What is it that everyone knows about tapestry–OK, maybe art in physical form in general? Photos are always inadequate! Thank goodness I was able to see the wonderful exhibit of finalists for the 2021 Cordis Prize for Tapestry at Inverleith House in Edinburgh on its last weekend. Here are some details I was not able to appreciate during my examination of the photos online.
The tapestries were arranged throughout several rooms, perfect for an intimate viewing experience. It was an uncharacteristically sunny day in December when I visited, which made it difficult to photograph some tapestries, but great for views of Edinburgh from the front windows.
If you were not attentive, you might walk by Katja Beckman’s shaggy black tapestry with a brief nod of appreciation. But if you examine it closely, you glimpse thread variations and blocks of black shades in the weft behind the linen strands hanging down. (I didn’t think the guards would smile if I began parting the pile to check out the smooth layer behind.) Beckman wrote that the piece was inspired by the difficulty of photographing her own little black dog, and that “black dog” was the term used by Winston Churchill for depression or grief. I wasn’t able to take detail photos that fully capture the rich experience of standing before the tapestry.
For my personal “favorite tapestry to study at length award,” I chose Zanna Petrenko’s Shroud of Insecurity. My husband commented, “Well, she threw in everything but the kitchen sink.” Oh yes, and it still works! I loved examining small sections and noticing the wide variation in technique, pattern and color. For example, she chose to add pile in places, sometimes cut close, sometimes left shaggier. How did she understand how that might work in the context of the large tapestry? In some sections she worked in a few highly-contrasting colors; in others, many colors are close to one another.
Louise Martin won the Cordis Prize. My husband asked, “Why did this one win?” I pointed out some of the technical aspects that demonstrate her weaving prowess, like warp threads that change angles. Then we observed her mystically magnificent color gradations in thread. And as I stepped back, perhaps only a foot–boom, all sorts of small shapes across the planes were revealed. The tapestry became increasingly intriguing as I spent time in front of it.
Without seeing the complex “waves” of Fiona Hutchison’s Wall of Water in person, I think it would be hard to appreciate the shifting colors of the narrow, undulating woven bands. Can anyone else combine blues so beautifully?
I have loved Ghizlaine Bazir’s Alice et Anita since she shared it on social media, so seeing it in person felt like visiting an old friend. It was bigger than I had pictured it–even more magnificent. Here is a detail of one of the figures. Look at the pretty lines woven down the dresses; it looks like she chose a nubby yarn to add the detail.
I loved Elaine Wilson’s Blue Splash, and appreciated her sparing and strategic use of texture. The raised areas enhance the flat woven expanses. My mind kept interpreting the blue shape: a Zeppelin? A beetle?
The spindly tree branches and flowing warp threads on Anne Stabell’s Under the Surface are striking. The tapestry is so beautiful from a distance, but I was happy I could step up close to appreciate the beautiful variation in her naturally-dyed warp threads.
These are just a few weaverly comments on some of the pieces. You should look at ALL of them at the Cordis site: The 2021 Cordis Prize for Tapestry: Rewarding ambition on contemporary weaving.