Hung, Drawn but not Tortured
Binding, wrapping and hanging thread, cloth or fibre is a common practice in the world of art textiles, and I’ve examined that to a certain extent through the work of Sheila Hicks. But it took the visionary artists Christo & Jeanne Claude to take it to a truly monumental level. You need to visit their website to get a true grasp of their achievements, but I’ve chosen two of their projects as a tempter. (www.christojeanneclaude.net)
Christo & Jeanne Claude
Little Bay (south east of Sydney, Australia) underwent a transformation from late October 1969, courtesy of ‘Wrapped Coast’ by Christo and Jeanne Claude. For a distance of 2.4km (1.5 miles), the cliff-lined ocean shore was covered with almost 93,000 square metres of ‘erosion control fabric’ made from synthetic fibre usually made for agricultural purposes. Fasteners, threaded studs and clips were fired into the rock and earth to secure the 56 kilometres of rope to fasten the fabric securely. After ten weeks, all the materials used were removed and recycled, restoring the shoreline to its original condition.
In September 1985 and somewhat closer to home, ‘The Pont Neuf, Wrapped’ was completed. With the help of 300 professionals workers, Christo and Jeanne Claude deployed nearly 42,000 square metres of a silky, woven polyamide fabric of a golden sandstone in colour. The entire bridge was bound or covered, including all of the street lamps on both sides of the bridge, which I somehow find endearing.
It took 13 km of rope to do it, secured by 12 tons of steel chain encircling the base of each tower, which are 1 metre below the surface of the water. Astonishing. What’s also astonishing is Christo and Jeanne Claude do not accept sponsorship of any kind. All expenses for these monumental projects were covered through the sale of preparatory drawings, collages and earlier works.
This summer is billed as 'The Summer of Christo' in London with the UK's first major public installation 'The Mastaba' (Project for London, Hyde Park, Serpentine Lake) accompanied by a retrospective of their work in the Serpentine Galleries from 20th June to 9th September 2018. The description says “the temporary nature of these works has, over the years, formed an extensive visual archive of preparatory drawings, collages and photographic works, which detail the organisation and vision of these projects and those never realised”. In addition Stern Pissarro Gallery in St James's is showing 'Christo and Jean Claude: A Life of Projects' an exhibition 20th June to 21st July with major works spanning 50 years for sale and on loan.
Moving on, let’s take a look at Richard Tuttle. In 2014, a major exhibition at The Whitechapel Gallery surveyed five decades of his career along with his largest ever sculpture in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern (which hung there from October 2014 to April 2015). Entitled 'I Don’t Know. The Weave of Textile Language’, the project was devised by Tuttle and focused on the importance of textiles in his work. This is what The Whitechapel had to say:
“Tuttle came to prominence in the 1960s, combining sculpture, painting, poetry and drawing. He has become revered for his delicate and playful approach, often using such humble, everyday materials as cloth, paper, rope and plywood. For this project, Tuttle has taken as his starting point one of the unsung heroes of everyday life: textiles.
Textiles are commonly associated with craft and fashion, yet woven canvas lies behind many of the world’s most acclaimed works of art and textiles are of increasing interest to artists today. I Don’t Know. The Weave of Textile Language investigates the importance of this material throughout history, across Tuttle’s remarkable body of work and into the latest developments in his practice.., he is also renowned for being one of the first artists to make the radical gesture of taking the canvas off the stretcher and hanging it directly on the wall”.
Well, Olga de Amaral was also working off canvas and it’s something that many working with art textiles do as a general principle. I didn’t get to see the exhibition at The Whitechapel but did get to see the Turbine Hall installation at Tate, which floated and hung as a giant entity, a testament to what can be done with cloth.
Finally, let’s look at the work of Judith Scott. I’m not going to say too much about her but all I will say is that she could not hear, could not speak and had Downs Syndrome. She was institutionalised from the age of seven for 35 years but in 1987 her sister, Joyce, became her guardian. Joyce took Judith to the Creative Growth Art Centre in Oakland, where after two years she found her medium; wrapping and binding. Her approach used yarn, string and knotted fabric to bind or wrap ordinary and found objects such as crutches, bicycle wheels, shopping carts, sticks or bits of tubing to the point they become (sometimes) unrecognisable.
She made around 200 pieces, each one ‘Untitled’, and all of them profoundly moving at a visceral level – it’s impossible not to respond. A video – ‘Outsider’ – is available from Icarus Films (www.homevideo.icarusfilms.com), and I encourage you to visit www.judithandjoycescott.com - you’ll be humbled and inspired. And the words ‘… but not tortured’ in my title really refer to Judith Scott as it was through the medium of textiles that she found freedom, happiness and herself.