TAPESTRY 2008: The Fine Art of Weaving 9 April – 7 MAY 2008
Australian National University, School of Art, Canberra, ACT, Australia
A month of tapestry began with hanging exhibitions in the School of Art and at other venues around the city. As a massive wooden crate was unpacked and Yasuko Fujino’s contemporary masterpiece “Harmas de J.H. Fabre”, 200 x 400cm was unrolled, the excitement about the event grew. Fujino’s ambitious work was indicative of the highly professional, creative and skillful contributions of many internationally acclaimed artists sending work for the exhibitions and attending the event. It signaled the in-depth dedication to the traditional practice of discontinuous, weft-faced hand weaving which continues to flourish as a contemporary expressive medium.
“The Fine Art of Tapestry Weaving” explored relationships between fine art, tapestry and weaving in the works of nine contemporary artists from a diverse range of backgrounds, training and cultural perspectives.
Yasuko Fujino, Japan
Susan Martin-Maffei, USA
Fiona Rutherford, England
Archie Brennan, USA
Jane Kidd, Canada
Aino Kajaniemi, Finland
Sue Lawty, England
Sara Lindsay, Australia
Susan Mowatt, Scotland
The exhibition highlighted the global diversity of the work from individual artists working in tapestry and related practices, and presented exciting new developments in the mix of fine art, tapestry and weaving.
“LAND” – was a popular open entry international Award Exhibition held to encourage emerging artists and recognise professionals in the field. 170 tapestries addressing the theme of “Land”, 10 cm high and as long as the artist wanted were sent from around the world. Archie Brennan wove the words “ A Very Long Landscape……” in a piece almost a metre long but was beaten for length by Kristin Saeterdal’s “Temperature Calendar” which was hung along 3 walls in the space and metres at the end were coiled as space was not available to show the entire length of the weaving.
Wendy Teakel and Sara Lindsay judged the awards with the Tapestry Foundation of Victoria awards going to Cheryl Clarke Thornton and Amy Cornall and the American Tapestry Alliance Award presented to Irisa Blumante. The Peoples Choice Award went to Peruvian artist Maximo Laura. Exhibiters are able to view all tapestries through a web album compiled by Paul Cooper and later in the year the public can see the tapestries on a web exhibition arranged by the American Tapestry Alliance. In GB Jilly Edwards is arranging an exhibition of all the British entries in the BSW Gallery, Devon.
“Lao PDR Tapestry: Weaving Dreams and Aspirations” showcased traditional Tai Lue tapestry weaving in the form of the “sinh” or tubular skirt and its variations in contemporary Lao weaving. The 100 year old antique pieces demonstrated the use of natural materials and dyes with a repertoire of designs based on water motifs and in the contemporary forms a wide spectrum of sophisticated designs emerge. Kommaly Chanthavong from the sustainable business, “Mulberries” in remote northern Laos demonstrated the technique of reeling silk from cocoons in boiling water to strands of fine silk. A sale of Lao textiles was held in conjunction with the exhibition and three other Lao exhibiters – Carol Cassidy, Mrs Vandara and Mr Keomontree participated in the symposium.
“En Pleine Air Tapestries - A Month at Bundanon: Tapestries and Drawings by Cresside Collette”, curated by Alison French was held at the Drill Hall Gallery with a floortalk by artist and curator. Abigail Howells exhibited small works at Craft ACT and “South West” and “Inspired Gardens” exhibitions by Australian and NZ weavers were at Alliance Francais.
Five masterclasses were held where “the masters” shared skills and knowledge with enthusiastic participants ranging from willing novices to artists with international reputations in their own right. The buzz of energy was palpable as students learned to work directly and intuitively with Aino Kajaniemi, weave en plein air with Cresside Collette, re-invent the possibilities of jute with Sue Lawty, explore ancient Peruvian techniques with Archie Brennan and Susan Maffei and concentrate on design investigations with Jane Kidd. The discussions and sharing of experiences provided a rich learning and developmental environment.
Tapestries in Public Places
Canberra has a wealth of hidden treasures in its range of tapestries in public buildings. The National Portrait Gallery arranged a special viewing of the Dame Elizabeth Murdoch tapestry woven by Merrill Dumbrell of the Victorian Tapestry Workshop and mini-bus tours took groups to see tapestries in the National Library, National Gallery of Australia, CSIRO, Department of Foreign Affairs, small galleries and studios. Maggie Cooper prepared a list of tapestries that people can see in the ACT.
Speakers explored their connections to the traditions of tapestry, the field of contemporary art and the craft of weaving. Images of “The Lady and the Unicorn” were referenced several times and ways of engaging with contemporary art and design practice explored. A theme of re-valuing the handmade, engaging with the craft of weaving and thinking of tapestry as integral structure and image became apparent.
Annika Ekdahl, who has been awarded a five year Arts Fellowship by the Swedish Government, was the opening speaker. In her lecture “Road Movie (Verdure)” she talked about her professional journey, giving advice on career development – plan it, do it and tell it – a mantra that has taken her to great success and world acclaim as a weaver of monumental tapestries evolving from photoshoped images and freely worked on the loom.
