Several outstanding textile exhibitions opened during the recent World Textile Art Biennial VII here in Montevideo, and they remain open for the next few weeks. Do take time to see some of them if you’re here. On Sunday we visited a group show at the Municipal Exhibition Centre, Subte, on 18 de Julio, and found a terrific selection of medium- to large- works including several ceiling hung installations, covering a wide range of media and techniques, conventional and digitally modern.
My comments on each piece are totally uninfluenced by the catalogue of which there wasn’t even a gallery copy available. I was assured by the receptionist that there definitely is one, obtainable over at the nearby bookshop, but it being sunday, that was closed. Yesterday, Monday, was one of the funny optional or working holidays they often have here and some businesses, the banks and government offices close, other stuff is open, but it’s hard to predict which one will be open. As we’re half an hour out of the city area where all this is located, I’ve left it for another day. Ah, the delights of Uruguay are sometimes sadly blighted by illogical thought. I will get a copy, of course, but I simply had to write about how I felt about this exhibition NOW.
Did you know most people turn left when entering an exhibition or a retail centre? Predictably I did, and first up came across this piece which I think is my overall favourite in the show – We Are Islands by Bolivian artist Erika Ewel :
Erika Ewel, Bolivia, We Are Islands, detail. “construimos fronteras” – we build barriers
It owes a lot to the tradition of patchwork, of course, though it is not layered, and therefore not quilted. Each square is of photographic printed texture suggesting landscape, on vinyl squares. All these squares have something embroidered on them by either hand and/or machine. Apart from the words (on which more later) there are embroidered circular shapes, and lines of stitches – ties? bonds? pathways? Some connect, others just finish abruptly, not seeming to have arrived anywhere. When I first saw this work, English C17 poet John Donne’s famous poem No Man Is An Island came to mind, beginning as it does with these immortal lines –
“No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.”
The words and phrases embroidered onto this work mentioned islands, isolation, barriers, wanting to leave, being alone … they sounded dark, and disturbed me, and I found myself asking Erika with some concern if they were her own feelings or someone else’s … Erika said they are her own, but in the following discussion she pointed out she herself is not suffering depression, but that these sayings and words refer to a general condition among people today. This english translation from her website still sounds to me a slightly grim view of the world: “Every being is an island, we live locked in our worlds, we build silences, we build barriers between us, we want to protect ourselves from the world, without realizing that we are isolated and left alone.” However, as Donne reminds us, none of us really are on our own, and it is incumbent on us all to be aware of, and responsive to, the people right by our sides.
With my own background of patchwork, hand and machine embroidery and quilting, I instantly related to this piece on a technical level. Unfortunately when I saw it sunday afternoon, the taped construction holding each square edge to edge had given way in one place on account of heat and humidity in the gallery, so in falling forward the viewer was able to see a bit of the back that revealed much about possible or likely steps in the making of this piece. It was educational and inspirational actually, and oddly enough it did not seem out of place to me, artist and teacher that I am … but then I realised it was not meant to be like that. When I successfully contacted Erika she told me it had been repaired after I left the gallery. These images were supplied by Erika Ewel herself, to replace the ones I took with the fallen flap hanging down – unfortunate but enlightening maybe, but I’ve binned those pics.
Ivan Sartor, Uruguay, Forensic Evidence 100cmW x 150cmH approx
Nearby is another piece coupling strong visual with carefully chosen title to produce a powerful piece. I doubt the catalogue will contradict me – my interpretation is that this is Sartor’s statement on the incarcerated and murdered victims of the dictadura, the military dictatorship of the 1970s-80s. Uruguay has never had a public truth commission or similar air clearing process to cover what went on in these dark years of it’s modern history, and there are many here who will not talk about this painful period, especially to foreign strangers. I know people who to this day will not patronise a certain shopping mall because part of it is housed in what were prison buildings from which some people disappeared, never to be heard of again. Though in recent years there have been reasonably publicised excavations of mass burial sites often in or near military sites, today it is an open secret that some high profile members of the military and general community who were actively involved in the brutality of that era still walk free, never having had to account for their actions or complicit silence at that time. It’s a touchy subject here. Thankyou, Ivan Sartor, for your thought provoking piece.
Embroidery always attracts me, and next was a life size self portrait on cream fabric in fine black hand stitch by Zina Katz of Argentina.
The most potentially creative stitch in my opinion, simple straight stitch is beautifully used here to create the look of a pen or pencil sketch. With all stitches, as the thread passes across the back of the fabric before coming up somewhere else on the front, a related but different pattern of lines develops there, too. Therefore this piece was hung so both sides could be enjoyed; and interestingly until I saw the angel wings on the back I had not noticed their subtle presence on the front. From her website I learned that Zina Katz’s love of and skill in both drawing and stitching frequently combine in double sided works, of which there are many images on line here
Zina Katz, Argentina, Self Portrait, front (upper) and back (below)
Carmen Tejada, Mexico, “Sin Maiz, Ho Hay Pais” 80cm W x 180cm H, approx.
The title literally means that without maize, (corn) there is no country. This beautiful pale creamy gold hanging used the husks of the corn for texture. I think but am not sure if it was woven or made with a rug hooking technique while the corn husks were still green. I imagine it is very fragile now the fibre has dried out.
Cecilia Koppmann of Argentina has this beautiful work on show, and I am very sorry I did not make note of the title – but I will add it in when I get the catalogue. Her sense of colour is rich as ever, and technically it is superb.
Cecilia Koppmann, Argentina, Quilted patchwork wall hanging, 1mW x 1.5mH approx
This next piece is gorgeous, and I apologise for shooting it on the angle – the upper and lower edges are both horizontal. Various textured papers and lacey fabrics including possibly paper doilies and other finely patterned fibre pieces, seem to have been painted and collaged onto a fabric base. Various pieces protrude beyond the border of the rectangular base, emphasising the lacey delicacy of this piece – it must be very light in weight. There’s a pocket along the top edge containing some thin supporting material holding the upper edge straight and flat against the wall … so why it has been mounted on the wall with these heavy clunky looking hooks, with no effort made to hide them from view – is way beyond me! and I cannot believe this was the artist’s doing. It totally detracts from the effect that should have been achieved.
Romina Safdie S, Argentina, Cerro Dorado (golden hill), 1.25mW x 1.9mH approx
I have another couple of wonderful pics to show, but will hold them until I can check the names of their makers in the catalogue