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Textile Exhibitions Montevideo, 4

Friday, November 3rd, 2017

On the top floor (no lift)  of the recently restored original Cabildo building Museo Historico Cabildo on the Plaza Matriz is a lovely small exhibition I’m glad I went to this morning.  Entitled From Within – Outside and Beyondthis invitational exhibition was curated by Beatriz Schaaf of Uruguay and Germany, hence the inspired, evocative, title.  I must confess it, I know little of felt making.  I have seen wonderful felt here (Siv Goransson) and in my home town Perth Western Australia, (Nancy Ballesteros) for example; I own a couple of fabulous scarves, and sometimes buy something made in UY to take overseas as gifts.  But I’ve never watched anyone making felt. I believe wool felts best of all because of its fibre characteristics, and I believe water plus your hands and arms are greatly involved.  Prominent felters in Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, The Netherlands and Uruguay were given Uruguayan wool to work with, to which most then added other wools from their own regions, plus in many cases incorporated other fibres, papers, cloths, natural materials and metals to produce their creations for this show, a lovely idea.  Here I present some of my favourites.


Margarete Warth, Germany, Vessels (Recipientes) variable sizes, max length approx. 20cm

To me these looked ceramic, but of course they are felt, and beautifully as-if-casually-arranged on an elegant marble mantle-piece in the grey-walled gallery.


Esther Weber, Switzerland/Italy, Revelation full (perhaps 90cm x 75cm) plus detail

I love the textures on this one, Revelation by Esther Weber, suggesting something growing and hatching or emerging from beneath the top layer… something organic and a bit disturbing perhaps, so I’m not going further down that path! (see post 3 in this series for my comments on statements and titles)  This is a perfect example of a brief title giving freedom for the viewer to mentally explore responses with minimal direction from the artist.


Gudrun  Bertenberger-Geyer, Austria  Hidos humanos / Human nests – silver (front) and gold (rear)  height perhaps 1.5m each

I managed to photograph these so that they hid the security fellow sitting behind them 🙂   They look so solid, like rocks or cement, but knowing they’re not, I really felt I’d like to climb in and see how nesty these feel.  As I say, I know little of felting technique, and it surprised me that someone could make such large forms -feeling sure that this comment proves my ignorance.  So I googled ‘3D felt shapes – how large can they go?’ and, well, I’d need to know how to crawl before walking this one, but clearly there’s a lot of interesting potential.


Claudia Fischer, Germany, collection of bowls, individually approx. 20cm diam, 15cmH

Each a bit different, with textural variations on the inside and outside, plus different edge textures (rims), these bowl forms were placed low down so you could easily see inside many of them, too.

Christine Rummel, Germany,  selected textural pieces.

Christine Rummel of Germany provided a large installation of panels of textures and a table to which were attached several little pieces people could touch and fiddle with, always a wonderful experience for viewers of all ages.  Textiles and fabrics are such an important part of our lives from our arrival in the world to our departure, and we expect to be able to touch them, but so often cannot.  (refer to the right hand panel of the top photo)  I just loved the grey and cream texture in the upper right of the panel, with little lips or protuberances of 0.25-0.4cm filled with something darker grey.  In the lower panel, very, very fine forms suggest something almost papery, like wasps’ nests or something very organic, and quite fascinating.  No, I didn’t touch them, but was very tempted.

As I write this, I realise this exhibition in particular has been very inspiring to me personally, and for that I send my thanks to ALL the exhibitors, including even those whose work I haven’t commented on.  Felting is very organic, somehow very ‘environmental’, and I will not forget this exhibition.   But there were a couple of negatives – the signage was tiny, often poorly lit and positioned way down close to the floor.  Good grief organisers, think a bit more carefully about making it easier for all people to access the relevant information – use larger signage, placed close to works at heights that don’t require visitors to almost kneel on the floor. (In another museum today, Museo Andes it was exactly the opposite)  And, further, I was stunned to find when I got home and consulted the biennial catalogue, that not only were not all images of pieces in this show included in the catalogue, but none were attributed at all – how very disappointing for everyone involved, and unprofessional to say the least.  I could not have written what I have if I had not taken photos at every point in this lovely exhibition.


