Guest post by Eirlys Penn
Wales enjoys a rich cultural heritage of materiality – of utilitarian and decorative items made to furnish living spaces and envelope bodies. But A Darker Thread, now on show at Carmarthen’s Oriel Myrddin gallery, strives to go beyond the familiar expectations of bold and geometric woven blankets. Instead, it showcases contemporary Welsh textiles in all their variety, weaving together a myriad of themes such as dark politics with brighter notes of optimism, hope, kindness and peace.
The curator is Laura Thomas; a Welsh weaver, textiles designer and textiles tutor at Carmarthen College. Offered an open brief by the gallery to compile an optimistic exhibition, Thomas soon felt that a more equivocal approach was demanded by the prevailing political climate. But reflecting the current dynamic of Welsh textile culture was always central. ‘I selected work that demonstrated visual poetic eloquence,’ Laura explains, ‘a mastery of medium and an absolute sensitivity to making and materials. I wanted work that would stop you in your tracks: to meet your gaze head-on, to challenge you, question you, but also offer comfort, reflection and embrace. Some of the work has a punk confrontational self-confidence, others, a gentle yet searing resilience.'
12 Welsh textile artists have contributed work to the show: Alana Tyson, Eleri Mills, Indre Eugenija Dunn, Jayne Pierson (in collaboration with Neale Howells), Laura Thomas, Llio James, Philippa Lawrence, Rhiannon Williams, Rozanne Hawksley, Ruth Harries, Sally-Ann Parker and Spike Dennis. And Thomas was spoiled for choice: such is the current crop of Welsh textile talent that she could easily have included twice as many. Textile arts on display range from embroidery, crochet and knitting to upholstery and weaving. Soft and hard materials are juxtaposed, representing both comfort and discomfort. Approaches encompass the curious, the provocative, the intense and the fragile. Themes explored are belonging, marginalisation, creative hierarchies, duality, conflict, fragmentation and empowerment, amongst others.
Highlights include Spike Dennis’s hand-embroidered landscape photographs and Philippa Lawrence’s In Another Light; featuring gold paint on sheepskin parchment ‘holes’ – where each hole is defined by the gold parchment surrounding it. As Lawrence says: ‘A hole cannot exist without the material that frames it.’ The resilient capacity to fringe gloom with optimism is central to Lawrence’s piece, but is also a resonant theme of the entire exhibition. Wales is currently enjoying a particularly vibrant and healthy textiles scene, and is especially well served by applied art galleries. So, adding A Darker Thread to your bucket-and-spade list is a must.
A Darker Thread, 15 July - 21 October 2017
Oriel Myrddin Gallery, Church Lane, Carmarthen, Wales