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Jennifer Wright, ‘Shrinking violet’, digital print on cotton, installation view. Photo: Jerry Harman-Jones.

Jennifer Wright, ‘Shrinking violet’, digital print on cotton, installation view.
Photo: Jerry Harman-Jones.

Bankfield Museum, Halifax
28 September – 12 January

An exhibition that plays riot with the concepts of tradition and the familiar, 'Loop' seeks to jolt viewers from their complacent admiration of the – albeit stunning – collection of textiles at Bankfield Museum. Placing itself within and also outside of the permanent collection, this body of work by six contemporary artists demands a reappraisal of our perceptions of traditional textile crafts and imagery along with the Victorian precepts of collecting.

Miranda Whall uses the imagery of lace – a meticulous and time-consuming craft that nevertheless often leaves its creator anonymous – to conjure up images of tradition and then shoot them down. Her print The garden of delights, looks from a distance to be a pretty tame geometric design; closer inspection reveals that the design is made up of hundreds of tiny masturbating women. The piece not only challenges the Victorian social mores of lacemaking, it also questions the contemporary portrayal of female sexuality as something lewd and aggressive.

Kate Scrivener's paintings on to cotton, depicting constellations and supernovas in the night sky, also call for closer inspection; their nebulous forms are created by layering hundreds of tiny words in texts that call to mind newspaper reports of space landings. The words become lost in space, giving Scrivener's work a sense of hopelessness and emptiness.

In Fuse, Jennifer Wright creates irregular embroidery-inspired designs using hundreds of children's beads painstakingly pressed into a board. She then digitally prints the design on cotton to create strange and disturbing molecular shapes that take as much from needlepoint as from digital imaging. Wright's second work in the exhibition, the installation Shrinking violet, places a digitally-printed bedspread that similarly subverts traditional embroidery techniques, directly into an entirely Edwardian setting, thus making multiple juxtapositions within the work and its environment.

Jane Langley also plays with concepts of familiarity and unfamiliarity in her embroidery-inspired pieces Limitless play 1 and 2 – her skateboard-shaped works look a little like maps on travel-agency walls, except the landscapes are distorted and unfamiliar.

In A stranger to this place 1 and 2, Kathleen Mullaniff distorts the familiar image of a rose, rendering it unrecognisable. By repeating the image in black and white, the ordinarily beautiful image becomes disjointed and unfamiliar, denied to the senses in form, colour and smell.

In his work Local finds, Halifax, England, Finlay Taylor makes reference to and questions the motives of the Victorian hobby of butterfly collecting and specifically to Bankfield's own collection. His piece Golden oldies, 4 inch version (including 'dried up' and 'eaten out of town') makes a particularly strong statement as it includes both extinct and non-extinct butterflies displayed in a timeline format.

Justine Brooks

is a freelance writer.

First published: a-n Magazine January 2003

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