Review: Weaving New Worlds, William Morris Gallery

Published 31 August 2018

Elizabeth Fullerton reviews an exhibition concerning how contemporary artists have been creating tapestries to respond to some of the defining political and cultural moments of modern times.

This exhibition demonstrates that the centuries-old tradition of communicating gripping tales from mythology and history through tapestry is thriving in the 21st century. This superb display of tapestries by 16 women artists from Japan, Norway, New Zealand, Canada, Britain and the United States presents a contemporary take on this ancient craft through experiments in texture, form and content.

Kanae Tsutsumi’s work Cosmic (2017) cascades on to the floor in unruly ripples of oceanic colours, complete with fringes and tentacles, suggestive of a monstrous galactic organism. Jilly Edwards’ New World (2017) conjures the view from her Bristol studio in a segmented horizon of painterly yellow, red, white and black planes, punctuated by the spindly outline of a tree.

Some of the works serve as contemporary histories, such as a double portrait of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un or a tapestry combining forest fires, Syrian warfare and close-ups of pine cones. These photorealist works are less effective than those that use personal associations as a starting point for invention. Portrait of a Father 5 (2016) by Erin M Riley, for example, is based on childhood memories of drink-driving crashes and features an overturned articulated lorry beneath the words ‘You Don’t Deserve My Forgiveness’.

Also powerful are the pockmarks of fabric across one wall marking Mari Meen Halsøy’s attempt to heal bullet wounds in a Beirut building. These snapshots of traumatic narratives are juxtaposed with works that display humour such as Tonje Høydahl Sørli’s cartoon wolf, who appears caught in the warp and weft, frustrating its bid to pounce on a bird beyond. Innovative, exhilarating, this compact show lingers in the mind.

Weaving New Worlds is free to all, until 23 September, William Morris Gallery, London.

This review was originally published in the autumn 2018 issue of Art Quarterly, the magazine of Art Fund.

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