Within the Fold
09.04.22 - 14.05.22
Process driven, meditative, repetitive. Over and over, a thread is pulled through a loom, paint is looped under and around itself, a sewing machine ticks away, embedding colour into a soft grounding. All this is pulled together by the artist’s guiding hand. In weaving, the hand is sentient. A muscle memory kicks in and the brain switches off, idling, while the body is in a state of constant motion, propelled by inertia. The artist starts the process, the hand completes it.
Within the Fold speaks, at first, to the physical details within folds of fabric, which the artists have embedded in their work, and then draws focus to the nature of a collapsible medium by contextualising tapestry, textile-based practices, and those that mimic these qualities, within their many iterations throughout history. This collection, presented by Smac Gallery Johannesburg, is an investigation into these nuances by examining the current state of an age-old medium, and why artists continue to be drawn to it.
There is something about seeing an art object in person. We try to skirt around it with videos, closeups and catalogues, but the experience of an artwork is different from looking at a flat image on a screen. What you cannot see unless you are in the room is the way that any movement gently sways the hanging work, breaking the static gallery space. Unless you are in the room, you cannot see the way the light passes over the crinkles like the sun’s passing over the earth’s fault lines, softly catching its rifts and valleys. The pieces demand to be seen, their sensory powers compel us to engage with them by touch. While art forbids this impulse, we must rely on the work’s visual cues to trigger memories of sensation: to engage the haptic.
Jody Paulsen and Thania Petersen’s approach to tapestry is bright and florid. Their works can be read as contemporary rewritings of the canonical form, transforming and transfiguring scenes and still lifes in their own distinct styles. Gabrielle Kruger’s contributions have the volume and texture of the medium but are created with acrylic paint that has escaped the canvas. In this way, Kruger amalgamates fabric and acrylic to experiment with the true meaning of “tapestry.” Michaela Younge’s works, in their bold, unapologetic contemporary visions of detailed scenes, offer sarcastic and humorous alternatives to the canon. Sivan Zeffert has an interest in the ability of tapestry to stand alone and her hanging pieces declare the medium as independent and uncompromising; much like Sandy Harris, who toys with the notion of mimesis: form is explored through construction with cloth, replacing sturdier mediums such as wood. Le Riche, too, coalesces the borders between sculpture and tapestry, refusing to associate himself with a single medium.
Bulumko Mbete’s and Bonolo Kavula’s works take up space - by sprawling, for Mbete, and containing space with structure and minimalism, for Kavula. In these ways, the key principles behind the artists’ work are expressed: identity, the self and tradition. Leila Abrahams’ large-scale tapestries, made up of hundreds of gel capsules, speak to her personal journey with a chronic auto-immune disease, and portray the overwhelming nature of a medication dependency. Amy Rusch and Wallen Mapondera explore new materials for the creation of tapestry, namely, plastic bags, cardboard and wood. Rusch works with a sewing machine, evoking natural textures with delicate threads stitched into plastic sheeting, warping the surface as she goes. Mapondera’s use of mending, reshaping and nurturing his found materials acts as a survival tactic, highlighting the value in the correlation between time, labour and resources. Also crafting tapestry out of a found medium, Yonela Makhoba’s works sew together memory in her exploration of African spirituality, memory, body politics, the subversion of scientific methodologies and loss.
Frances van Hasselt’s work might be described as landscape tapestries; stream-of-consciousness road maps of open land; similarly to Margaret Courtney-Clarke’s collaborative carpets, where fragments of wall paintings and ceramics are woven in wool. Dani Le Roy’s bioresin-covered crochet work questions notions of craft through repetition, subverting our usual associations through the subtle transformation of this well remembered medium. Similarly, The Mapula Embroidery Project’s elaborate hand-embroidered tapestries, created collaboratively between Emmanuel Maepa, Anna Lehubya and Selinah Makwane, bridge the gap between art and craft through imagery of daily life paired with succinct political commentary.