Saturday, May 19, 2012

1H0512-Part 3: Changing Taste

This one crept up entirely unsuspected that I was gob-smacked in the last week or so since I came face to face with the discovery. Know, in this post and elsewhere, I want to point out the changes in my taste/opinion; I'm not saying something is right/good and others are wrong/bad.

At dinner two Sundays ago, I was "asked" by someone who really knows her stuff if I like a weaver's work. I say "asked" because as near as I can remember, it was something like, "Don't you just love her work? She is such an excellent weaver and her colors are beautiful. Don't you love her pieces?" I couldn't say no because I love the person who asked me, so I commented on the weaver's equipment.

I was never a fan of her colors, but I admired her techniques, productivity and enthusiasm greatly. I spent years wanting to weave the sort of stuff she wove, (not exactly the same aesthetics, but you get the gist,) and studied her work closely whenever I could. She owns the biggest, mostest and meanest weaving machines, and travels around the world attending workshops and conferences. In spite of all that, this year at the National Exhibition, I found her work clinical, impersonal and vacant. Technically they were great as usual, colors, like I said, never did me much, but I was so taken aback because I went entirely ready to be awed. To be floored.

I can't explain why they appeared so vacant to me. The issue could be, I could well imagine the weaver combating the mathematical possibilities of a design and concluding this, or that, or both, design is weavable. (My conjecture, you understand.) Another explanation was, I couldn't see a living human wearing it, whereas with most woven works, whether I like them or not, I can easily construct a visual picture of a living human being adorned in the cloths.  I always picture different kind of people wearing my stuff in different places/occasions as I design and weave and finish the stuff, unless it's a commission and I know the person who will wear/use it. I mean, vivid and concrete pictures even of people I don't know or never seen/met in places I've never been to or know. Do you?

The funny thing is, I always thought I wanted to weave technically well-constructed, impersonal cloths, impersonal being a rather important thing for me. I aspired to weave like a machine. But last month, when faced with this weaver's work, I didn't like what I saw. And in spite of some technical glitches, I much preferred pieces with a more personal feel, ones where I could imagine humans wearing and breathing in them. You understand this was my reaction, and I should ask other weavers/visitors what they thought, because they might have felt the weaver's feelings, intentions, whatever-else come through, and that's wonderful. So it's official; I now like cloths where I feel something of the maker is included in it. But how do I feel about what I make? What kind of cloth do I want to make? Well, the jury is out on fishing this weekend.

I can't decide if this is related, but I'm approaching the end of Carla Sonheim's Faces 101; I'm taking all the time in the world and doing extras where I feel like it. Carla's courses give me a bit of Stockholm Syndrome, and I started looking at what I might consider doing next, and the one I'm most interested in this week is one of the two I felt "not in a million years" only half a year ago when I discovered her courses: Junk Mail Artist's Book! I am ever so keen on it, though perhaps not right now. I have to keep my eye on the.. now what did Lynne tell me... brass ring, that is the October exhibition, and my Sketchbook Project 2013 sketchbook arrived at long last.

EDIT: said weaver told me some years ago s/he prefers "weaver" over "artist" and "workshop" over "studio" so s/he knows what s/he's doing. Again, I stress, it's about my changing taste.  

* * * * *

This is related, I'm pretty sure, but don't know how. Again, I stress these are my opinions and changing tastes/view points, not about right/good/wrong/bad.

There is another weaving exhibition at the Refinery, by a group called Professional Weavers Network. (Goodness, on a bad year Changing Threads is the only textile exhibition, but between October 2011 and 2012 there are four that I know of!) Dianne has shared her experiences at their do this year here, but to me, PWN reminds me of Yakuza; I know they're there, I even know some who belong, but I don't know much about what they do until they strike out in public, like an exhibition in Nelson or Blenheim.

