Two exhibitions opened near me last Friday; one was Changing Threads in Nelson, one was the guild's National Exhibition in Blenheim. I've been peripherally involved in one, and a curious outsider for yonks with the other, and here are some personal observations, aka strong opinions. For the sake of argument, I'm going to dichotomize their characteristics, so keep in mind the facts aren't as black and white.
Changing Threads is a conceptual, contemporary, textile art exhibition, where techniques are sometimes secondary. The National Exhibition is more a large group exhibition of "like-minded people" interested/engaged in woolcrafts, a word included in the official name of the New Zealand organization.
Makers make whatever they like and submit entries for both exhibitions, and there is selection involved in both, but Changing Threads excludes to create the collective body of works representing the vision of the organizers while requiring individual works to reflect the brief, whereas the National Exhibition includes to the best of their ability.
If there is politics involved in Changing Threads, it plays second fiddle to the vision, the brief and the concepts, or the way I've come to see it, CT as an entity, whereas the National Exhibition embodies its faithful, largely-amateur and volunteer membership. Their target market and audience are, accordingly, slightly different though there is an overlap in a small community like Nelson, or the Top of the South Island.
To me, Changing Threads look forward, the National Exhibition reflect back; the former challenges, the latter reminisces. But this is not to say there are no nostalgic items in the former, or forward-looking pieces in the latter. In fact, this year, I was thrilled to find one artist having strikingly similar works in both exhibitions; they are two series of stiff fiber-based tubes representing tree trunks having in its hollow parts and surrounds exquisite handmade books. I know CT absolutely loves it, and I'm dying to know how it is received by the National Exhibition organizers and visitors. (Her piece in the National Exhibition is scheduled for April 2 on the Festival blog.)
These two are the textile-related exhibitions nearest and most familiar to me, and where, in the first instance, I would go to exhibit. And exhibiting handwoven textiles, mine or others', was terribly important to me for a long time. I thought, and in some ways still do, handweaving is dying a slow death in the number who practice, it requires space and long periods of preparation, it's not portable in the way knitting is, and in New Zealand it's seen as something everybody's grandmother did, (everybody has a loom in the shed but nobody knows how to use them, so if you don't buy it it'll be firewood next week!) And to boot, wool is expensive in New Zealand, and there are fewer and fewer mills here and in Australia. You get the picture.
I think, though, the picture is not that dismal; newer and often more wired equipment and the variety of ways to source and learn and platforms for exchanges and friendship on the Internet is going to keep it alive.
After deciding on that bridge in Brisbane I don't have to force every breathing minute of my life contribute to/influence my weaving, I noticed my compulsion to exhibit, having to fight for platforms for non-art/conceptual weavers to show work, had been waning for some time. It could be related to finally letting go of "concepts" after last year's P2P2; my shoulders still loosen and drop when I remember that lunch with Pat, Ronette, Nola and Megan when I said it out loud for the first time.
It could be because, albeit for only an hour a day and two or three days a week, I have been weaving consistently of late, and every day I work on projects, not just thinking but arranging wool balls, looking up books, touching equipment, drawing, coloring, cutting up papers and making 3D models, and visualizing. I feel like a weaver and I've been so interested what I make or could make and there isn't time for other things. This really has been the best it's been in a while.
There's no guarantee I won't go back to thinking lots, but I learned a little bit more about own making; mine is not a straight line but like a heart; it expands and contracts in irregular cycles. Or, I'm like a snail not just with my speed, but only by looking back you can see the wiggly path I took. The only problem is, I tend not to like snails. :->
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Rose has some personal photos of National Exhibition in her Flickr. I'm not sure how I can show you Changing Threads, other than a few that may appear in our local press.
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Edit: I made a mistake. The "conceptual" pieces put in Changing Threads and the National Exhibition by the same artist were not as similar as I had thought. The piece in Changing Threads is as described above, but the one in the National Exhibition has a box, a couple of books and some flax weaving, and the work received a Merit Award.