There’s the upstairs and round and about to walk through of Finland, Japan and (most interesting to me actually) the UK, but it happens to be this gallery first, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia (places I’m not sure exactly where they are) – and immediately I’m given pause and, well, transported. And not least by this medieval beaten gold or bronze wall-hanging. It is thin, transparent almost, and big, two metres square, set an inch or two proud of the white wall. Up-close you see it is transparent here and there, like worn cloth or what apparently is called devoré; though the overall impression is more substantial, and brings chainmail to mind, because of the images in it: which are heads, knights’ heads I think, heads and chests, all similar, overlapping patterns of these drawn or etched faces, hundreds of them, in tall helmets and literally cable-knitted shirts. Not that they seem to be readying for battle. They’re just standing there, these guys, like a huge room-off of extras for the Bayeux Tapestry, their faces individual and indistinguishable. Except for one, with a slash of red across his chest, which might (should?) suggest a wound but looks more like a mistake, a catch of paint or a child with a bright felt-tip. Step back and see again the whole piece is like stained glass, though admittedly the browns and golds of beer bottles, and yet still very obviously metal and still fragile, precious. And somehow otherworldly.
By this time I’ve looked at the card beside it: ‘Nobody’ by leva Krumina, Latvia, screen print tapestry. I check in the text that the artist’s name isn’t a mistake too, but really written like that, lower and uppercase. Then I think about e e cummings and my friend copland smith who often writes to the Guardian letters page and each time has to send again to point out his name doesn’t have capitals. It’a a good title isn’t it, ‘Nobody’, suggesting a face in the crowd of nobodies. And then I see that the piece was made in 2007, which surprises me, as it’s meant to, because it seems so traditional, a museum piece really – as if it had always existed. And then, which I should have seen sooner, I notice it is ‘screen-printed polythene garbage bags’ (the English language is American for most of the world, I realise). And obviously the material changes how I read ‘Nobody’: art made out of binbags – mediaeval art no less – is suddenly conceptual. And I like that, because the piece isn’t merely an idea, but is still beautiful and haunting, before being complicated and maybe enlarged rather than just ironised by the concept.
There are 35 artists from 6 countries in Cloth and Culture Now, an exhibition which (the blurb says) ‘highlights exciting and innovative contemporary textile practice from areas where there has been a strong tradition of textile linked to specific cultural identity. The work of these contemporary practitioners reflects that cultural specificity while also responding to cross-cultural and trans-national influences.’ It seemed best to pass that on to you, because it’s evidently true. I’ll come back (not blogging, just browsing) for Finland next, and maybe look at the book of the exhibition (£25), knowing I won’t have the nerve to blag a review copy, and see instead if there’s a postcard of ‘Nobody’.