Purnululu #7 in Melbourne, Australia

Friday, November 3rd, 2017

My much-travelled quilt Purnululu #7 will be appearing at the Into Craft Handmade Expo, Melbourne, Australia, in just three weeks’ time, from November 24 – 27.  If you’re going to that event, look for it in the SAQA exhibition “My Corner of The World”

Alison Schwabe, Purnululu #7,  2015


Textile Exhibitions, Montevideo, 3

Tuesday, October 31st, 2017

At the Museo Nacional de Artes Visuales   MNAV  until Sunday November 12th is an interesting invitational exhibition of 22 works by artists from several countries, curated by Alicia Haber.  It’s a large space, displaying some very large works, all of which have enough room to be enjoyed in their entirety without being crowded out by something nearby.

Of course, being a textile artist myself, it was interesting to see, as I expected to, the use of many techniques traditionally associated with textile art, and in all cases one or several of these were combined with non-traditional materials and /or newer digital technology to push the boundaries of the concept ‘textile’ and it’s role in Life.   After commenting on the incredible degree to which traditional fabric and thread techniques such as knitting, sewing, quilting, weaving and embroidery (and many more) blend and overlap in modern textile art, Alicia Haber writes in the catalogue introduction to this exhibition: “Current textile artists carry out experimental research, including games with gravity, use of light effects, use of transparency, inclusion of video art, integration of performance, composition with sound (and sic…) art resources, creation of soft sculptures, installations with fibres and videos, creation of wearable art, jewellry making, urban art applications, construction of settings and interventions, among many other innovations.  They do not stop before frontiers.”  

All artists had something ‘important’ to say in their statements relating to each work located on nearby walls.  These additional statements, however, were not included in the Biennial exhibition catalogue, and for some perhaps that is just as well.  Many were long, minor literary works, really.  Some were so complicated and drawn out that even in the English translations supplied I felt I had to work too hard to understand them, so those few I just abandoned, which unfortunately influenced how I felt about those particular works.  Someone famous once said “Less is more” which is so apt here. I believe a brief title should be the only ‘statement’ a good artwork needs.  In three or four words only, a title can nudge or prompt viewers to develop their individual response by examining their own associations of memories and feelings. Brevity allows the mental freedom to explore them without pressure from the artist to interpret or react in a particular way.

And so to the works which made it onto my potential favourites list.

Maria Ortega, Spain  Self Portrait  95 x 95 x 300cm

In this soft sculpture, Maria Ortega of Spain presented a personal statement of how exploration of her reactions and feelings generated from within her body help her to come to know herself and find what she termed her spiritual essence.  Her statement says different parts of her produce emotions and feelings. This is a veiled representation of her skeletal structure from neck, ribs and spine down to pelvic girdle, suspended inside of which are reproductive organs, heart and lungs, and possibly the stomach.  To present her vision without distraction from non-involved body parts, the head with face, other organs and limbs have been discarded. “With their own and independent language they (the body parts, ed.) speak of links, love, passion…lack of communication, censorship, lack of freedom and understanding or the narrative ability of my hands.”  I found this vision and it’s expression very powerful.


Margaret Whyte, Uruguay,  Hoy te pertenece, mañana no.  (Today it belongs to you, tomorrow it does not)

Margaret is known for large works often created in situ, and in 2009 I wrote of a Margaret Whyte exhibition at this same venue “Her sculptural works are large panels of colour, texture and shape …. richly ornamented 3D  large figures.  She uses a lot of paint on the canvas and then adds manipulated fabrics and other materials, perhaps more paint and large hand stitches and coils and drapes of wrapped stuffed tubes – the whole having a rather rich voluptuousness, a medieval costume quality, and yet sudden details disturb, such as fish hooks appearing from somewhere in the manipulated fabric…”  Though fully 3D this time, I think this description still largely fits her work today; a consistency of materials and techniques continuing to provide the framework for her comments on troubling social issues. Using her materials of choice – salvaged and recycled textiles and fabric-like materials, and using techniques of stitch, wrapped and coiled cords and stuffed shapes and more, Margaret presents a collection of bundled textile ‘things’ which to me suggested backpacks or ‘baggage’.  We are urged to consider rampant consumerism that is a societal response of dissatisfaction with rapidly changing, ephemeral, modern society.  It is true that the life cycle of any textile, whether made from natural or man made materials, is often associated with ugly social issues, which we usually don’t see,and rarely think about.  Margaret mentions violence, predation and cruelty, but I would add greed – taking effect in different places of the world as exploitation, modern slavery, ecological damage, environmental degradation by pollution; and this work urges us to look at and think a about these issues.


