In 2008 I took the opportunity to go down to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and see the new exhibition “art of the STITCH“. I’d never been in the Waterhall section of the museum before, so got directions off a very nice girl on reception who pointed me in the right direction.
Whilst the exhibition itself was free, the guide that goes along with it was £6. I always feel cheated with items such as this, especially when they don’t do the items justice (some of the pieces here are only partially shown). I wasn’t going to buy one, but then saw some of the pieces and decided to splash out.
All of the pieces gave the title, the artist, their home country, and a summary of items used in the creation. A few gave a little more information and in many situations this was interesting and thought provoking. For example, for Sarah Brown‘s [UK] piece “84 Hours” the info is: “84 Hours reflects on the working life of William Wood, a bookbinder who died in Newgate prison in 1788, after being sentenced for two years for pressurising his master to reduce the working week from 84 to 83 hours. The book was bound from 6am to 8pm for six days, recreating Wood’s working week”.
Once in a while you get the following however (for Michael Brennard-Wood’s “the art of the stitch” [UK]): “Art of the Stitch utilises art movements, artists, dates and philosophies derived from fine art practice as a basis for construction. It can be viewed as a diagrammatic meditation on the interlaced fusion of artistic enquiry. Machine embroidered texts evoke both nametags and the desire to define a new artistic movement”. What a load of pretentious bollocks. Essentially he’s cobbled something together (by printing words on fabric and then cutting it out and pinning it up on a board) that doesn’t conform to any pre-existing named artistic style and is trying to therefore push it forward as a new style he’s created in the hope that someone thinks he’s fabulous. Putting up some baloney wording like that only opens up all art styles to be mocked.
My favourite piece was probably Mariana Fantich’s “Needle and Thread” [UK]. Hand Embroidery with Silk thread, this is a fairly large sized piece (100 x 100 cm), mainly silver on black. It’s the “portrait of a skinned man. The work juxtaposes the process of piercing fabric with needle and thread, and that of reconstruction flayed skin at the conclusion of an autopsy”. Whilst this sounds gruesome, it’s not, and the sheer beauty of the work is stunning. The Threads! The stitches! Just amazing.
Perhaps my second favourite was Zara Merrick‘s “Queen Berenice’s Hair” (also from the UK). that tells in almost a comic strip style, the story of Queen Berenice, a 3rd century Egyptian queen who sacrifices her hair so her husband would return safe from battle (it is turned into a comet in the night sky).
Anchor’s First prize (£4000) was awarded to the Lithanian Inga Liksaite (sorry for the non-accented S!), whose tryptic “white and blue lines” was quite impressive.
Could not understand why Jane Mckeating’s “How to sleep in half a bed” should get the £2000 second prize, especially compared to Fantich’s work (for sheer technical brilliance) or Merrick’s “hair” for entertainment value. Judging by the comments in the notebook, I was not the only one to be surprised either.
Other items I thought I’d mention: Beck Night (Wales) with the “Drunkard’s path” patchwork quilt made up of recycled Guinness bottles, that made me want to touch it just to see how hard it really was; Martina Grund (Germany) with her “Human Skeleton” of sequins (thought going through my head: ok, but why sequins?!); Susanne Gregg (USA), with her “Vases”, amazingly fragile and almost not there in the soluble fabric; Lizzie Cannon (England) whose “Lichenography” was disappointing, because the “camouflaging” of her textile lichens made it difficult to identify her work against the natural stone in the resulting photographs, which lead to 8 quite visually boring images.
Overall a mixed bag of work, most of which I enjoyed, some of which I took a decent amount of pleasure from and one or two pieces that I was disappointed with.