I was hugely excited when I heard about the Cloth & Memory 2 exhibition at Salts Mill in Saltaire, Yorkshire. It looks like a fantastic space – the closest I’ve ever got to it was about 20 years ago, arriving shortly after it had closed for the day, so I ended up peering through the windows trying to make out the Hockneys in the fading light.
I thought I would be able to visit on the way up to or back down from Edinburgh, but then I noticed that it didn’t open until 18 August (last Sunday). So I was hoping that a talk at the Japan Foundation by Machiko Agano and Koji Takaki, two of the Japanese artists included in the exhibition, would be some compensation.
The talk was introduced by Professor Lesley Millar, who curated the exhibition. She showed some slides of the exhibition being set up in what was the original spinning room (168m x 16m!), an amazing space that hasn’t been restored and is not normally open to the public. She also briefly showed the work of the seven Japanese artists who are among the 23 exhibitors.
Machiko Agano‘s piece (seen in the photo above) is inspired by her memories of watching craftsmen washing kimonos in the river to remove the rice paste after dyeing. She has changed her style several times – previous work includes large-scale pieces of knitting in garter stitch using fishing line, and inkjet printed fabrics reflected in mirrors, representing overconsumption.
Koji Takaki studied dyeing in university and is fascinated with the idea of how fabric patterns join when constructed into a garment such as a kimono or yukata. His piece in this exhibition explores opposites such as weightlessness and heaviness, transparency and opacity.
The two artists then took part in a panel discussion with Keiko Kawashima, a gallery owner in Kyoto, and Matthew Harris, a British textile artist who has worked in Japan and is influenced by the Japanese approach to materials.
Much of the discussion focused on the supposed differences between the education systems for textile students in Japan and the UK. Lesley Millar and Matthew Harris proposed that Japanese students were led by technique and materials, whereas for UK students the concept comes first.
I found this interesting, because I have found I work better when my ideas come out of the technique I am using, rather than trying to force materials to fit the concept. And what I admired about Thomas Heatherwick was his approach of experimenting with materials, pushing them to the limit, and using the results to come up with the concept, rather than the other way around.
However, I sensed a disconnect between the panel and the audience – which contained a high proportion of textile artists, who were really more interested in finding out about the artists’ work and techniques, judging by the questions at the end.
The place was also packed out, which clearly took the Japan Foundation by surprise. The resulting squash meant that the air conditioning struggled to cope (“analogue fans” were handed out 😉 ), and the dodgy sound system didn’t help.
But there were a lot of tutors and students from Morley College there, so it was good to catch up and have a chin wag.
And the view of the staircase looking down from the sixth floor was fab!
Cloth & Memory 2 runs until 3 November.