Beatriz Oggero, Uruguay,  ‘Fire’   7 modules of varied dimensions, 250cm x 50-70cm

Now this beautiful work, Fire, by Beatriz Oggero, I could live with, though I’d have to find another house with a suitable area to display it!  I’d love to have held it in my hands to help decide if it is knitting or crochet or something else – the artist said simply ‘Technica personal’,  but that isn’t really important, as it is without doubt ‘fire’. I felt that mesmerising effect we all feel in the presence of dancing flames.  It was accompanied by a lengthy statement on kinds of fires, benefits, dangers and more regarding ‘fire’ that waxed rather poetic much of the time, in one of those minor literary works I referred to above.  It wasn’t necessary and would have been more elegant to make no statement at all -as we all have plenty of good and bad experiences with fire to fuel our imagination as we stand in front of this wonderful piece.  (I dealt with ‘fire’ myself in a large wall quilt )


Ursula Gerber Singer, Switzerland, “Unidad en diversidad”,  9 figures 18cm x 18cm x 60-74cm

These figures delighted me, grouped as they were, seemingly interacting and some moving slightly, perhaps listening, maybe murmuring quietly among themselves, waiting, or watching something happen… they were sharing an experience anyway.  So human … and so when I read in the catalogue of the materials and techniques used I was really amazed – these are heat treated stainless steel wire (armatures) and mesh – they would be anything but soft and inviting to touch!  I forgot to photograph the artist statement, but they really spoke to me anyway, regardless of what Ursula Gerber Sanger might have written in that.


Amanda McCavour, Canada, ‘Boxes’ (Cajas)   67cm x 76cm x 30cm  plus some variable sizes.

Machine embroidery over a water soluble material, which, when washed away, leaves just the machine embroidery, including lines of cross hatching holding the stitching together in the form of a delicate looking, lace-like fabric, suggesting the fragility of thread and it’s vulnerability to unravel.  But once sewn in this way these transparent thread constructions have a strength belying that appearance, according to her statement here and on her website .  Amanda McCavour used sturdy fruit boxes just like these in several house moves, and states: “This piece is about travel, transport and moving, export and economy – contrasting stitching and embroidery with the mass produced object.”


Cristina Colichon, Peru, Mi vida como un tejido (My life as a weaving) 900cmW  x 25cmH

I loved this woven piece by Cristina Colichon, though I’d have liked to see a bit of colour in it as this did not show up very well against the predictable white gallery walls, but maybe that was part of the point.  This beautiful, sinuous work would always be subtle even against a coloured wall.  Cream cotton weaves over the clear nylon warp in a variable manner suggesting a braided stream, in the traditional technique handed down through the generations of craftsmen since the height of the Paracas culture. Moving closer to look more carefully I became very aware of how this meandering ‘stream’ flows, as a metaphor for Life, dividing and re-uniting from the ‘beginning’ of the life (which I took to be the far left corner) to the point at which I photographed the terminals of the various lines mid-wall: and just like an autobiography, which is never 100% complete, wrapped loose ends suggested the possibility of continuation – well that’s how I felt it anyway.


MNAV is always interesting and lively, particularly on weekends, so I recommend you gather a friend or two together and go down to visit this enjoyable thought provoking exhibition before its final day on sunday 12th November.



Textile Exhibitions, Montevideo, 2.

Monday, October 23rd, 2017

Felipe Maqueira, Uruguay, “…in search of a stepped-on past” detail.

