Thursday, May 8, 2008

Tapestry weaving by Meridith Hinchliffe

TAPESTRY 2008 – The Fine Art of Weaving
April 9 to May 7, 2008

Tapestry 2008 will explore the relationships between visual art, tapestry and the craft of weaving from an international perspective, and build on the momentum of previous events in Australia and overseas. Through exhibitions, the symposium, master classes and seminars, it will highlight the global diversity of tapestry and exciting new developments.

When we discussed the apparent rise in interest in tapestry weaving, Head of Textile Workshop at the ANU School of Art, Valerie Kirk said: “We are at a time when people are interested more globally in tapestry. It is tactile and people are looking at the craft traditions. In the past, tapestry weaving has been associated with painting. In traditional studios, painters prepared designs which were then woven by the weavers. They considered themselves to be removed from other weavers and crafts people.”

Tapestry weaving is a slow, rhythmic process. Once the artist has completed the research for the image, every mark, change of colour and shape has to be woven by hand.

The origins of tapestry weaving – not to be confused with petit point – go back 400,000 years to the time when our ancestors were learning how to make tools.

In the book Tapestry: Mirror of History, F P Thomson states: “The name tapestry is defined by the structure of the material. The term should be used only to describe a handwoven material of ribbed surface, into which the design is woven during manufacture so that it forms an integral part of the textile.” The weft yarn is wrapped around the warp thread, and tapestries can be woven on upright or horizontal looms – the resulting fabric is virtually the same.

The symposium Tapestry 2008 kicks off with several major exhibitions. The first is titled A Month at Bundanon, by Cresside Collette, opening at the Drill Hall Gallery, ANU on April 3. This artist has taken her small frame into the environment to weave scenes from nature directly onto the warp. The technical skills she has developed allow her a spontaneity that is unique among artists working in the time consuming medium of tapestry weaving.

The exhibition is the result of residencies at Bundanon, the NSW property bequeathed to the nation by artist Arthur Boyd. The miniature tapestries respond directly to the light, colour and tone of the Shoalhaven landscape.

Three more exhibitions open on April 9, all at the ANU School of Art. Lao Tapestry: Weaving dreams and aspirations will show fine silk tapestries from the rich artistic tradition of Lao Peoples Democratic Republic where the weaver works directly at the loom, creating a composition of patterns, symbols and motifs.

The Fine Art of Tapestry Weaving features works by many of the speakers at the symposium from around the world and LAND is an open entry award exhibition, encouraging emerging artists and recognising established artists. The Tapestry Foundation of Victoria and the American Tapestry Alliance will both make awards to works in the exhibition LAND.

Master classes being held in early May, before and after the two day symposium on Friday and Saturday May 2 and 3, all filled rapidly, demonstrating the interest in this technique.

“Tapestry weaving is in the tradition of the grand narrative,” Kirk, said. “The stories of peoples’ lives and different scenarios are told through woven images.” Annika Ekdahl from Sweden uses contemporary technology such as PhotoShop to create the images which she then weaves. At first glance, you could be looking at a Bruegal painting where life is carried on at full tilt.

British artist Fiona Rutherford, who will also be a visiting artist, combines fine tapestry weaving with collages of found materials. After time spent in Japan, she is incorporating fragments of old kimono fabrics into the finished work.

An expert in Coptic Tapestry, American academic Nancy Arthur Hoskins will speak during the symposium.

“The fragments of Coptic weaving that have survived would originally have been woven into garments as decorative elements. The base cloth and the tapestry inserts would have been woven together on the loom and it is probably the firm, structural techniques of tapestry weaving that enabled them to survive”, Kirk says.

“We are delighted to have received a coveted ANU Travel Award to bring Nancy to Australia,” Kirk said. “These newly created travel awards are highly competitive, and cover costs associated with bringing international experts to Canberra.” Hoskins will complete a month as artist in residence following the symposium and will give a talk on her work during this time.

Susan Maffei from the United States is exploring a theme of sporting activities. In a bird’s eye view, we look down on a basketball court and see the parquetry floor, the floor markings, and the hoops. And we see the coloured heads and shoulders of players. “Maffei works very directly on the loom,” Kirk said. “Shapes are worked on top of each other. This method relates very directly to the construction of warp and weft rather than the painterly marks of a painter.”

Places are still available at the symposium and contact details are below. Other textile exhibitions are also being held around Canberra during the month. In partnership with the Belconnen Gallery, Craft ACT is showing Re-Fab, an exhibition of pre-loved cloth. Discarded and worn out textiles including clothing, furnishing fabrics and homewares have been revamped and re-valued by six artists. Abi Howells will have a small exhibition of tapestry works that explore body adornment in the Crucible in the foyer of Craft ACT.

The local Spinners and Weavers Group is holding their annual exhibition, Warped and Twisted from May 2 to 4 at the Discovery Centre at CSIRO at Black Mountain.

Meredith Hinchliffe
April 3, 2008

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