The William Morris Gallery is pleased to present ‘Weaving New Worlds’, an exhibition of contemporary tapestries by 16 artists from the UK, USA, Canada, New Zealand, Norway and Japan, weaving together the stories of our time. The exhibition will offer an exploration of the human condition through two lenses, the utopian and the dystopian, subjects that William Morris reflected on in his own work.
The utopian section of the exhibition will offer reflections on rural mythologies and lost landscapes, including work by British artist Jennie Moncur and Japanese artist Miyuki Tatsumi, both of whose work celebrates the natural world. The dystopian section will counter this, displaying work dealing with preoccupying issues of today, including natural disasters and war. Barbara Heller, one of Canada’s foremost tapestry makers, reflects her social concerns and fears for the future of the world through her weaving. In Regeneration she asks if something positive could come out of catastrophe. Alongside fire and bombed out buildings, the work depicts serotinous pine cones. These pine cones are covered with a resin that must be melted for the cone to open and release their seeds. When a fire moves through the forest, the cones open and the seeds are distributed by wind and gravity onto ground cleared and made fertile by the ash from the recent fire.
Woven tapestry is formed from the most basic construction: using a loom, the maker forms a design through tightly packed horizontal threads (the weft), which cover vertical threads (the warp). To weave a tapestry is an intensely intimate act; the weaver must concentrate on tiny areas at a time, building shape upon shape of imagery, colour and narrative until the final, and usually large scale, work is completed. Historic examples of tapestry range across time and cultures, including the 4th or 5th century Coptic (Egyptian Christian) tapestries with their bold imagery, the highly complex early 16th century European tapestries telling the story of The Lady and The Unicorn, right up to the present day. In each historical instance, tapestry has always been used to tell stories of the time. Using traditional hand woven tapestry techniques that connect us to the past, the artists included in ‘Weaving New Worlds’ have drawn on contemporary images and events, personal dreams and feelings, bringing the art form into the 21st century through their vibrancy and subject matter.
The featured artists are notable for continually pushing the boundaries of their craft, and in some cases this is the first UK presentation of their work. Norwegian artist Mari Meen Halsøy has been working for the last eight years in Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, a city marked by violence and political unrest. For decades bombed buildings with countless bullet holes have stood as monuments to the ravages. Halsøy weaves, on site, patches for the ‘wounds’ of the buildings, as an act of metaphorical and actual healing. Her tapestry Snipers Room will be exhibited for the first time in the UK.
Also on display will be British artist Pat Taylor’s portrait of Kim Jong-un, taken from her recent series of tapestry portraits. Preoccupation with physiognomy has been a constant theme in her work, stimulated by current and sometimes physically distant events. By using physiognomy as the linchpin, stories are expressed through the landscape of the subject’s face.
American artist Erin M. Riley will present a new work in this exhibition, reflecting a thematic change from her ‘Selfie’ series and the sexually explicit tapestries for which she is well known. Her work Head On references her childhood in which she grew up in a town in Cape Cod, Massachussetts, that had a markedly high rate of drunk driving accidents and related deaths, causing her to make a significant choice from a young age not to drink.
New Zealand artist Patricia Armour’s tapestry Memorial to Those Lost at Sea is also an intensely personal work. In 2014 Patricia discovered that her grandmother’s younger brother had perished on the HMS Defence in the Battle of Jutland in 1916. She wove the tapestry in dedication to his memory and to all the men, women and children lost at sea, whether in wartime or peacetime.
This exhibition reveals a potent space for woven tapestries to occupy and to tell the story of our times. It is a space in which tapestry becomes the subversive membrane between the virtual and the textural, the instant and the long term. William Morris himself believed weaving “to be one of the most important branches” of the art of textiles. This exhibition affirms his conviction, showcasing some of the most exciting and challenging examples of tapestry today.
The exhibition is curated by Professor Lesley Millar at the University for the Creative Arts, in collaboration with the National Centre for Craft & Design and the William Morris Gallery.
Professor Lesley Millar said, “As our lives become more and more dominated by digital technology, there is a palpable hunger in all of us for a balancing material engagement, an engagement that hand woven tapestries offer as they tell the stories of our time.”
Rowan Bain, Senior Curator of the William Morris Gallery, said: “For a long time, weaving was considered a female art form and not given the recognition it deserved. It is therefore timely, that as women’s voices are starting to be heard, this exhibition of 16 international woman artists challenges our preconceptions, showcasing powerful woven messages that cannot be ignored.”
Visit website: wmgallery.org.uk/whats-on
*Image credit: Ripples & Ribes by Jennie Moncur, 2015 ©The Artist
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