If you asked members of the public to list acceptable art mediums in reverse order of importance, textiles would probably be somewhere near the bottom only just above Chris Ofili’s use of elephant shit. Subversive Stitch at TJ Boulting proves otherwise. Here, carpet sculptures and embroidery hang with all the grace and importance of anything adorning the walls of Tate Modern.
Most striking is the variety. James Merry embellishes the Nike logo on a vintage shirt with delicately sewn flowers and leaf tendrils, Olga Frantskevich uses tapestry to tell emotional stories of her childhood in Belarus under German occupation and Amanda Ross-Ho hangs up a grubby two metre tall t-shirt. Colour and humour abounds throughout. Marianne Theormer creates a hybrid sculpture / installation of unravelled fat wool and knots which spill onto the floor, claiming it’s space in the gallery. Whilst Celia Pym quite literally fixes things for people and has turned the repaired negative spaces into patches onto a tracksuit and accessories in Where Holes Happen Map.
The most refreshing thing about this, as a predominantly female exhibition, is that the subject of feminism is hardly broached. That’s not to say there is not female empowerment in this work. Quite the opposite, but the emphasis is unashamedly on the feminINE. Indeed the only open allusion to the movement is in Gillian Wearing’s Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere, which uses embroidery to reproduce the signatures of activists who fought for women’s votes. And that’s very fitting because embroidery has always been a craft closely associated with women. It wasn’t until the Arts and Craft movement of the late 19th Century that textiles were taken seriously in the art world, as were females in society leading into the UK suffrage campaign.
And here in Subversive Stitch, we see the medium brought into the 21st Century. Charlotte Edey translates designs digitally to the loom,
Hrafnhildur Arnardottir (bless you) weaves a giant, fluffy, emoji Smiley and Merry displays a headpiece made for Bjork with whom he regularly collaborates.
This work all deserves to be seen close up, which is good because there isn’t quite enough throw in the gallery to stand back and take some of the larger works in as a whole without obstruction. Its also quite hard to resist running your fingers through several of the works.
Exhibition runs from 14th February until 23rd March at TJ Boulting, 59 Riding House Street, London W1. Admission is free.