Monday, 5 September 2011

The power of making and creating


Regular readers will perhaps recall how for me one of the most important things about making and creating is the weaving of experience and memory into the finished product. I love the way that the evanescence of experience, the ephemerality of memory, can be stitched together into something concrete and lasting, an artefact which can encapsulate a particular time and place.


I saw some of this in action today when I was lucky enough to be invited to the hallowed halls of the V&A to a preview of their new exhibition, Power of Making, which opens 6 September. On Radio Four this morning I heard an interview with one of the makers in this exhibition, Captain Casdagli, 'the only male member of the Chelsea Ladies sewing group'. His Tree of Life embroidery, an exuberant and colourful work featuring quotations from Rudyard Kipling, sits alongside his father's more sombre cross stitch produced whilst he was a prisoner of the Germans in World War II.

Father and son needlework
The latter work features motifs of swastika, hammer and sickle, eagle and lion, as well as a duplication of odd shapes something between a pagoda and a rocket, but given an ecclesiastical air by the crosses either end. The colours are dark, and in the barely visible dots and dashes of the enclosed borders Major Casdagli embroidered a subversive message only legible to those who could read Morse code: 'God save the King, F*** Hitler'. Cross stitch might seem a haven for all that is cute and homely, but its potential for anger and subversion is quite evident here. Another combination of memory and making is the Bosnian women's memorial kilim, recording those whom they have loved and lost, an intensely emotional piece which highlights the tragedy of loss, and contains it within something domestic and mundane, quite the opposite of the massive public edifices of stone which we associate with such memorials, yet no less the powerful for being in such a homespun medium.

The Power of Making exhibition, mounted in association with the Crafts Council, features a huge range of media, methods and materials, and transcends the boundaries of art and science, craft and technology. Familiar crafts are used in unfamiliar ways like Shauna Richardson's amazing crocheted 'Crochetdermy Bear', or Peter Butcher's machine embroidered surgical implant - shaped like a snowflake it provides multiple attachment points for surgeons, with beauty and utility combined.

Yes, the knitting really is that big

There a gigantic piece of Aran knitting, by Christien Meindertsma, made using 18 sheep's worth of wool, and a Fendi bag needlepoint kit for the aspirational needlewoman. I was also amused by the lacemakers of Koniakow who went from making ecclesiastical garments to rather funky lace G-strings (there is a lace fence, too).

Upwardly mobile needlepoint

There are frequently several examples of similar artefacts, from different places and using different materials - three wildly differing coffins from willow to truly wild; bicycles in wood, in diamanté; a spray-on dress (strictly for the more youthful figure), one made of recycled cassette tape, and a beautiful but poignant widow dress made from dressmaker's pins by Susie MacMurray.

A newborn baby cake by Michelle Wibowo, and a newborn baby doll by Elaine Colbert - equally spooky and equally clever; this is a show that has something for everyone and would be good way to get your reluctant chaps and techie types through the doors of the V&A. Just tell them about the tools, and the 3D printers (quite mystifying), the 48-cylinder motorbike, and the magic Sugru hacking material which mends anything.

Not your average patchwork quilt

The curator, Daniel Charny, told us that his aim was to set aside preconceptions about categories of art, design, engineering and technology, to bring art back into a stronger relationship with technology, while valuing skill and experience. I was also given a copy of the accompanying book, Power of Making, which is a series of articles linked to the themes of the exhibition, interspersed with images of exhibits and parallel poetic responses by Patricia Rodriguez - you can see pages in the pictures above. The book is an interesting and thought-provoking read, a combination of a some looking back at the origins of the V&A in the nineteenth century as the Museum of Manufactures, a focus on contemporary issues in craft, design and technology, and a looking forward to the future.

The exhibition is free and runs until 2 January - well worth a detour, I would say, and if you go before 25 September, do go upstairs and look at 'Picturing Plants - Masterpieces of Botanical Illustration'. These little exhibitions are so easy to overlook at the V&A, but this one is a gem of an exhibition which deserves  wider publicity. There are some lovely botanical drawings as you would expect, but also beautiful examples from florilegia (decorative flower books), both of which have been important as sourcebooks in the history of design (which is why you find them in a design museum). There were wonderful seed packets and old horticultural catalogues in vivid colours with 'impossibly perfect' blooms, and Redouté's Canterbury Bells (c1787) has a luminosity and sense of fragility that catches the eye right across the room. It is labelled as an 'informal study as a gift' for a botanist friend with whom he was staying. What a gift!



24 comments:

Amy said...

That sounds like a wonderful exhibit! I wish I could visit it but since I cannot, thank you for sharing it with us.

