Ctrl/Shift – new directions in textile art

The creative tension between accomplished skill, experimentation and the development of new ideas, provided the starting point for CTRL/Shift, the latest exhibition from The 62 Group of Textile Artists. I had long thought about initiating a project with this Group, having been involved in some of their earlier projects and knowing many individual members of the Group. The rigour with which the membership is run and exhibitions are organised makes the 62 Group really stand out from other artists’ collectives and voluntary exhibiting groups, as standards are high and the work is often very ambitious.

This central concept of Ctrl/Shift enables participating artists to explore projects which manifest as transformations in their practice. Shifts and changes are the theme, in particular for artists whose practice is or has transformed, in small or large ways, and especially towards expressions of innovation in textile art. These shifts may be around changing attitudes to control; the introduction of new materials and techniques; and/or the impact of innovative ideas and evolving technologies.

The project is a demonstration of the power and subtlety of textile and fibre arts, and more importantly for me it is an exploration about the artistic process: how artists conceive of and create work, how their ideas flourish and change, and how the very way that they work will alter over time, in reaction to new ideas, techniques, processes and materials; challenges and opportunities; changes in circumstance, location and ability.

The exhibition comprises over thirty artworks by 25 artists, including carefully selected outcomes from a collaboration between three artists who reflected on and were inspired by each other’s work. The artists are (UK unless otherwise noted): Imogen Aust, Caroline Bartlett, Heather Belcher, Eszter Bornemisza (Hungary), Lucy Brown, Penny Burnfield, Nigel Cheney, Daisy Collingridge, Isobel Currie, Flox den Hartog Jager (Netherlands), Catherine Dormor, Dawn Dupree, Caren Garfen, Emily Jo Gibbs, Ann Goddard, Joanna Kinnersly-Taylor, Hannah Lamb, Debbie Lyddon, Jae Maries, Sian Martin, Jane McKeating, Sumi Perera (UK/Sri Lanka), Shuna Rendel, Vanessa Rolf, Sue Stone.

Artworks vary greatly in scale from five metres long to a few centimetres high; they are wall-hung, floor based, on plinths, two and three dimensional. Works incorporate traditional textile and fibre techniques such as hand and machine embroidery, felting, printing, collage and basketry; but also include digital print, laser cutting, working with found objects including hair, cosmetics, scrap metal and dolls’ house furniture. Several also employ ceramics, as well as metal, stone, plants, plastic and perspex, refuting any notions that textile art is only about careful stitching on fine fabrics.

The themes that preoccupy the individual artists are equally diverse: artworks are loosely grouped into four main thematic areas but could equally have been split many other ways. Subjects include: activism, digital and new technologies, faith, how we live, history, landscape and the built environment, loss, materials, portraiture, power of the repeat, self-reflective practice, wellbeing and disease, and how we organize and make sense, or not, of our view of the world. The show also  incorporated a Project Space in which samples, tools, photos, short films and other materials shed some light on the making process. My fervent hope is that the show will delight, provoke, entertain and educate; and inspire others to explore this most powerful medium, textiles.

The exhibition was at MAC (Midlands Art Centre) in Birmingham from 21 July to 9 September 2018 and will tour to other venues in 2019. Following the 62 Group’s established protocols work was selected by a panel of five including me. My fellow selectors were Penny Burnfield, Nigel Cheney and Sue Stone of the 62 Group, and Jessica Litherland, MAC’s Visual Arts Producer.

My sincere thanks to the whole team at MAC, and especially Jessica Litherland for her generous support of the whole project and Silas Wood for his technical expertise; to designer David Pitcher for the lovely graphics; to Yeshen Venema for photography; and to Craft Central for hosting our early discussions.

Notes: The 62 Group is an artist led organisation which aims to incorporate and challenge the boundaries of textile practice through an ambitious and innovative annual programme of exhibitions and events. Since its establishment in 1962 some of the most highly regarded British & International textile artists have been members of the group. Find out more about the group and the exhibition hereDaisy Collingridge 6.jpg

Clive (detail) by Daisy Collingridge. Photo courtesy the artist and Yeshen Venema.

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