14. Mar. 2012 – 31. Mar. 2012

Arachnes Return

Marc Quinn, Pixelation of the Hearth, 2011, wool and silk, 280 x 436 cm

Scheublein Fine Art is pleased to present wall tapestries by internationally distinguished contemporary artists in the spacious premises of Zurich’s old shipyard. The monumental works have been crafted on the Jacquard looms in the studios of Flanders Tapestries in Wielsbeke, Belgium in collaboration with Factum Arte, Madrid.

Arachne’s Returndraws its title from the tale of Arachne in Greek mythology who could weave so perfectly that she was subjected to the wrath of Minerva and turned into a spider. Her punishment was to weave incessantly for all time. The highly acclaimed exhibition Penelope’s Labour: Weaving Words and Images showed that a new generation of artists is triumphing in the medium of tapestry anew (curated by Adam Lowe and Jerry Brotton at Fondazione Giorgio Cini, 54th Venice Biennale, 2011). Scheublein Fine Art has invited curator Adam Lowe to select contemporary works for Arachne’s Return that will be shown in Switzerland for the first time.

The invention of the Jacquard loom created the conditions for the development of the modern computer, and it was only a matter of time before the two machines were brought together to transform the ways we can work with woven words and images. Mechanized weaving was developed by Joseph-Marie Jacquard (1752-1834) who based the technique upon the principle of the punch card. The hoisting and lowering of the threads is directed systematically according to a specific pattern by means of a prefabricated punch card. This way of mediating information led Charles Babbage (1791-1871) to build the first prototype of a computer. Recently, it has inspired a close collaboration between Factum Arte, Madrid and Flanders Tapestries, Wielsbeke. This has led to tapestry’s renaissance as the original ‘installation’ art form in the hands of some of today’s leading artists. In the words of Craigie Horsfield, “tapestry has a materiality and presence, of substance and structure, and a shifting potential of scale in the movement between its woven detail and the architectural space it can construct, its habitable space, both lived and constructed. It also has a history that is to some extent familiar but far enough from the generality of present practice to allow invention largely without constraint of custom and convention”.

British artist Grayson Perry takes on the classical narrative form in the “Walthamstow Tapestry”: a reworking of the seven ages of mankind embedded in a contemporary consumer context. In Perry’s work famous brand names merge with figurative elements in a scene that evokes the Bayeux Tapestry and the satirical paintings by William Hogarth (1697-1764). Moreover, Perry references Walthamstow, birthplace to William Morris (1834-96) who went down in history as pioneer of the arts and crafts movement and advanced the link between craft traditions and new technologies. Central to Perry’s image is a woman wearing a Hermès scarf and holding on to her Chanel bag, an iconography that resonates with the “Madonna with child”-depictions in Flemish Old Master paintings. In this multilayered work Perry ingeniously merges art and craft, historical references, and modern obsessions.

Manuel Franquelo, one of Spain’s leading ‘realist’ painters today, celebrates tapestry as installation. “Palimpsest and Palindrome” is the first tapestry to create different images simultaneously on each side of the woven surface. It can be considered a landmark innovation as previously the back of a tapestry invariably revealed the negative of the image. In Franquelo’s work coloured threads are pulled to the front or the back to create a diagrammatic / photographic image on one side, and a three dimensional rendering of surface texture on the other. Upon close inspection one side shows the so called Lucifer 3D Laser Scanner. The other side of the tapestry shows the surface that is being recorded and a text by Plutarch (46-120 AD) written in both Morse code and Braille: “The speech of man is like embroidered tapestries, since like them this too has to be extended in order to display its patterns, but when it is rolled up it conceals and distorts them”. The tapestry bears parallels to both the machine drawings by Jean Tinguely and Marcel Duchamp’s “The bride stripped bare by her bachelors, even”. Franquelo paraphrases the central themes of his work in multiple ways. The title points to retrieval of wiped out messages, yet his principal concern is the de-codification of information.

The flower, art historically often an allusion to the transience of life (vanitas), is to Marc Quinn symbolic of both natural beauty and human manipulation - the hybridization of flowers is one of the most obvious examples of human interference in nature. Quinn further develops a reference to the genetic modification of DNA by comparing it to the digital coding used in the production of his tapestries: knots are like pixels and the tapestry becomes ‘the sculpture of a painting’ created from digital data that provide the DNA of the final image. From foetuses to flowers, from blood to wool, in retrospect it is possible to see that the evolution of Quinn’s work was always going to lead him to tapestry. Not only referencing genetic modification, Quinn also situates his work within the history of verdure tapestries and “millefleurs” (a thousand flowers). The verdure designs produced in Belgium at the beginning of the 16th Century depict pure foliage, drawing on Islamic and Chinese motifs. Likewise they point to discoveries in the ‘new world’ of exotic flora and fauna. This mix allowed weavers to show off their virtuoso skill in producing complex, almost abstract patterns without ostensible narrative and to merging the natural and the artificial both in the imagery and the means of production.

Craigie Horsfieldlinks the media of photography and tapestry. In a technical tour de force, Horsfield uses the Old Master tradition of chiaroscuro to picture a concert by the band “99 Posse” in Naples. Amongst the tempestuous fans Jesus seems to appear in a red gown like an epiphany. In other parts of the tapestry figures allude to Caravaggio and Rembrandt and create a dynamic relationship between the visual language of the past and the present.

Arachne’s Returncelebrates some of today’s most influential contemporary artists who have lent their craft to transform tapestry into one of the most innovative mediums. They clearly confirm the notion that the future of weaving lies in a web of infinite possibilities.