Lost in Lace, Gas Hall Birmingham

I’ve been busy getting started on stitching this week, and went on a day trip to Birmingham to see this much hyped exhibition. I loved it and it got me thinking a lot about what constitutes ‘lace’. I thought the layout was brilliant with information about the pieces set back at a distance where you could appreciate the whole work, uncluttered by information panels. Each exhibit also had a small sample for touching and close inspection. This was really useful in the full understanding of each piece and added another dimension to the show. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has to hold themselves back from touching works on display.

The main thing I came away with was that the space is as important as the fabric in each work. The holes (ie space) arranged in a pattern are the very thing that makes lace what it is. This was best demonstrated in ‘The Latticed Eye of Memory’ by Liz Nilsson, where sheets of heavy fabric were printed and had holes punched in them. The sheets were then suspended an rows approximately a foot apart, meaning that as you move around the piece, you get a changing view through the layers. It spoke of the glimpses of a memory, distorted by intervening experiences. The space between the rows as well as within each sheet was important to give maximum variability in views through the piece.

Another piece that got me thinking was ‘Forty-Eight’ by Nils Voelker. A grid of Tyvek pillows are sequentially inflated and deflated in an ordered sequence. An airtight fabric is surely the very opposite of lace, but going back to my original definition of lace, it uses space to create pattern within a fabric, albeit three dimensional and enclosed space in this instance.

I came away with a lot of inspiration and techniques – use of folds to create structure (‘Juxtaposition’ by Reiko Sudo), making silicone casts of lace and stitching through selected details (‘No Reverse – Lace’ by Ai Matsumoto), and use of discharge printing and of Devoré paste to burn through layers of cotton, but leaving synthetic fibres unaffected (‘Line’ by Diana Harrison). The piece that I had the biggest emotional response to was ‘After The Dream’ by Chiharu Shiota.  Five long cotton dresses suspended in a space filled with a randomly strung web of black wool. The first thought I had was that the work evoked similar feelings to that of Audrey Niffenegger’s etchings. Dark hatched lines creating an oppressive bleakness, with the headless figures trapped and entwined within. It felt very literary and I felt I wanted to know the story of the figures suspended above, like spiritual beings. For me it was a beautifully simple, stark piece with enormous complexity concealed within.

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