Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Grayson Perry, the Vanity of Small Differences and the weaving of a community tapestry …

The last Clothes, Cloth & Culture Group meeting focussed on the theme of ‘Cloth and Social Action’. Françoise Dupré spoke of her work during the 1980s in collaboration with the Brixton Art Gallery, in particular the Patchwork of Our Lives banners created with a group of Soweto women at the height of the anti-Apartheid campaigns in 1986. She also spoke about Women’s Work, an arts organisation that she co-founded. She recalled the annual banners that they made, drawing on earlier political banner making traditions, for example, those worked by the Socialist Movement and by the Suffragettes. This stitching, piecing and embroidering was of course happening around the time of Rozsika Parker’s Subversive Stitch and the subsequent show at the Cornerhouse and Whitworth Art Galleries. This was the era during which the barriers between craft and art began to be torn down and the domestic space was shown to be the political space that perhaps it always was, particularly for working class women. Dupré went on to discuss her current work concerned with cosmopolitanism, with the plasticity and the sociability of textile crafts, with the use of textiles as a ‘portal’, and with the crafting of space through collaborative participatory social practice, that binds the haptic to the making of socially meaningful art objects. She reminded us of Stuart Hall’s notion of  ‘home’ as process; a concept that rests on ongoing engagement, i.e. something that needs to be ‘worked’.

The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine
Rozsika Parker. Cover Image © I.B. Tauris

These points were brought to life by Victoria Khur, Ruth-Marie Tunkara, the QSA ‘Knees Up’ knitting and crochet club ladies and Derek (currently the only male member of the club). Through a ‘vox-pop’ style film, Khur and Tunkara relayed tales of newly formed relationships that cross generational, economic, racial and cultural divides, stories of the sharing of knowledge and expertise, and accounts of the empowerment of the residents that attend the club. A project of Quaker Social Action, situated in London’s, Bethnal Green, ‘Knees Up’ uniquely promotes a belief in the possible by focusing on what is strong in communities, rather than what is wrong with communities. The title of their presentation, ‘Weaving a Community Tapestry’, neatly sums up the common ground between the two presentations and the content of the discussions that followed. At a certain level, Dupré, Khur and Tunkara’s talks were underlined by this notion of possibility, which is aligned to the idea of unity through difference.

Earlier on that Thursday, I had visited PROGESS at the Foundling Museum, Brunswick Square, London. Set out over three floors, the exhibition marks the 250th anniversary of William Hogarth’s death by showcasing the responses of four contemporary artists - Yinka Shonibare MBE, Grayson Perry, David Hockney and Jessie Brennan – to his infamous series of etchings A Rake’s Progress, (1735). Grayson Perry’s the Vanity of Small Differences occupies the basement.

Grayson Perry, The Vanity of Small Differences, The Adoration of the Cage Fighters, 2012. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro Gallery, London © The artist

Perry’s the Vanity of Small Differences consists of six tapestries charting the progress of Tim Rakewell. These densely woven and richly coloured tapestries provide Perry with a means through which to explore issues around class and taste as the exhibition catalogue tells us. But, in my view, these intricate hangings also speak about today’s rapidly changing urban landscapes, or ‘social fabric’, to reference a previous Iniva project. Rakewell’s progress tells the story of not only the demise of a man but also the breakdown of communities that we all too often witness in this contemporary moment. Today’s fast-paced social upheaval could be said to parallel that of the 1980’s noted above: the unstable economic climate, the gentrification of former working class areas coupled with a dearth of affordable housing, the rise of far right political movements, the growing fragmentation of society. Biblical references, compositional strategies reminiscent of religious paintings and narrative structures based on Hogarth’s original Rake collide with recognisable symbols of wealth and lack of wealth in Perry’s series: a cafetiére, an allotment, a young ‘baby mother’, a smart phone, a copy of Hello magazine. The viewer is taken through the various stages of Rakewell’s journey from his working class roots to his rise to the upper classes. The last tapestry #Lamentation depicts our protagonist’s violent passing at the wheels of his Ferrari. His body, pulled from the wreckage and surrounded by capitalist markers of success, lies motionless at the centre of the scene. The whole is tweeted by onlookers positioned in the background of the piece, hence the Twitter hashtag in the title. Might this final act represent the ultimate rending of a community tapestry?
Grayson Perry, The Vanity of Small Differences, The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal, 2012. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro Gallery, London © The artist

Progress: William Hogarth, Yinka Shonibare MBE, Grayson Perry, David Hockney, Jessie Brennan
The Foundling Museum
6th June – 7th September 2014

Christine Checinska

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Clothes Cloth and Culture Group, Stuart Hall Library 26 June 2014  Cloth and Social Action

Françoise Dupré, blouses de travail
Many thanks to our presenters Françoise Dupré, Victoria Kuhr,  Ruth Marie Tunkaraand  Knees Up members and to convenor Dr.Chistine Checinska for a very enjoyable and informative meeting last week. There was a lively question and answer session and the audience seemed reluctant to leave! Audio recordings are available at the bottom of this post.

