Saturday, October 8, 2011

How to Create a Spectacular Textile Exhibition

I continue to think about what makes attractively-installed textile exhibitions. Much of what I like fall more or less into one of two categories:

A) a spectacular, often historic or architecturally-interesting, venue installed with a series of often simple, often translucent/transparent cloths. The arrangements tend to be sparse and ordered.  This style enhances/transforms (the mood of) the venue more than showcase the textile.  It also frequently and instantly makes one look at the venue, and the larger world, in a difference light. Though in person I've seen this style only a few times, I'm usually very partial to it.  Well-planned lighting can transform this style of exhibition into entirely different shows in the evening; 

B) exhibitions focusing on one or few featured pieces; sometimes the exhibitions consists only of these few pieces.  Exhibited pieces are usually crafted "beyond" simple cloths, if they start from a woven cloth at all; they are either heavily enhanced/ornamented, including distressed; take the shape of reliefs or sculptures; or use new or unexpected material, such as light-conducting threads. Works can be huge or tiny.  Nowadays there are many which cross over "art" and fashion; in New Zealand, WOW, which started in a paddock outside Nelson, contributed to this.

It is easier to focus on individual work in this style of exhibition; whether I like a particular exhibition or not depends on what proportion of the exhibited pieces I liked/disliked.  Lighting can create great effects when skillfully employed.  This style is less distinct, in that the difference between this style and the crammed, art-society style is a matter of degree; the intention to feature some pieces instead of putting all works on equal footing appears to be key. 

I'm certain Category A exhibitions are designed as exhibitions first and the necessary elements created to realize the vision.  Category B can go either way, and in some instances they may exhibit works of disparately created/submitted works like Creative Fibre exhibitions.

When I revisited "Area" on Wednesday, I didn't think it was any more spectacular than other Creative Fibre exhibitions I've seen.  (I.e. several at the top of the South Island this side of 2006-ish, 2000 Christchurch Festival and 2005 National Exhibition in Wellington.)  I can't help thinking they are more or less, well, pretty much the same.  Some venues are wonderful, (Refinery's big gallery, NZ Academy of Fine Arts, Wellington among them); some are downright nasty, (sorry, but The Suter's McKee, and even Refinery's front gallery if it doesn't lead to the big gallery.)

Because of the ample space and air in big gallery, we had a lot of breathing space even during the relatively well-attended opening, (fabulous attendance considering the cats-dogs-and-monkeys rain), and we did receive great feedback about the venue. I also felt that most exhibited pieces were given nice breathing space.
How could I have made it better? For one, a uniformity of support material, i.e. dowels and fishing lines, and some kind of guideline for heights.  For expedience, (and because I really didn't want to sound like a bully,) more often than not working pairs and threesomes grabbed whatever materials were nearby, and hung one piece in each area which made that piece attractive, then hung other pieces around it to create harmony in each area. (Though considering there were no set rules in these areas, I feel we made a pretty good job of it.)

Definitely the size and placement of certificates and "Do Not Touch" signs. Among other things, I don't believe in placing the latter in screamingly predominant positions, and in some cases they destroyed the negative space between exhibited pieces, but I didn't think of this until I returned on Wednesday. It may have been partly due to the person whom I believed posted the signs being exceptionally tall. 

Though my personal taste veers on sparse, the most important thing I learned from this exhibition was that uniformly-sparse can be more boring than clean; ebb and flow, and quiet, meaningful pauses, if it suits the mood I want to convey, create a more memorable exhibition/experience.  

As a cloth weaver who doesn't want to alter the cloth too much, what can I do to make interesting pieces to submit to exhibitions?  I've been thinking about this and soliciting advice since mid-2006:

* huge or tiny, because they attract me more; I am more critical of the "normal" sized items that suit the purpose;
* something that makes the viewer look up.  This is because I try to make items after studying the venues it will be installed when I can, and venues I'm most attracted to are those with high ceilings. Given time and budget, an alternative is to build something viewers can climb on, so they can look down at my piece;
* something viewers can walk/sand/sit/lie inside/though/below, or have to walk around to see the whole piece;
* piece viewers can see through, so there is the cloth/s in front, and something else (possibly another piece of textile) behind/beyond, or effective use of light and shadow;
* effective use of mirror, though this is boarding on cheating.

It's way past high time I stopped working on the list and start making something to reflect my thoughts. I'm once again thinking of a solo exhibition, some time way after "Beginnings" next October. 

Have a look at some of these, and tell me what you think.  More importantly, what do you like?


  1. I hope you got that I didn't think this was a spectacular-looking exhibition, but after all the planning and thinking, it was much like the other Creative Fibre exhibitions. If you had read the whole long post, you would have gotten it, but just thought I should clarify.

  2. I've been saving this post up for re-reading, but honestly after two weeks or so I am no wiser about my own opinions on what makes an exhibition really special. I can often say after a particular exhibition that I liked the way this was done or didn't like the way that was done - but I don't seem to have distilled any general principles from all the exhibitions I've seen. Or I need to spend more time thinking about it. I do agree with you about the signs! I'm ever so fussy about signs, always have been, ever since schooldays when (being "the one with the neat writing") I always got volunteered for copying out projects etc to go on the classroom wall.

  3. It really depends on the raw material, (art work), venue, budget/time allowance, but I'm starting to think that perhaps above all, the target audience? I revisited the exhibition a couple of times after the displays were modified, and I believe this particular group wanted to show their work to their friends and like-minded people, whereas I had a winder audience in mind. I don't think either is wrong, but different, and once we define the target, we need to stick to our guns??? Or something else entirely.


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