Emma Geliot's picture

Synthesis, Ruth Harries, 2015. Installation view. Synthesis, Ruth Harries, 2015. Installation view.

The exhibition at Craft in the Bay stitched together the work of Fibre Art Wales eight members. Francesca Donovan unravels the makers processes, techniques and creative concerns.

Silence. Stillness. Presence. Absence. Tranquility. 'Transience'. These were the six pillars on which the exhibition at Craft in the Bay rested. The members of Fibre Art Wales presented their work with thought-provoking, yet delicate results, illustrating the fluidity of textile practise in a post-modern culture.

The exhibition was a small but wonderfully formed array of textiles and tactile materiality, woven and moulded together to create innovative and aesthetically intriguing displays. To view this exhibition was a bit like being swaddled in an old familiar blanket as a loved one reads you bedtime stories.

The works tread the line between artfulness, conceptual depth and a lack of pretension. It s a treat to see the high level of craft in the work of all eight artists and the experience is refreshing in its simple pleasure. Visually beautiful and tantalisingly tactile, many of the works draw on very personal and emotional subject matter or themes. In some cases the method or process is overt, allowing the viewer to imagine the work in the making.

Alison Mercer s series of mixed media, tapestry wall hangings of pale pastel colours and contrasting leopard print, in her words, provides, an empowering and emotive prescient from the mind to the hand. Awakened Doing draws on traditional art history, Mercer s craftsmanship and textual references to create a fascinating aesthetic. Mercer s artworks are a labour of love, each stitch communicating a personal meaning and conveying devotion and wellbeing.

Awakened Doing (detail), Alison Mercer, 2015 Awakened Doing (detail), Alison Mercer, 2015

Circling the exhibition, the artists distinct approaches become apparent. Based on extensive research, the pieces are informed by the properties of the materials and the artists manipulation of them. Fibre art here takes in fine wire, pleated silk, felted wool, bright plastic mesh and paper set in wax.

Helen Foroughi s work demonstrates that materials don t have to be soft and fluffy to be fashioned into pleasing forms. Her jellyfish, fine filigree woven and Kumihimo braided, despite their fluorescence, hang tranquilly in their plastic bubbles. The series utilises dazzling materials with reflective, mutable qualities, reminiscent of the waters in which these extraordinary and translucent creatures drift.

The manifestations of fibre art practice are not simply vibrant or pretty objects. Ruth Harries presented a series of still and silent dark objects; black nails spike through barbed wooden chairs and metal wool entwines itself around their legs. Harries explores the emotions evoked in disparities between construction and destruction, reinventing and reassembling. The sculptural forms are like electric chairs and gravestones; standing strong in singularity and yet ambiguous when seen as a whole. They are evasive, defensive, enigmatic and morbid in their veiled blackness. She memorialises found objects and gives practical items a new monumental lease of life.

Elizabeth Brickell also utilises elegant black wires bent into words, trapped between thick plates of acrylic, to evoke a sense of loss and absence of loved ones. Brickell s work is a personal and emotional process through which she copes with the loss of her mother, as she knows her, to Alzheimer s. She writes that working through familial heartbreak with her hands and her fibrous materials helps her make sense of things, unravelled as they are in real life.

Bandages (installation view), Lisa Porch, 2015 Bandages (installation view), Lisa Porch, 2015

From the saddening to the gruesome, Lisa Porch s work is actually rather grisly. Wounds and Bandages are densely stitched representations of the suffering and agony of death: notions evoked by the five pillars of 'Transience'. She is preoccupied by the inadequacies of language when faced with healing and her tactile practise becomes a method of connecting to her artistic voice. Porch's artwork took on an altogether more vital, supportive role when she lost a child; she found that her practise functioned as a way to give her own grief a physical form. Her research for the new works that appear in 'Transience' led to examinations of surface wounds, from gouges in wood and stone to scratches on flesh. The subject matter may be bloody, but viewers are drawn into the elaborate garnet colour splashes of bullion knots and satin stitches in Welsh woollen blankets and gauze.

The works are well-curated and each artist s work is given space to breathe; a matter of great importance considering the intricacies of craft on display. Shellie Holden s work hangs from on high. Reams and reams of archived photographs and textual references hark back to the past and resonate nostalgically. Jenni Steele s video installation references the poem Trevail by Stephanie Norgate. Using this as a point of departure, Steele sees herself as a conduit of Northgate s beautifully wistful words.

Mourning Chair (detail), Michelle Griffiths, 2015 Mourning Chair (detail), Michelle Griffiths, 2015

It is important to separate the formalised use of different crafts. Michelle Griffiths pieces are incomparable in their meticulous modes of construction. Mourning Chair (in memory of her late father) is the result of an obsessive period of hand stitching on natural fabrics. Adorned with Kanzashi flowers in understated colours, the piece reminds us that objects become imbued by the people who use them. Sitting pretty before a distressed, rust-printed backdrop, the chair is reminiscent of the past and peaceful moments in contemplation and remembrance.

The threads both physical and thematic that run between this group of practitioners and their works are strong. One of the joys ofTransience is the shared bond between the women of Fibre Art Wales. The collective was founded in 1999 out of their mutual commitment to raising the profile of Welsh contemporary fibre art and their practices illustrate its many manifestations. Despite starting with the same concepts, each artist has progressed through her own individual creative process and techniques to produce eight dramatically different series. The exhibition is a tribute to individual creativity and the ways in which materials and fibres archived or new, rich or poor, finished or raw can be manipulated into truly beautiful artworks.


'Transience' was at Craft in the Bay from 16 May to 12 July 2015