Uncommon Threads: A Review of the 2nd Tamworth Textile Triennial – Sophia Cai

Group Exchange: The 2nd Tamworth Textile Triennial, installation view at Town Hall Gallery, June 2015. Image courtesy of Town Hall Gallery

Group Exchange: The 2nd Tamworth Textile Triennial, installation view at Town Hall Gallery, June 2015. Image courtesy of Town Hall Gallery

Group Exchange, the second Tamworth Textile Triennial, is a varied exhibition that brings together twenty-two Australian artists working at the forefront of textile art practice. Despite being a medium-specific show, closely related to the historical trajectory of fibre traditions and techniques, Group Exchange dissolves discrete boundaries and challenges audience expectations.

The central premise for the exhibition is collaboration, and all the artists were flown to Tamworth at the start to meet and ‘contextualise as a group.’ The theme of collaboration is interpreted through a diverse lens, resulting in a show that engages with a broad spectrum of ideas based on connection and interaction.

Perhaps the most striking piece in the exhibition that refers directly to collaboration is Anita Larkin’s The Breath Between Us. Larkin worked together with a musician and a metalsmith to create a large-scale instrument made from felt, a material traditionally used for its insulating rather than sound-producing properties. The piece further calls on collaboration through its functional limitations: the instrument physically requires three people to operate it.

Anita Larkin, The breath between us, 2014

Anita Larkin, The breath between us, 2014, collected objects, leather and felted wool, 72 x 293 x 35 cm. Image courtesy of the Tamworth Textile Triennial

A number of artists maintain strong links between textile practice and personal relationships, a connection grounded in the social life and everyday use of fabric. Patrick Snelling and Kim McKechnie both refer to a history of tailoring in their works that explore personal identity, while Belinda von Mengersen’s The Table recalls the central role of the table as a site of conversation by focusing attention to a hand-stitched tablecloth.

Elsewhere in the exhibition, collaboration is explored through cross-disciplinary relationships between textiles and other fields. Numerous artists turn to the fields of science and ecology, presenting unexpected and innovative results. Alana Clifton-Cunningham’s translocation:duplication:deletion:inversion translates chromosome mutations into a pattern, which are subsequently turned into knitted fabrics. The resulting work is striking, making a visual link between the underlying patterns in genetic code and the sequential nature of knitting patterns.

This relationship between textiles and environment is perhaps not all that surprising, given that fibres continue to be spun and produced from organic materials. This connection is challenged in Monique van Nieuwland’s Ocean Scape, a mixed media piece that literally weaves together artificial discarded materials such as rubbish bags and fishing lines. Accompanied by a sound installation that suggests ocean waves and water but is actually recorded from agitating the rubbish materials, Nieuwland highlights ongoing concerns of environmental sustainability.

Belinda von Mergersen, The table, 2014

Belinda von Mergersen, The table, 2014, wooden table, cloth, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of the Tamworth Textile Triennial

One of the most exciting trends shown in Group Exchange is an overlap between textiles and digital technologies, providing a fertile ground for artistic experimentation. The landscape print Cloud Scape by collective Make.Shift Concepts is a standout. The work is pieced together from digitally manipulated photographs, printed onto fabric then cut and machine-stitched together. This combination of digital reconstruction and material re-stitching results produces a wholly new image, between abstraction and landscape, depth and flatness, signifying a new direction for the medium.

While it is easy to regard textile art strictly within the conceptual and aesthetic borders of craft, Group Exchange presents a broader picture through an engagement with collaborative practice and exchange. The resulting interdisciplinary approach is illuminating, as it provides a snapshot of textile practice that is constantly evolving, developing, and shifting its boundaries. With its diverse line-up of artists, Group Exchange is a bold exhibition that does not concern itself with closed definitions, but rather open possibilities.

Group Exchange: the 2nd Tamworth Textile Triennial, Tuesday to Friday 10am-5pm, Saturday & Sunday 11am-4pm until 26 July 2015; Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, 360 Burwood Road, Hawthorn; (03) 9278 4626, townhallgallery.com.au

Group Exchange is a travelling exhibition organised by Tamworth Regional Gallery and curated by Cecilia Heffer, and will travel to other states and venues. See a full list of the tour here.

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