Anyhoo, I took some shots with permission from Refinery; I also have permission to post here. The theme is "Flight".
I don't know how they work, and I believe they position their exhibition as a "weaving" exhibition rather than (textile) "art", so you know this. What I saw were either pictorial portrayal of things that fly, either in 2D or 3D, or work with nothing to do with flight per se but in the name/color or other gimmicks to force association. One exception was the metal piece in the top picture, which exudes flight to me, but puzzled Roger who asked what it had to do with weaving. (As you might have guessed, the metal pieces are woven as wefts and about an inch at the center is weaving as we/he know/s it.) Many pieces were exquisitely crafted; some, the weaving was good but the assembly/setup was disappointing, and one should never call something an installation if it is not site-specific; it's a decoration or objet d'art if it wasn't constructed for this exhibition in this gallery in the first instance.  (See, I'm learning.)

As an exhibition, this to me looked sad; too few pieces in a big gallery, and to use the two of three partitions to make the room smaller. The use of space made me think of a school exhibition in a gymnasium. One piece at the entrance, just above your head of the entry way, was too easily missed; I saw it for the first on the third time I exited the gallery. Roger was happy with the exhibition, but surely, surely, there would have been ways to bring together works with disparate interpretations of the subject/title. The saddest part for me was unless you were already interested in textiles, weaving, and/or techniques, the overall feel of the exhibition didn't exude joy or pleasure, which I associate with flight, nor did it provoke closer scrutiny of individual pieces. And many were worthy of it.

I don't know the circumstances around the installation or who hung it, but I'm not bitching and denigrating someone else's exhibition. I keep pondering what I would have done if I was responsible, four points come to mind:

1) I would have used the partitions to create areas so the middle of the exhibition isn't left so empty;

2) I would have not hung everything that's meant to be hung on the wall, on the wall, but off-set some to create breathing space and if the visitor so desired, could see the back of the work;

3) I would not have concentrated so many works near the entrance. (Sorry, not photographed.) So something is small, you can create drama hanging one small piece in a big area, rather than cluster smallish things together;

And finally 4) pay attention to hight when hanging from above.  This is a difficult one for me and I have to see to know if something looks right. I like exhibitions that take advantage of the height of the venue on the one hand, but if a piece is too high and hard to see, as at least two were too high for Ben and he didn't notice the one at the entrance, those work are lost to the exhibition.

And for goodness sakes, if light is an important component of a work and you could be bothered to put a light inside it, let's put the work in a dark area so the intended illumination shows up, eh. People were puzzled about this one, I can tell you.

But these are just thoughts that came to me in the last couple of days, and even I can never know unless I install and see for myself.  I'll most likely revisit this exhibition before it closes in two weeks; then it's going to Wellington if you are interested.


  1. Here's a post by Judy I intend to understand, soon; I read it once and fell into a rabit hole but I know it'll be worthwhile for me:

  2. I've noticed this tendency among some weavers to weave a pice of cloth and afterwards give it a "name" that matches the theme of an exhibition they want to submit it to. That bothers me. I am not sure whether it is worth being bothered about, but it does bother me.

    Interestingly, our national exhibition decided to go "themeless" this year - I wasn't privy to the discussions around that, but I can imagine that they weren't actually getting many submissions that really focused on the themes they had been choosing (although they were about as broad as they could be, e.g. "kaleidoscope").

  3. Aww Yakuza is a bit tough - we're not criminals or the mafia!
    I am a member of PWN (in fact Secretary/Treasurer) and in the early stages of the exhibition planning it was my job to jolly all along. It was a struggle with apathy showing.
    To my knowledge all pieces were made specifically to the subject "Flight" and I personally liked the comment "be inspired by the bird, don't try to weave the creature".
    My work is languishing (nesting) in the studio as I couldn't get it to gel.
    I'll take note and keep a record of these comments, we can all learn.

  4. Cally, agreed re. the title/subject, especially for a group that professes to be above others.

    Dianne, a possible problem is whether un/semi-suspecting viewers can discern the connection any further than, say, colors, which is the kind of thing that happens a lot in National/Area. Making something and attaching feathers don't do it for me, either. Most definitely missed seeing your name there, though.

  5. I was especially disappointed because your Black and White (2000??) was one of the most visually pleasing experiences in my life, and it comes up in the Group R discussions frequently, (or I bring it up) as at least two of us can still vividly recall parts of it. My problem with Group R is, how to make a visually coherent group exhibition if we don't rely on colors, and I have no idea while others do but I can't visualize their words/explanations as they are not descriptions. I'm useless unless I can see things.

