Lace, alongside knitting and crochet, has taken on a maverick role in society during recent years. Rogue knitters in Cleveland, Chicago and Ohio have created cozies for public land trees and street signs. This is a new kind of creative anarchy! In Stockholm, a massive public statue of Karl XIII sported a colourful knitted tie, care of local dissidents. This is no political quietism but an underground movement of cultural reform: review, subvert and reapply. The latest Love Lace exhibition at the Powerhouse attests to an interactive and cross-disciplinary approach to ‘the open structure-work of lace.’
Powerhouse Museum curator Lindie Ward is conscious of these international rebellions or paradigm reversals that rely on conceptual interdependence. Her approach propagates the elevation of materials beyond the prosaic and heralds a time of interactive technology and new contexts for visual and tactile lace experience. Exhibitions such as Ward’s function as manifestoes: to seize the work of cutting-edge digital artists, to make use of complex computer programs and to rejuvenate projects which are inter-connective. Ward says,’The web has a clear synergy with the fundamental idea of lace and its networks of connecting threads. Cutting-edge digital works explore interactivity and ingeniously connect the exhibition to the outside world. Some artists interpret lace threads as the pathways of social media, of roads and city streets.’
Her Love Lace exhibition, opening on 29 July 2011, will comprise works selected from 700 entries from thirty-three countries, ranging from monumental environments to smaller scale intimate works referring to the body. The works are both medial and marginalized, mythic and myopic. According to Ward, organic themes abound, as does an interest in origin, ecology and place. For example, Janet Echelman is included in the exhibition. According to Ward she, ‘is an American artist who creates gargantuan aerial net sculptures which hang above cities, pulsing in the wind like giant jelly fish. Complex computer programs are used to determine the size and shape of the nets made from high tensile Spectra fibre. They are made partly by machine, partly by hand. Echelman sees her work ‘thriving in the context of the city, interacting with people in the course of their daily lives.’
With respect to the traditions of lace, Ward reminds us that, ‘every lace design was, at some moment in time, innovative and contemporary.’ There are 3000 lace objects, all of which tell an individual story, in the Powerhouse Museum collection dating from the 1600s. Now, through the Powerhouse International Lace Award, our perceptions of traditional techniques are changing. This new appreciation of painstaking skills is being applied to fashion, jewellery, architecture, interior design and digital multi media, as innovations.
Selected artist Vishna Collins is influenced by her Croatian origins (Europe being a nucleus of historical lace activity) where ‘village people wore exquisitely hand crafted, richly embellished clothes whilst engaging in toiling soil, ploughing the fields.’ Collins uses needlelace techniques to illustrate how a beautiful garment can be created from simple raffia fibres. Her wider interests extend to contemporary Tea Gowns, a form of fashion from the nineteenth to early twentieth century which constituted at-home clothes.
Australian Karen Richards is known for her embroidered art works which toy with myth and fairy tale. She has made a stop motion animation called Secret Forest for the exhibition. It is made with machine lace and plasticine, and filmed. In 2009 Karen won the PFAFF International Embroidery as Art Excellence Award for her piece Ruined Forest. Karen explains that she interprets lace, ‘in a random or more organic form perfect for expressing a delicate or even brittle world. Its see-through qualities suggest skeletal forms, calcification, the organic and the worn away.’ While this response to the fragility of the environment has almost become a cliché in art and design circles, it is Karen’s use of digital media that elevates it to unique status.
An element of design, which is applicable to lace, is that of finding functional and beautiful solutions to problems and finding new applications for old technologies. Australian designer Ingrid Morley has plasma-cut lace openwork metal patterns into a 1950s lorry, found in a paddock at Oberon. Combining the history of the forestry industry (for which the lorry was originally used), the idea that lace serves as a map of place and of the heart and Morley’s interest in local stories, her Lorry also refers to her negative and positive experiences as an immigrant twenty years ago from South Africa. She says, ‘When I saw the lorry, it was how I wanted to be – integrating into the soil, her red rust bleeding into the earth. Through my lace research, I found in the Oberon Library, a humungous pair of lace bloomers. These old lace objects were made and given with love.’
For Love Lace, London-based Australian artist Helen Pynor has made a pair of kidneys, urethra, uterus ovaries and phallopian tubes knitted with auburn and blond hair. She admits her works are ‘absurdly time-consuming and almost invisible to the eye, these sculptures play with the in-between status of hair, hovering between culture and nature, living and dead, attraction and repulsion.’ She explains that the risk of breakage of these fine human fibres is high. Her work responds well to the exhibition brief of negative spaces being as important as positive spaces, because its strength is in its invisibility, like a cobweb only seen when the light reflects on a certain angle. There are inherent references to domestic and craft practices, the invisibility of our human working body organs and the secrets of biology.
Love Lace Curator Lindie Ward explains in her recent Surface Design Journal article, that one of the selected artists from England is Joy Buttress whose work, Skin reveals skin, is made of laser cut kid leather. Ward quotes the artist as saying, ‘Lace has a unique structure that has an ambiguity of meaning like no other fabric. I am interested in exploring the interaction of lace with the body. Leather gloves offer the surface of skin …[and] have historical significance from status and position, to war and love; they protect, conceal and limit touch.’
Of special interest in the curatorial precept for the Love Lace exhibition is the idea of using diverse materials to express a multitude of unique cultures around the world. However, it is the very unity and homogeneity of lacing (weaving, crocheting and web-making) that appeals to practitioners and audiences alike. These materials coupled with the latest technologies, remind us of our commonality and sense of global community. This is what appeals to our sense of desire. At a time when digital technologies are reaching the most remote and isolated communities, basic connections between people, whether through story, song, cooking or crafting, are still strongly coveted and actively sought.
Despite the interdependence, interactive and social network premise of the upcoming Love Lace exhibition, the strength of local community groups is also evident in wider society. Groups on the streets are responding to this mission of basic and real connection. Many a Sydney street light has been decorated with knitted covers. There is a knitting drop-in shop in Newtown, where social groups can gather. Internationally, I Knit London recently embarked on an eco-project, wherein knitters contributed to a massive blue river structure that was carried through the streets to bring awareness of the need for third world clean water, for the international charity WaterAid.
Love Lace taps into these international trends and connections between artisans, designers and artists. There is a widespread wish to develop skills and knowledge bases but also to extend social networks beyond the digital and, ultimately, away from the screen. Apart from the tumult of socio-political statements, what do exhibitions like Love Lace flag, in terms of the future of artistic innovation’ They document progress and imagination in artistic and design practice. Love Lace also charts the psychological effect and technological impact, of artistic and artisanal pursuits, upon the mindset of the country.
For the full list of featured artists click here