Museo de Arte Precolombino e Indigena – MAPI is hosting a wonderful exhibition of works by invited textile artists who celebrate long involvement in World Textile Art, WTA the organisation presenting the current VII Biennial Textile de Arte Contemporaneo.  If you are in the old city of Montevideo before this exhibition closes on November  4th, I recommend going to the second floor of this wonderful Montevideo museum. Check opening days and hours first – entry is free tuesdays!  Curiously this venue, too, did not even have a gallery copy of the biennial’s catalogue available, let alone a stock of them for sale.  When I finally got a catalogue to the biennial exhibitions, I found there are no artist statements of any kind, and though I deplore artist statements as a rule, (on which more later) in this very multicultural event I found myself reading and photographing didactic panels about some of the works to help me understand them more, as I sometimes need help with Spanish!  On the other hand, whether the viewer experiences positive or a negative reaction to a piece of art that causes reflection and thought, then I think we would agree the artist has succeeded at least in part.  All these twenty invitational exhibits were interesting.

Anyway, at MAPI it was hard to select my favourite, and at first I thought it might be this one, predictable perhaps given my own background.  It clearly owes something to patchwork and quilting, and you all know I love grids, as I employ them in much of my own textile art.  In this piece, though, Felipe Maqueira references so much more than the ceramic tiles that inspire much of his work, and which were not what first came to my anglo mind.  Seeing this made me think of pressed sheets of tin lining the rooms in C19th buildings, and think back to historic rural and mining towns of Outback Australia I experienced in my travels, so many of which feature such material.  And in Natchez, Mississippi, touring a marvellous historic plantation home there we were shown a custom made painted canvas flooring fitted to an octagonal entry hall – it was imported from London.  from C18t onwards, wealthy Americans on both continents have traditionally imported the best european goods money could buy to furnish fancy town houses, estancias and plantation homes.  So definitely in my mind ‘painted canvas floors’ link with European colonisation of the New World.  The artist’s comments roughly translate to something like this:  ” … a reflection of gold and silver remembered, on the tragedy, the humor, the joy of different encounters and disagreements between ourselves.”  Could this reference the oppressive weight of the continent’s colonial past?  Or does it just refer to the foot traffic of people moving through our lives?  In a way that doesn’t matter, this lovely work is interesting and thought provoking.  I don’t know the sequence of processes Felipe Maqueira used, but know from the technical points listed that the top metallic painted layer (possibly stiff canvas, maybe canvas backed vinyl) has been laser cut, and the cutouts reveal a variety of fabrics behind, some sections of which are embellished with hand stitch (see detail above)

Felipe Maqueira, “… in search of a stepped-on past”,   120cmW x 180cmH.


Having recently met this next artist Silvia Piza-Tandlich, I was keen to find her work “Ave de America” (Birds of the Americas) and see it first hand.  Large, 270cmH x 150cmW, and suspended from the ceiling, it was much more striking than the pictures I’d seen of it, and I spent a lot of time in its presence.  Silvia’s Central American country, Costa Rica, is part of the land bridge between South and North America. The rich wild life, annual passages of migrating birds and her own extensive travels up and down the continents gave the broad vision that inspired this work.  Probably every culture on earth has a strong connection to birds and their importance in our lives. Many cultures assign a spiritual connection to a particular bird, which we know from ancient pictographs and petroglyphs, and birds’ inclusions in markings and patterns on the material objects of any particular culture.  That we easily recognise these symbols, even if a culture is not well known to us, is testament to birds’ universal presence and the symbolic roles they can have in our own lives, no matter where we live.