Mousy Brown said...

Lucky you! I heard that interview this morning and paused in the middle of pre-school chaos to listen properly. Like Amy I probably won't get to visit so appreciate you sharing yours! :D

greenrabbitdesigns said...

That sounds brilliant, just wish I was little closer to the V&A, I do love it!
I also love botanical drawings, I bought Mr Marshal’s Flower Book last year, such beautiful artwork.
Vivienne x

kidspartyheaven said...

Thank you for pointing me in the direction of the V&A. This exhibition is just up my street, in so many ways.
Diane

Katy Cameron said...

Sounds like a fascinating exhibit

millefeuilles said...

Pomona, that was brilliant. The sort of stuff that I have been missing over the past year or so. Thank you! The V&A is possibly my favourite museum in London and I am sure I would enjoy this exhibition. However the botanical drawings; well, let's just say that I am obssessed with horticultural treatises and botanical handbooks in any shape or form.

It makes a change from ironing sheets, doesn't it?

Stephanie

Frances said...

Oh, how I do love the V&A, and how I do regret how long it's been since I was last there.

This Making and Creating exhibit sounds like one I would so enjoy. Must start counting my pennies, and see if I might get across the pond before the New Year.

Thank you so much for this tip! xo

Mrs. Micawber said...

I too wish I were a little closer to the V&A (a few thousand miles closer). Barring a miracle, your lovely post is as close as I'll get to seeing this fascinating exhibit. Thanks for sharing! I'd like to know how that giant knitting was accomplished.

Crafty Green Poet said...

I like the idea of subversive cross-stitch...

MILLY said...

I really enjoyed reading about the exhibition and your words about making things, handmade has always been something I have always done. I understood the connections and memories, bound in the many things I made, especially the ones for my daughter. The samplers I made when my young eyes could see to stitch all those crosses that made the words and patterns. Each item holds so many memories. Now the same with my drawings.
I have never been to the V&A, would probably need a week to see all I would want to see there.
Lovely post. Thank you for your comment. Now off to decide, do I patchwork, knit, draw or sew today now I am inspired.

Piers said...

Sounds good! Will definitely stop by on my way back through London. Really like the sound of that

Gina said...

Lovely post - it sounds like a fascinating exhibition. Definitely worth a visit.

Menopausalmusing said...

Such a full and fascinating description of the the forthcoming exhibition. The botanical exhibition sounds wonderful too!

Nicky said...

Interesting - This is what membership of the V&A gives you?

Serenata said...

Once I managed to get through all the wonderful BIG words you used ;-) this sounds like such a wonderful exhibition to go to. I must try and arrange a visit. It looks absolutely fascinating. Thank you for telling us all about it.

Karen L R said...

This fabulous post is the only way I'll get to see the exhibit, so I thank you for it! Lots to ponder while I work in my studio this morning! Thanks, Pomona. xo

Annie said...

Oh you lucky thing! I love the V&A and this exhibition sounds wonderful. You've made me want to visit so much. Fingers crossed I can pull a trip to London out of the hat sometime soon!

alex said...

i was there yesterday too. it is an amazing show, and i learnt so many new things from it.

...Miss...Maddie's... said...

Some of these creations just take your breath away don't they.
But however humble or simple some of the goodies are that we create they are an expression of ourselves revealing a love of craft.
Susan x

Helen Philipps said...

Thank you so much for sharing this exhibition, Pomona, it was fascinating. How lucky you are to have a pre view too! I would also love to see the botanical drawings, something I've always loved since art college days when we studied plant drawing (as it was called) as part of our course. I might have to make a trip to London specially for these, and a trip to the V&A is always such a treat!
Helen x

Barbara said...

I'm sure your thesis comes in handy here. Have not thought of the 'power of making' in that sense but I do know the great feeling of satisfaction that comes at the end of a project which I imagine is part of that.

The Canterbury Bells are so delicate and beautiful. I used to have some similar (obviously copy prints) of flowers framed on the walls of our first home.

SewHappyGeek said...

The V&A is without doubt my favourite museum in the whole world. Have you poked around that room full of old embroidery? Those big hutches are amazing - every leaf you pull out features stitches smaller and more perfect than the last. I think I oooed and aaaahhed for an hour in there, poor DH!
I might have to check out the exhibition - subversive crafting is right up my alley! Plus, I'm pretty sure I NEED a lace fence. Not sure where I'd put it, but seriously, I do NEED one.

Little Blue Mouse said...

This sounds absolutely fascinating, I must try and get there.

Thrifty Household said...

Thank you writing about the exhibition, I shall try to get a visit in...

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