- Whitworth Art Gallery
- North West England
The current exhibition at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester is the latest installment in an ongoing series of art textile reviews curated by Lesley Millar.
As I entered the space I was particularly struck by the laser cut lace work of Mare Kelpman from Estonia. This work, titled Estonian National Embroidery 9th and 10th, floated delicately despite its size. Casting bold shadows on the walls around it, I thought this was very promising; something new, something different.
I'm a huge fan of Lesley Millar. She has done much to bring art textiles to a wider audience over the years,to raise the bar on how the medium is discussed and presented, and she writes beautifully, however, for me, the majority of this exhibition, (I presumed the result of a research trip to parts of new Europe),was incredibly disappointing and horribly dated, fashion led, and perhaps it has pulled the status of art textiles back 20 years.
Showing the work of Michael Brennand Wood, Shelley Goldsmith, Diana Harrison and Maxine Bristow in almost every art textile exhibition I feel as though we are saying that the medium has little fresh talent to offer a contemporary audience. I'm interested in their work but would rather see retrospectives or major solo shows of these artists.
I found it difficult within the context of the exhibition to make connections between the British work and the rest.
Auste Jurgelionyte of Lithuania combined felt with animation. Again within the context of the exhibition it was hard to really see why, although the work was interesting. The video suffered from poor execution, it was not well crafted. It had an amateurish feel to it which in itself is not a bad thing but in this case seemed unintentional.
Laura Pavilonyte, also from Lithuania, was represented by the piece How to Become Happy. This consisted of a Maze of sticks and wool, recorded on video and in photographic format. I liked this. It reminded me of the beautiful work from Japan that had featured in one of Lesley Millar's previous survey exhibitions. The performance element was not challenging from a fine art context but was none the less interesting for that.
In the delightful upstairs gallery at the Whitworth Sue Lawty's work Call and Response: linen lead stone shadow was sublime. It made simple use of materials, using textile sensibilities to imbue an ordered sense of beauty.
Freddie Robins has always been an artist to watch. She avoids the straight jacket of textile artist insisting on being simply a visual artist. Her work, The Perfect: Alex, and The Perfect: Emilie, Annette, Marie, Cecile and Yvonne are garments knitted in the round at the William Lee Innovation Centre, University of Manchester, using Shima Seiki wholegarment machines in a research project commissioned especially for the exhibition. The body suits lie flat and lifeless on the floor of the gallery, reminiscent of silhouettes.There is wit and skill combined to create a meaningful piece of work, that comments on society, consumerism, mass production and individuality.
Overall this exhibition had a feel of a return to the seventies, with tufted rugs, quilted James Bonds, and minimal orange squares that act as acoustic panels. It was very disappointing. Individuals did save the day with some really interesting work. This exhibition had obviously pleased a section of the textile audience but from a fine art viewpoint it did little to raise the standards, level or critical standing of art textiles.