Silvia Piza-Tandlich  Ave de America,  270cmH x 250cmW

This work is double sided, or ‘low relief 3D’ might be the better way to describe it.  Though different on each side, in general the wings, head and shoulders of this suspended ‘parrot’ are decorated with preColombian bird symbols from the continents’ diverse cultures, though Silvia added in a few she designed herself.  Making up the bird’s ‘body’ are many small connected human figures with different coloured skins, wearing different coloured clothes, symbolising the diversity of the American peoples’ cultures and their connectedness.  In all, it is a carefully thought out design, rich in symbolism and employing many of the widely used, traditional hand techniques found in indigenous textile arts – applique, embroidery, crochet, macrame, stuffing and couched linear elements.  This might be my favourite…


But wait! There’s more!  I’ve been to Mexico a few times, and also spent much time with family in New Mexico, US.  So I instantly recognised the next work as a huge papel picada, (paper cutout) so often seen in Mexican festivals and occasions:

Geogina Toussaint, Mexico,  Fosas Clandestinas (fosas=graves)   140cmW x 200cmH

Geogina Toussaint, Mexico, Fosas Clandestinas, detail

When researching various things I don’t know but want to write about, I learn so much when writing this blog, and it is always fun. I’ve seen so many of these cut papers, but never thought about actually finding out how they are made – I just assumed some machinery of some kind.  The wiki link above describes the process of cutting, or stamping out the paper, often through many layers at a time with particular different shaped chisels or punches, an exacting process used here for the purple layer, described as ‘handcut’ by the artist.  Strong purple on a backing of strong yellow, with touches of other bright colours in the bordering rosettes, reflects the background culture to this piece.  The artist comments on the unfortunate situation today in Mexico, where in several lawless regions controlled by drug cartels and people smugglers, killings and burials in unmarked graves are relatively common.  Every November on the festival known as Day of The Dead, these disappeared people will be remembered and never forgotten, no matter where their hidden graves lie.  Unknown graves are called fosas clandestinas – the title of this dramatic work.


The next work of woven wool, silk and gold metallic thread, “Balsa Muisca” (Muisca Boat) was inspired by the Colombian legend of ‘El Dorado’ that drove the Spanish hunt for gold in the New World. I loved this and am sorry I didn’t get a good enough detail to catch the subtle golden gleam in the fabric.

Graciela Szamrey, Argentina, “Balsa Muisca”, (balsawood raft/boat)  175cmW x 135cmH


The statement to Vuelo Chamanico (shamanic flight) by artist Pilar Tobon,  pictured below,  translated reads : “The shaman is a spiritual leader and / or healer within an indigenous community. To perform a religious or therapeutic ceremony, he is induced to a trance by means of hallucinogenic plants, with which his spirit rises, ‘flies’ to come into contact with the spirits that can give him knowledge and guide him to heal the sick.”  Five panels 70cmW x 300cmH are printed with large images of symbols of spiritiual significance (including frogs and birds) to the indigenous Colombian people.  These were commonly found in the fabulous preColumbian gold jewellery they used for body ornamentation – the Spanish conquerors never understood that the value of these things was in the powerful symbol itself, not the material of which they were made, gold, so precious to Europeans; and much was seized, melted down and sent back to Spain.  In preColumbian times these symbolic golden earrings, bracelets, neckpieces et al were thrown to the bottom of lakes as offerings to the gods, hence the metal pieces scattered on the floor beneath these panels.

Pilar Tobon, Colombia,  “Vuelo Chamanico”  5 panels 70cmW x 300cmH


A keen fan of the Nigerian artist, El Anatsui, I instantly thought of his extraordinary art on which I have written previously when I saw this installation, and was pleased to see that this artist, Isabel Polikowsky Ditone, Argentina, acknowledged his influence in this work as she continues a series experimenting with different materials other than traditional fabrics, threads and techniques.  Such an assembly stretches the boundary of the concept of ‘fabric’, and like true fabrics, these three panels drape beautifully.

Isabel Polikowsky Ditone, Argentina,  Las Mantas de Descartes  3 x 70cmW x 170cmH


Flora Sutton, Argentina, “Aire Baile”  (Air Dance) 150cmW x 130cmH

Suspended from the high ceiling on individual, motorised mounts, these three metal sculptures of steel and wire looked like woven thread structures, and were hard to photograph in a meaningful way.  As each slowly turned on an individual motorised mount, the metal surfaces catching the light, glinted and changed subtly as each piece turned, adding more to the illusion of a gentle, soft, needleweaving.

