Today I helped hang Changing Threads IV; this was the third time I helped and though the installation isn't finished, (one big piece is stuck in transit,) it's nearly there.
I am no authority on conceptual or contemporary, (more later,) but I think this year is even better than last, which was, IMHO, light years away from the first two. It's very "conceptual" and even today pieces were being deselected for being only pretty pictures, for example. Ronnie Martin's adherence to the brief is helping the exhibition grow in leaps and bounds; she feels ruthless deselecting, but that gives Changing Threads its integrity, which is becoming more evident each year. That there are a few repeat entrants tells me there is a core group of makers in New Zealand who have vision similar to Ronnie's. I was happy many of the work that made the cut are also technically well-executed, which was, from memory, not always the case in the first two years.
Having waffled, (no, I wrote all of the above in earnest,) I must tell you how glad I am that I recently excused myself from the whole conceptual arena, because I so don't get the criteria for selection/deselection. I understand Ronnie's words when she explains things to me, but it's like being explained the chemistry of composting. When you're talking to me, you have to tell me to put green and brown stuff alternatively, air out occasionally, and keep it moist; this I understand. But you can't do this with conceptual art.
An artist who came to install her own work, a gigantic piece on child abuse, asked me if I had anything in the exhibition and this year I felt comfortable saying, "No, I only make pretty things, nothing to do with concepts," and she replied right away, "There is nothing wrong with pretty!" Child abuse is a big problem in New Zealand, and you can count on works on the subject finding their way to "women's" exhibitions, ergo often in textile exhibitions. (We have men putting things in Changing Threads, to be sure.) I have seen shocking, upsetting, and unattractive work, or work too subtle I didn't know they were about child abuse. This artist's work, however, was subtle and beautiful but still made the point, and if I can get permission from her/Changing Threads/the gallery, I'd like to post some photos here; I had to rethink almost-automatically not liking artworks on the subject.
OK, here's an interesting debate we might have engaged in had we had time; if you take a piece created in an old technique, say a small flawless piece of patchwork, presented it in a contemporary way, say in a frame but lifted so the piece sits halfway between the glass and the matt at the back, thus casting interesting shadows inside the frame, would you include it? Do you see a concept here; is it even contemporary?
Changing Threads 2012 opens at 5.30 on Friday, March 23 and goes on until April 21.