Monday, 5 April 2010

V&A Quilts exhibition

At the End of the Day, Natasha Kerr 2007

One of the main reasons for heading to the V&A Museum was to see their current Quilts 1700-2010: Hidden Histories, Untold Stories exhibition.  I came away from the exhibition with mixed feelings, my brain confused by the mixed bag of textiles I had seen.  Covering such a long period in the life of a Craft was bound to be difficult to curate but I struggled with a lack of cohesive curating.  The work, across five rooms, was exhibited thematically which worked in a historical context but the contemporary work seemed out of place and strange juxtapositions occurred that I couldn't understand.  I also struggled with the displays, many quilts were laid horizontally on plinths, as mock-ups of beds, but this made the detail of the quilts hard to see.  Those that were hung vertically were far more accessible.

Winter/Male, Jo Budd 2010

On the whole though it was the contemporary work that most inspired me, although it was hard to accept some pieces as "quilts".  Once I let go of preconceptions, and stopped trying to define a quilt, I fell in love with some of these textile pieces and the concepts behind them.  The piece that I hold in my mind, is by Jennifer Vickers.  Her quilt was made from 38,000 squares of white paper, interspersed with 100 coloured squares, some photographs.  The white squares represent the civilian casualties in the Iraq war to date, and the coloured squares, the 100 British servicemen to have been killed in the conflict.  It was beautiful and harrowing at the same time; the large expanses of blank, white squares, challenging the void in our Media when it comes to representing the true cost of war. The use of the patchwork quilt as a social and historical device was aptly chosen and resurrected by the maker.

A Chinese Dream (detail), Susan Stockwell, 2009

In terms of my own work, I liked the artists whose work bucked the trend and used paper instead of cloth to make their quilts, having myself made the journey from working with cloth to working with paper but still calling it textiles.  I was attracted to the delicacy of the surface and it's vulnerability and the denial of function of the quilt.

There were many traditional quilts to satisfy quilt purists, as well as film celebrating and emulating the craft.  The film by Clio Padovani, projected onto a plinth, patched elements of film together, the projected light creating an elusive, shifting surface of textile fragments.

Coming away from the exhibition, my mind too holds an elusive, shifting bank of memories from the exhibition.  I was so hungry for this exhibition to satisfy.  It had to uphold the craft, be reverential of it's makers and lead the way in defining the "quilt" in the 21st century.  A tall order indeed.  It fulfilled those challenges but I would have preferred to see the contemporary work separate to the historical.

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