Extraordinary fibre art

2008-04-17 00:00

Margaret von Klemperer

A NEW exhibition opened at the Jack Heath Gallery at the Centre for Visual Arts on the Pietermaritzburg university campus on Tuesday evening — Re-Generation. All the pieces on show are fibre art, but not in any narrow sense.

A number of the items do fall into the traditional fibre category, being made of various kinds of fabric or paper, but there are also others that, at first glance, might seem to have strayed in from a different kind of exhibition. There are decorated and embellished gourds from Gillian Gerhardt who is one of the finalists in this year’s Nivea Art Awards, and delicate little bronzes of trees mounted on wood, made by David Gush. “The fibre part is the wood, and the fact that I carved the moulds from cuttlefish bone, which is also fibrous, qualifies them,” says Gush, who is the only man exhibiting. Gerhardt’s pieces use sewing techniques for the decoration, as well as using organic raw material.

The variety of pieces give the exhibition an exciting and different look. And many, because of their textures, cry out to be touched. Fibre art is extraordinarily tactile, although it must be treated with care. Fabric may be used in many of the pieces, but cleaning them would be next to impossible.

Annette McMaster and Jutta Faulds, who are both exhibitors, explain that in the U.S. there are two definitions of “fibre art”. One says the works must be made of actual fibre, like paper or fabric, while the other says that if they use textile related techniques, like weaving, sewing or knitting, or even beading, they qualify. And it is all at the gallery — papier-mâché, felt, and all kinds of sewing or knitting. But in a different universe from the traditional, domestic, “women keeping busy” associations that once belonged to the genre. One spectacular piece is Kerala Landon’s knitted and crocheted garment, which had its roots in Faulds’s “Wild Knitting”courses at Macs.

Ginny Heath, also an exhibitor and a former lecturer in the Fine Art department on the local university campus, says that, as someone who was a part of the academic scene which in its way is very conservative, it is wonderful to realise that there is a whole other world out there that is so exciting and hugely valuable. “This exhibition is not at all confined by the fashions of academic art, which is filled with fashions — and very afraid of stepping outside them,” she says. “Working at Macs, and with this exhibition, has loosened up a lot of things I have always wanted to do.”

All the exhibitors are Macs members, although it is not a Macs exhibition. It came about after Jutta Faulds’s retrospective exhibition at the Jack Heath gallery last year. Juliette Leeb du Toit of the Centre for Visual Art invited Faulds to involve other fabric artists in a fabric art exhibition. So Faulds invited various artists, from Pietermaritzburg and the Midlands area, who are all working with fabric in its broadest sense. The full list of artists is: Sue Akerman, Rukia Essa, Faulds, Gerhardt, Gush, Heath, Kerala Landon, Corina Lemmer, Santie McIntosh, McMaster, Sue Physick and Carolyn Zelenka.

The exhibition runs at the Jack Heath Gallery in Ridge Road until April 25. Gallery hours are 8.30 am to 4 pm on weekdays.

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