Françoise Dupré
Françoise Dupré makes textiles-based sculptures and temporary installations for art and non-art spaces including shops, hospitals and libraries. Françoise talked about how her cross-disciplinary approaches to making and her multicultural and social art practice. She described how crafting practice can be transformative for people in the contexts of migration, post-conflict and health. Françoise brought along her mother's worn the blouses de travail apron/dresses. They were associated with the working-class and Françoise found similar aprons worn by women in Russia.
Françoise Dupré

Edna from Knees Up
Knees Up: Victoria Kuhr and Ruth Marie Tunkara are part of a team of staff and residents from Knees Up a community-building project in Bethnal Green, London. Victoria and Ruth explained how the project had been instrumental in bringing neighbours together. 

Ruth Marie Tunkara from Knees Up

Leyla from Knees Up
Victoria Khur from Knees Up

Communal space and activities have given residents the opportunity to exchange their skills in knitting and crochet and to make new friendships. In a film made by the project organisers, the residents shared their memories, and described how Knees Up has made a difference to their lives. 

Three audio recordings of the event 

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

PAUSE: Selected drawings by Barbara Walker

12  June – 13 July 2014 Curated by C&C Gallery, London
Reviewed by Dr. Christine Checinska

Barbara Walker, Pause, exhibition installation view, 2014,
 C&C Gallery. Photo. Liz Evans

Artist Barbara Walker makes drawings of people. She makes drawings of people using charcoal and a soft pencil. She makes drawings of men; huge, larger than life, floor to ceiling drawings rendered directly onto the wall. Each fold, crease, line and blemish of her sitters’ bodies and the clothes that enfold them are sensitively transcribed in the smallest of detail. But we never see her sitters’ faces. And each wall is wiped clean at the end of every show.

Barbara Walker,  Show and Tell : Subject G and Subject H, 2008
charcoal on paper. Photo. Liz Evans
Pause presents selected portraits from Show and Tell, the Dichotomy of Kenny, the Dichotomy of Sean and one new wall piece. It is impossible to view Walker’s work without first being astonished by the sheer scale and by the craftsmanship, by the quality of lines seemingly etched into the wall, or the paper, or the canvas, creating a three-dimensional, almost sculptural effect. It comes as no surprise that she sites Giacometti and Rodin as amongst her influences. Yet these soft charcoal drawings are deeply political. In Walker’s hand the methodical making of lines on a wall and the erasing of them is a form of quiet activism.

The untitled C&C wall piece – a portrait of Izzy, a dancer – heralds a turning point in Walker’s work. It is as though Walker’s voice is manifest with an unmistakeable boldness in the tension between the palm of Izzy’s outstretched hand and the silent snarling mouth of his printed t-shirt. The viewer is allowed a glimpse of the artist’s inner thoughts. Izzy’s hand is outstretched with the palm face up, but his fingers are not flexed in a manner one might expect if being signalled to ‘stop’. Instead his hand reaches out in an act of near supplication, yet read against the dog’s glistening teeth the viewer is forced to pause, to do a double take, to listen to what Walker is saying. Izzy’s gesture is not about pleading to be heard. It is about demanding to be heard. This metaphorical drawing in the sand shouts ‘enough’!

Walker elegantly explores issues around identity, voice, personhood, power and visibility through her practice. She understands the importance of clothes and cloth; the way in which each has the potential to bind and separate us to and from one another; the way in which clothes and cloth have the potential to speak and to signify, to reference Henry Louis Gates Jn. The aesthetic and the political gloriously meet in her soft pencil portraits.

Characteristically, since process is of equal importance as the finished piece, Walker will be removing the portrait of Izzy at the close of the C&C show.  See more drawings on Barbara Walker's website

Barbara Walker, Untitled, 2014, wall drawing.
Photo. Liz Evans