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.