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 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!