’ by Janet Clarke on the floor.

Siân Martin April 2012

To view Sian’s website click here

To view Sian’s blog click here




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