Lost in Lace, Gas Hall, Birmingham City Art Gallery

Yesterday was my birthday and so I took the day off and went to Birmingham to see an exhibition, Lost in Lace, which is unfortunately just about to come off (19 February 2012).  The touring ten Leonardo drawings from the Royal Collection are also on display if you want to see them, in the same building, along with the Staffordshire hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold.  Plus, the chance to pay your respects to some of the most famous Pre-Raphaelite paintings and to enjoy stunning high Victoriana confidence in architecture.  So something for everyone.  It might therefore have been a mistake to go at half-term when quite so many grandparents were trying to entertain quite so many children and quite so many of them wanted lunch at exactly the same time in the cafe, but, at least they were doing something improving.  And not too many of them found their way into an experimental lace exhibition anyway, so that was okay.

The show is quite simply beautiful with the invited artists exploring the notion of a fabric made of holes and absences and creating partitions and walls which are tangible but permeable.  I fell totally in love with this piece:

by Piper Shepherd although I can’t say why, which is so often the problem with aesthetics.  I loved it, but I can’t pinpoint exactly why, and why that piece and not one of the others which were also breathtaking.

I only have rather murky photographs because I only had my phone and flash photography wasn’t allowed, but they give an idea of the show.  I loved the fact that it was BIG when lace is usually so tiny and intricate.  There is also a wonderful catalogue by Lesley Millar which has excellent photos and documents the commissioning process, which I think is really welcome with pieces like this which are responses to a call, in effect.  The exhibition also had touchable samples with every piece which was a really good idea as fabric is tactile and callsfor a haptic response as well as a visual one.  This is a picture of the show as a whole:

And this is another picture of the showgirl at the centre, a massive piece by Atelier Manferdini using suspended Swarovski crystals, called  Inverted Crystal Cathedral:

The crystals seemed to bring out the magpie in most of the visitors, but the most haunting piece for me was probably this massive installation: After the Dream by Chiharu Shiota, which had a real Angela Carter fairytale quality:

She describes this process as drawing in the air and uses quite a thick black wool thread without much give to get the effects:

Michael Brennand  Wood, whose work I really love, contributed Lace The Final Frontier which is playing with ideas of boundaries, borders, war, conflict and enclosed space.  He was worked a lot with lace, and I have felt some sort of connection to this through coming from Nottingham which has a long connection with machine-made lace.  This piece is a blow-up fragment of lace, but the individual pieces are ‘pretty deadly’:

Some of the pieces were ‘about’ the shadow they cast as well as the piece itself:

which cast this shadow:

There were considerably more pieces in the show, but they were even more difficult to photograph, particularly the installations playing with light or video, althoughKathleen Rodgers’ electron microscope film of lace in extreme close-up was absolutely mesmerising, like a long shot over a mountainous landscape in a feature film.

So, a very beautiful exhibition and one which really made me want to do something with lace which is such a weird fabric.  Always extra, excessive, decorative.  Fragile and strong.  Held together sometimes by a single knot.  A case example of line creating the world.  So much to think about, which is the sign of a really good show.

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