Thursday, 10 February 2011

'Pairings: a conversation' Farfield Mill Arts & Heritage Centre, Sedbergh

I didn't have nearly enough time to appreciate this wonderful exhibition when I visited last weekend but thought I'd share a few highlights anyway as I'd really like to recommend it to everyone. 'Pairings' is co-curated by Alice Kettle and this comes as no surprise as I saw the beginnings of the idea, bringing applied artists from different disciplines together, at her 'Clay & Thread' display at the Harrogate Knitting & Stitching Show in 2009. At that exhibition she had worked collaboratively with two ceramicists, Helen Felcey and Alex McErlain (brilliant YouTube video of Alex making pots here) both of whom appear in the Farfield show too.

The Pairings project is an interdisciplinary project conceived by Alice Kettle and other tutors at Manchester Metropolitan University, it went from one involving textile artists and ceramicists "responding to each others' marks and forms" to one involving 18 pairings of artists from a wide range of disciplines from glass to metalwork to writing.

The pairing that caught my eye immediately was that of Sharon Blakey and Ismini Samanidou "a conversation between cloth and clay". The linking theme shared by the two artists was that of antique looking spoons, gorgeous monochrome woven textiles with rows of spoons were placed underneath dark clay spoons, washed grey and cream, each flowing into the other. The textiles also had panels of scribbled words, I wondered if these were the conversations. The ceramic spoons were like archaeological artefacts, twisted, dark and broken, the textiles on the other hand appeared to have been produced on a Jacquard loom using digital programming. In spite of this the textiles achieved a similar appearance of being antique and used, indeed one lime green, orange and cream piece was worn in holes reminiscent of the work of Chiyoko Tanaka, a well-known Japanese weaver who grinds away the surfaces of her textiles with stones and bricks. The 'damaged' woven piece was mirrored by a similarly-coloured square plate with an impressed textile pattern in its delicately coloured surface. There was precious little information to go with the work of the individual artists so I was delighted to discover a blog later by Sharon Blakey in which she provides a great deal of background information on this collaboration, for instance that the spoons are based on those from the Mary Greg collection at the Manchester Art Gallery and that some of the scribbled texts are copies of Mary's inventory of the collection. Read more here

I've already mentioned Helen Felcey's collaboration with Alice Kettle at Harrogate. Here she is partnered with David Grimshaw using 3-D printing technology to recreate a slip cast cup using a variety of modern materials. Their task was "trying to make sense of the made object through exploring modern technologies". Visit the Shapeways website and search for 'slip cast cup' to order your own!

Ceramicist Duncan Ayscough had chosen to work with felt artist Helen Belcher. Three paired sets of clay and felt vessels were arranged side by side. In one the felt and the clay colours were a closely matched burnt orange, the warm colour and matt surface of the clay and felt perfectly matched, the felt cradling and cuddling up to the clay. In the next set, cold turquoise-glazed vessels reminiscent of Edmund de Waal's work contrasted sharply with the similarly coloured felt ones which tried to hug the shiny surfaces warmly but seemed to slide away. In the final set, black, hard, rough, matte clay vessels sat beside rather limp soft white felt ones which tried and failed to mirror their solid black shapes. A simple display but remarkably interesting in its use of texture and form.

Kirsteen Aubrey, Victoria Brown and Jane McFadyen rather broke the mould by working as a threesome "creating shapes that envelop each other in glass, felt, pewter and thread". They had worked together far more closely than many of the other artists putting something of themselves into each of the pieces on display which together formed an exotic, sensual collection of rounded fruit- and seed-shaped objects, thick 'rinds' of red or white felt enclosed glass 'flesh' studded with glistening red glass beads like pomegranate seeds along with shiny twisted hollow 'stems' and 'calyxes' in crocheted wire and silk yarn. Quite delightful.

Finally, I can't leave without mentioning the pieces by Alice Kettle and Alex McErlain as previously seen in Harrogate, here described as "a conversation through sketches in embroidery and clay". I'm not a massive fan of Alice Kettle's huge, densely embroidered pieces but here the partnership with the ceramicist seems to have freed  her to produce work with a delicacy and lightness of touch I usually find missing. One embroidery hangs loosely with sparsely rendered images of a vase turning gradually into a woman's body through repetition. It is a lovely, light piece and links beautifully with Alex's tiny repetitive biro sketches of vessel forms on the insides of brown envelopes which are displayed nearby.

So, a thoroughly inspiring exhibition redolent with generosity and creativity which I have really only scraped the surface of in this blog. My only niggle? The lack of  accompanying visual material. A catalogue is available from self-publishing website Blurb for £25 I discovered after a bit of Googling, however it didn't really seem to reflect much of the work on display at Farfield and for those of us on a limited budget and banned from taking our own photographs, some postcards would have been appreciated!

'Pairings: a conversation' continues at Farfield Mill Arts & Heritage Centre until 3 April 2011. Opening times and other information can be found on the mill's website.

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