The title of the exhibition is taken from Anni Albers’ 1938 essay Work with Material in which she claimed: “…we must come down to earth from the clouds where we live in vagueness and experience the most real thing there is: material.”
Albers (1899-1994), studied and taught at the Bauhaus. Having begun as a painter she developed a life-long fascination for abstraction and found a freedom of expression in the stability provided by the strict grid of the loom. She explored the technical limits of hand-weaving before pioneering innovative uses of woven fabric as art, architecture and design. In Work with Material, Albers exhorts the reader to get closer to a direct experience of life, through ‘shaping’ raw materials, satisfying both practical and spiritual needs through making; she did not differentiate between the two and attributed equal value to them. With the renewed interest in Albers’ work as both weaver and thinker, her ideas are an appropriate starting point for our exhibition.
The Most Real Thing includes artists who have previously shown at Roche Court alongside those who have never exhibited here before, including several artists from a studio-textile background. The exhibition is separated into three distinct but related areas, each highlighting the fluidity of art practices and ideas about textiles. In the main gallery, we focus on the presence of textiles in contemporary sculpture reflecting the relatively recent shift towards materiality, texture, processes and making. The show begins with a headless ‘Adam & Eve’ by Yinka Shonibare MBE, who uses fabric to raise issues about race and class. Eva Rothschild’s sculpture reflects her use of materials and forms as well as a personal obsession with rugs – here the texture of a jajim is encased in slick, shiny resin. Alexis Teplin’s practice is rooted in abstract painting, using costume and performance reminiscent of Bauhaus theatre whilst Anton Alvarez’s use of his own thread-wrapping machine creates what he calls ‘new craft’. In contrast, sculptures by Mary Redmond and Nicholas Pope – using found objects and knitting respectively – appear more deliberately handmade and homespun. In the Artists House, protagonists of non-functional studio weaving in Britain – such as Peter Collingwood and Ann Sutton – represent the new ambition for textiles as art and their influence on a later generation. Whilst the designs by Ben Nicholson and Lucienne Day reflect the relationship between post-war art and industry, the symbolic value of thread is explored by Naum Gabo and Barbara Hepworth. Their sculpture is shown alongside the practice of artists, like Henry Moore, who worked with textile studios to translate their work into tapestry.
Together, the works in the exhibition engage with the full spectrum of fibre-based materials and beyond, from processes such as loom weaving, quilting, knitting, stitching and dying; experiments with technology, fabrication and thread; and textiles which have been painted, manufactured, cast and obliterated; incorporated into performance, large scale sculpture, and self-portraiture. The textile component in each work provides both content and meaning, raising questions about process and purpose, and ultimately blurring the distinctions between art and craft.
The exhibition is co-curated by Sarah Griffin and Stephen Feeke