Fiona Rutherford, England discussed Japanese clothing from the Kimono to Issey Miyake as inspiration for her work. “ It is how cloth from one culture informs the making of cloth in another” that interests her. Pattern, symbols and mark-making combined in a vivid palette are central to her tapestries.
Andrzej Banachowicz represented a move in Poland away from the conventional approach to fibre to a multi-disciplinary way of working incorporating film, sculpture and weaving. The tradition of narrative continues in new expressive forms.
Academic and contemporary theorist, Jessica Hemmings, GB proposed a re-reading of contemporary tapestry from two perspectives: the narration of memory and landscape and the metaphor of memory and landscape. She provoked a new understanding of Penelope from our time of non-engagement in hand weaving – maybe she was not unpicking by night? Have we just lost the collective memory of how long weaving takes?
Artists Nell and GW Bot talked about heir engagement with tapestry through the Victorian Tapestry Workshop. Their personal involvement in the tapestries directed the weaving approaches and the weaving fed back into their studio practice through unexpected parallels and synergies.
Mrs Vandara Amphayphone presented a short history of Lao weaving and its revitalisation from the 1970s. The technique of tapestry, still considered the most difficult and time consuming, is prized for its versatility in making patterns in weaving. It does not rely on the vertical heddle system, but on the skilled individual weaver and their interpretations.
Themes emerged over the 2 days:
The contemporary artist weaver enjoying and inspired by their knowledge of history and tradition.
Tapestry weavers as contemporary artists freely using new technologies and incorporating design/image programs, film etc into their studio practice.
A sense of the versatility of the medium to express ideas and sensibilities.
Optimism that modernism, the death of the hand-made and slickness of cold, smooth surfaces is in the past. We desire meaningful softness.
A strong commitment to the slow art of tapestry in the face of rapidly changing times.
Public appreciation of tapestry demonstrated by the developing organizations and exhibition attendance in GB, Scandinavia, Europe, USA and Japan.
The rhythm of tapestry reflects the rhythms of life, its physical passing of threads has parallels with our daily routines and continues to be relevant on a primal level.
In the face of a digital, multi-media, throw-away society tapestry presents a tangible continuum with its material substance capable of lasting beyond our time.
Archie Brennan O.B.E. was asked to reflect on his 60 years of weaving, from apprenticeship days when only boys were trained as workshop weavers to the heady days of artist weaver collaboration at the Dovecot, Edinburgh in the 70s to the daily ritual of weaving in the New York home/studio.
However, he did not know that 3 speakers from GB (Maureen Hodge speech read by Susan Mowatt), Australia (Cresside Collette) and Canada (Linda Wallace) would follow to pay tribute to his vision, commitment and force in the development of tapestry, as we know it today.
Diana Hare led a group through the specific skills and tools required to stay afloat as a professional artist. She provided information on everything from worthwhile subscriptions to maintaining professional image documentation.
Community Tapestry – Education, Art and Public Service was presented by Cresside Collette with Kay Lawrence, Kirsty Darlston, Marie Cook and Stephnie Cantoni.
“ The making of a community tapestry is a primary example of many hands engaged in a shared task in the creation of a work of art. In a world where learning is now so technologically based, the immediacy if the hands–on process of weaving restores an important human dimension and pride in craft.”
Seminar participants had the opportunity to informally engage in reflection and discussion, opening up ideas about possibilities for future development.
TAPESTRY 2008 was a major, multi-faceted project encompassing the viewing of major works and diverse tapestries from around the world, practical workshops and seminars, symposium, tours of tapestry in public buildings and talks with major tapestry works. The specialised program of events builds the capacity of individuals and groups, through professional training, development and mentoring. It keeps tapestry in Australia vital and engaged with the global field through wide community participation and personal connections made between participants.
Susan Martin Maffei wrote: “Congratulations to Valerie on such a successful event. We applaud your efforts and hard work. We enjoyed it on so many levels. The talks were very varied and covered a wide range of subjects. I found it quite interesting to find that there was a real movement back to the language of tapestry weaving and a movement away from the translation of painting. It is an international movement. It was so good to have the extensive land exhibition as well as the gallery tapestry exhibit right at the seminar to pass thru every day as we went to and from all the activities. Pleased to see the high level of expertise as well as diverse country representation in our workshop as well as in the lecturers and attending body. Hopefully we will see many more 4 selvedge weavings appearing on the horizon in the future as our workshop information is passed on. Thank you for giving us that opportunity. Catching up with old friends and meeting new ones was certainly a great part as well. Hope it will not be another 20 years for an event like this one to happen again. Love the passion of it all. “
Belinda Jessup has set up a BLOG for TAPESTRY 2008 to share information and images with everyone on the tapestry list.
Valerie Kirk, Artist and Head of Textiles, ANU SCHOOL of ART,
Building 105, Acton ACT 0200Australia.ANU CRICOS PROVIDER # 0012OC School of Art Web site:http://www.anu.edu.au/ITA/CSA/Visual Arts Graduate Program Prospectus:http://www.anu.edu.au/ITA/CSA/grad.prospectus/See postgrad application guidelines athttp://www.anu.edu.au/ITA/CSA/grad.prospectus/twenty.html