Textile Exhibitions, Montevideo, 2.

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

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Extracted Some DNA!

October 18th, 2017

I’ve occasionally said with exaggerated admiring boastfulness ‘My plant geneticist daughter can extract DNA…’ without really having any understanding about what on earth this might involve.  Of course I’m an avid fan of any tv program where DNA matching helps solve serious crimes 🙂 but really, I’ve no idea.  I remember when it was ‘discovered’ way back in my youth; and I’m always interested when DNA sequencing, mapping, genomes and all that kind of thing are mentioned in media reports showing how science is advancing to discover more about our world, or help the world’s medical problems.  But as I said, I really had no idea more than a general one about ‘DNA’.

It turns out, though, that using simple ingredients and procedures, any of us lay people can extract some DNA from food stuff in our own domestic laboratory, the kitchen. This I know because under my daughter’s supervised guidance, I recently did this in her kitchen.  Not difficult, certainly not dangerous, not glamorous really – not so mysterious after all, she says confidently.

Frozen plant matter (frozen strawberries and frozen spinach) in plastic ziploc bags.

 

Add some canned pineapple juice for the enzymes it contains that the DNA molecules will attach to.  As it all thaw pummel and squash the strawberries and spinach to as close to a sludge as possible.  This breaks down the cell walls so that the DNA can be retrieved once the final ingredient is added.

Place each sludge in a glass so you can see what happens when grain alcohol is added.

The clear layer of alcohol above each sludge gradually becomes clouded with what looks like cotton wool, the speed and amount of this varying plant to plant.

This cloudy cotton wool stuff is the DNA ! You can scoop it out by fork or spoon, use it on ice cream maybe … (or take it to your scientific instruments that light up with leds and go ping) – but for me that was the end of the experiment/demo.  And I don’t think I want to take this any further – my curiosity has been satisfied for the moment at least.

They say no education is wasted, and I’m not sure what I’m going to do with this knowledge, but it may come in handy some day. Thanks teach!

Textile Exhibitions Montevideo, 1

October 18th, 2017

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  100cm W x 140cm H approx.

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 mindbeginning 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

 

 

 

Something Spherical

October 10th, 2017

On July 22 last I blogged of how in a little demo to visiting artist friend I had come up with a small group of samples of half circles inset into a contrasting background (there’s a pic in that link)  I kept them up on my board for inspiration, not knowing what I should do with them but wanting to do something, definitely.  And then I went off travelling.

Visiting USA family and friends in August, I was in Greeley, CO, the day of the recent Solar Eclipse over North America. Out on our daughter’s back lawn, equipped with eclipse viewing glasses, eclipse pizzas, gorgeous eclipse devilled eggs, solar eclipse vodka, sunkist raisins and lots of other appropriately named or labelled refreshments, we enjoyed a solar eclipse brunch party with some of her UNC Botany Department colleagues. Though we were not in the zone of total blackout, the effects were dramatic enough, including a temperature drop in a few minutes of eerie ‘dusk’ at about 11.15 am.   The whole event was awesome.

After returning from my travels, it all clicked into place – I needed to do something ‘solar’ using these samples on my wall as a starting point. I have always loved these scales or dome shapes – which first appeared in my work 20 years ago, eg Pahoehoe 1 and 2Afterglow and recently in the Kimberley quilts. Here they have become the dark and light sides of spheres, in the loosest sense possible, mis-shappen and mis-matched. There’s no such word but there should be a made-up one I can’t get out of my mind, ‘ecliptical’.  I found enough of what to me are moonlight, nocturnal coloured fabric pieces and scraps – not my usual palette at all – and envisage lots of hand quilting in pale gold thread …   

 

You know I love grids – and these units are trimmed to 4 1/2″. A new project is underway, positive vibes so far, it’s lunar rather than solar, and the list of title ideas contains interesting possibilities.

 

 

 

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