Lace. What does it evoke? I envisage yellowed net curtains, doilies and Miss Havisham’s wedding dress. A bygone age, elegant Edwardian ladies twirling parasols, fragility and antimacassars on chairs. What I do not imagine is a swathe of Swarovski crystals, a mesh of metal or a suspended mattress of feathers. Cue Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery‘s Lost in Lace exhibition located in the Gas Hall, which sets to reform the way we view the aesthetic quality of lace.
Instead of focusing wholly on the materials that make up lace (typically cotton or silk), the 20 leading international artists involved in this exhibition also concentrate on the intertwining, interconnectedness of their mediums and on the meanings translated through semiotics. Naomi Kobayashi of The Cosmos Series reveals how, ‘Like lace, [her] work is about the spaces in-between. The columns rise up like mist, giving a light flexible border dividing exterior and interior within an architectural space. This semiotic notion is also carried forth in Iraida Icaza Panam‘s series of Untitled Photographs of Lace, which she exclaims convey the ‘duality of darkness and light, the creative tension between negative and positive.’
Other striking works within the exhibition include Nils Völker‘s installation One Hundred and Eight. Initially, his work may appear seemingly unrelated to the core theme of lace. The viewer stands in front of forty-eight inflating and deflating bags that mimic the respiratory motion of the lungs. The complexity of this work however, lies beneath what the viewer can see, in the form of a circuit board. This circuit board is an interwoven web of wires that mimic the intricacy of lace. Through this, we discover that the practise to create patterns indicative of lace are not only bound to be used as embellishment or decor, but can extend way beyond into the world of engineering.
This exhibition is, in essence, like a dream-world. Annie Bascoul’s works Moucharabieh and Jardin de lit, lit de jardi ncan be seen to work hand in hand, and are evocative of a fairytale world. Bascoul’s floral lace partition Jardin de lit, acts as a kind of thicket that the prince must pass to reach the Sleeping Beauty in her chamber, Moucharabieh.The Princesses’ lace dresses hang in an exhibition space created by Chiharu Shiota entitled After the Dream, to the opposing side of the Gas Hall. In light of this, we can note how all these separate works of art interlink together in the viewer’s imaginations, just as lace does.
This exhibition was also refreshingly favourable in terms of its interactive elements. Individuals are encouraged to touch examples of the works of art through samples provides in conjunction with them, There is a section towards the back of the Hall in which visitors can cut snowflake-like patterns from paper and contribute their own work of art, by threading and interweaving yarn through other pieces on the wall that visitors have left before them, creating their own little memory. Lace has a timeless quality. Through this innovative exhibition, we can clearly see how it is not restricted to a bygone age, but can be carried forth in new and exciting ways in a whole range of materials.
Words by Jessica Holroyd