  6. Can you, or anyone from Group R, define what makes "Black and White" exhibition stand out in your memory as an experience. Bl and wh are always striking together but there was more than that, there was magic, there was a hidden quality with that exhibition.
    I have to say I have seen very few of the pieces in Flight and obviously not seen the exhibition. I appreciate your observations from someone not involved in the group.
    If I might comment on your note to Cally, PWN has never set itself up as being "above others" and I'm sorry that impression has been given. As the website says PWN's aim is to promote art textiles as a vibrant, exciting and high quality contemporary art form. Weaving does struggle in the world of textiles and by presenting exhibitions it brings weaving to the public's attention.

  7. Dianne, B&W was bigger than the sum of all pieces exhibited, wasn't it?

    For me, first and foremost, it was the visual cleanliness. Close-up there were different blacks and not-exactly-whites, but when you entered the gallery one was hit by a fresh, crisp impression which lasted as you walked around the gallery. It also covered smaller evils; there were a few too many pieces for comfort, but because they didn't clash visually, it didn't matter.

    I think this is the factor that the other R member has in mind.

    Then there was the brand-spanking new Millennium Gallery, which was warmly welcomed by not only Blenheim and Marlborough folks but by Nelsonians as well, (this was the days before Tasman Makos when the biggest local match was Nelson v Marlborough,) and many of us made pilgrimage to see the new gallery and compared notes. To this day I'm rather enamored by the scale and position of the gallery; even the lobby exudes good vibes.

    So what was the "magic" of B&W to you?

    The "mob" factor was alas not originally mine. Though I was a member of NZSWWS I didn't know about your group until after B&W, until I worked for A Weaver. One day Someone asked if The Weaver if she was a member, and neither of us had heard of it. Since The Weaver made a living from waving, Someone made a joke that The Weaver was too busy weaving. In fact all Someone knew was one needed to be super good and be invited. I subsequently learned of another who made a living from the craft who had a hard time being included; never found out if she got in after all. We got to joking and trying to outwit each other with euphemisms like The Country Club, The Mob, The Business Roundtable (this came from an Italian mate totally unrelated to weaving,) and later, Muggles and Wizzards.

    Dianne, I welcome/thank you to clarify/defend/state your group's case here and educate us, as I sense for those who are in, it's the best thing ever. But being "above others" is not an uncommon perception/description, again not phrase, and these don't come from a position of envy, either.

    I knew I would be opening a can of worms by mentioning the exhibition and naming the group, that folks would take offense, but by the same token I'm sick of pussyfooting and disingenuously congratulating as per protocol. So I hope you don't mind if I choose not to comment further on the group. You're still the prettiest bee's knees.

  8. Thanks for being honest Meg, I'm not always brave enough to put on "paper" what I really think.
    I would just say that the professional in Professional Weavers Network doesn't just apply to one making a living from weaving but presenting their work in a professional manner including structurally sound fabric, etc.
    One difference I can think of between Black and White and Flight is the B & W had a Convenor and F didn't and whether this helped to pull it together I don't know. The Convenor had a clear vision of how and what the exhibition was to be.
    I hope to get a post done soon but now I have a deadline (next Sat.) on the next two blankets so I better get on with it.

  9. Yup. Good luck with your blankets.

  10. Hi Meg. I am a recent member of PWN, and Flight is my first time exhibiting. I believe your reference to making something and attaching feathers to it refers to my piece. This was a piece I designed and wove specifically for the exhibition, and it represented the view I saw when flying over the Waikato during a hot, dry summer. I loved the chequerboard arrangement of the paddocks below me, moving over the ranges to the sea of the West Coast. This was the result of my interpretation of that view from above, and was described in my bio and work description which travelled with the exhibition. I am sorry that you were unable to see the connection, but I was very pleased with the finished piece, and felt it conveyed my initial thoughts very well. I guess, much as art, everything is open to interpretation, and what the artist sees, is not necessarily as the views sees it. Regards, Carol


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