Textiles are having a renaissance and for good reason. From knitting and cross-stitch to printmaking and weaving, these techniques are being recognised as art forms in their own right.
The London gallery Blain|Southern’s exhibition showcasing female Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota’s latest immersive installation - a canopy of hand-woven red yarn - had piqued my interest. I was compelled to see Tate’s retrospective dedicated to the innovative and abstract weavings of German female textile artist, Anni Albers.
Stepping off the escalators and into the typically familiar exhibition room, I'm immediately struck by the unique and welcoming layout. Met by the warmth of her colourful and monochrome textiles, some hanging on the walls, some encased, I wander through her early experiments and writings preserving her ideas about textiles.
Her experimentations with jewellery, crafting necklaces with everyday items, from bobby pins and paper clips to nails and steel washers, showed her fascination with functional art and the elevation of commonplace household objects. I love how from afar they look like beautifully ornate and elegant pieces, but for the wearer and up-close, they tell another story and challenge how we perceive these objects.
Albers is credited with blurring the lines between the ancient craft of weaving and modern art. Born in 1899 in Berlin, Albers’ mother worked in publishing and her father was a furniture maker. With a strong sense of the visual world from a young age, Albers went onto attend art school, eventually beginning her studies at Bauhaus, in Weimar from 1922. (The exhibition runs ahead of the centenary of the Bauhaus, which will be recognised at the Tate later this year).
As a woman, Albers wasn't allowed to take the glass workshop she really wanted to (deemed more suited to men by the school's founder), so reluctantly took up what was known as the 'Women's Workshop', weaving. However, once underway Albers soon appreciated the technical challenges around construction in this area and began experimenting, crafting abstract wall hangings to be seen in the same space as paintings. A true Pioneer of her time, Alber's creations that we see today clearly bridge the gap between art and design.
Walking through the exhibition, it dawned on me how ahead of her time Albers really was. So much of the geometry and mathematical placement of lines in her works on paper can be seen in the art of today. For me, I was really drawn to her rich use of colour in many of her woven wall hangings (above) with the vibrant pinks, oranges and blues speaking of her travels to Mexico, Peru and Cuba.
Alber’s collaboration will Knoll textiles is evidence of how timeless her designs are, being sold to this day and continuing to inspire much of the design industry, from art and interior design to fashion and jewellery. The exhibition ends on a beautiful note, with the humble loom, the tool that helped construct these art forms, being given its own stage.
On until this Sunday, 27th January, this exhibition is a must see. You will realise just how pivotal Albers has been to the growth of the textiles industry and in the broader context of the art world. Make haste. Go. now.