Some pieces become ‘favourites’ because of aesthetic appeal, others become so because the viewer strongly connects with the work on some personal level. Each of my selections above qualify on both counts.  If you possibly can, do go and make your own grouping of favourites before this one closes on 4th November next. (this is a date correction to this post published earlier today – mea culpa)


New Legacies, Art Quilts, Colorado, August

Friday, October 20th, 2017

Fortunate timing had me in northern Colorado, USA, for several events in August last.  I try to time a visit to family in the area and catch the annual “New Legacies” exhibition at the Lincoln Centre, Fort Collins. This is the 35th year of this remarkable show, and in the early ’90s I, too, was a participant.  Juried entries come from all over the USA, and the result is a really good survey exhibition of the current state of the art quilt medium.

Before sharing some of my favourites from this show, I must say that more than ever this past year I have been aware of the blurring of boundaries between quilts, prints on fabric, painted fabrics, embroideries, ‘mixed media’ – the current state of  textile and fibre art is as exciting as ever, and really, the only thing that might define a ‘quilt’ these days is its layered construction held together with stitch or something that functions as ‘stitch’. Nowadays even the middle layer/batting is not required as per the now accepted formal definition adopted by SAQAART QUILT: “a creative visual work that is layered and stitched or that references this form of stitched layered structure.”

It is not even necessary for the layers to be ‘fabric’ – merely something that functions as fabric, so think plastic sheeting, insect screen mesh,  tyvek and other construction materials, think sheet metal, think slices of wood or stone – there is no limit except the artist’s imagination. Well, there were no slices of wood or slabs of stone in this show,  but all these materials have appeared on or in mixed media works in recent years, and will again.


Charlotte Ziebarth,  Wave Equations, 36inH x 51inW  (detail left, full view right)

I always put my favourite first in such an article!  On silk, this wonderful piece Wave Equations by Charlotte Ziebarth resulted from digital print, cutting, fusing, and stitch.  It was inspired by water of course, but as Charlotte writes, it is the quality of ‘wateriness’ that she is exploring here, not wanting to merely present the actual photographic representation of it, and she succeeds brilliantly.  I’m always interested to see how fellow artists handle their edges. The edge can make or break a piece, and just because it’s ‘a quilt’ doesn’t mean it has to be bound as traditional quilts always are, to withstand the rigors of life as bedding.  I frequently favour a faced edge, or torn edge, though I also use fine bindings when appropriate – artistic choices – and in the detail pic on the left you’ll see a highly effective but well constructed ‘rough’ edge.  Love it.


The next two works were hung together, enhancing each other while inviting eye movement back and forth between them. On one important level, these writhing lines link the works, each suggesting upheaval, to me at least.

Left: Denise L. Roberts  Mitote  28inH x 91inW.    Right: Judy Kirpich  The Day After, No.3  49inH x 59inW

Denise Roberts’ title ‘Mitote’ is a Toltec concept referring to the swirl of ideas and concepts in the mind.  With use of colour and expert improvisational cutting and piecing, she achieves great depth and a sense of complexity which may be, or may not be, a political statement on the state of affairs in her country.  The message in the second work, though is unmistakable.  A flag hung upside down is the internationally recognised sign of distress, and Judy Kirpich has appliqued fabric pieces to represent garish, childish style, angry-looking graffiti, on an upside down US “flag”.  There are no stars and the stripes are uneven, but it clearly suggests her nation’s flag.  Her catalogue statement says it “…deals with the current political state in our country following the election of the new administration.”  Powerful stuff, equal second favourites.


Wen Redmond, Water Markings,  23inH x 58inW

Acknowledging a lifelong source of “contemplation and comfort” in Water Markings, Wen Redmond presents a tranquil piece, typical of her work which I always enjoy seeing in real life.  She has spent years mastering her signature combination of mixed media works comprising digital print on fabric+paint+fabric manipulation+stitch. This work is typically cut into sections and re-joined (tied) to form a slightly but deliberately ‘mis-matched’ assembly of different but related colours and textures.  It looks beautiful and deceptively ‘simple’, but I’m sure it’s not.










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