Don't laugh at me for going to an exhibition of needlepoint. I wouldn't even begin to pretend I know the first thing about the medium. So bear with me as I go on a steep learning curve. Hopefully you'll enjoy the photos I've taken if not the words I've contributed.
As well as the form being new to me so was the gallery. So was the artist. Sylvie Franquet, for it was she, was actually present when I visited. I think that's the first time it's ever happened to me. She was on hand to answer people's questions and generally chat about her work. This hands on approach certainly made me even more conducive to what were pretty eye catching pieces already.
Sylvie was born in Belgium and read Arabic and Islamic studies in the universities of both Ghent and Cairo. She's spent much of her life immersed in the world of Mediterranean culture and has written extensively on the Middle East. These studies inform both her tapestries and her dolls. There seems to me to be a huge amount of labour involved in creating these works and, in that respect, the works are as much about process as anything else.
Being a fan I particularly warmed to her Bowie tribute. But although Franquet occasionally works with pop culture on the whole she prefers to base her images on more canonical works, overlaying them with found words from poets and thinkers she admires and even text messages from friends. Rofl!
Sometimes it's hard to make out the text but the images are never less than intriguing. You could spend a lot of time with each one and keep finding new things to consider. An influence she's cited is Giacomo Leopardi's Zibaldone da Pensiere. Leopardi was a radical Italian thinker of the early nineteenth century. Franquet likes his "dense collaboration of thoughts, ephemera and philosophies" and you can see quite clearly how she's employed a similar approach.
Of course needlepoint has, for generations, been considered women's work. Franquet claims a fascination for this inheritance. In her repurposing and reimagining of artworks created by men into this traditional female way of working there is a quiet feminism in her work. In some ways a world away from the more cutting edge female artists that preceded her. In others standing in solidarity with them.
As well as the needlepoint works Franquet has made a rather large series of 'Wayward Sisters'. Small cloth dolls emblazoned with slogans both inspirational, interesting, and, in some cases, a bit cringeworthy. Cicero rubs shoulders with William Blake and Marcel Duchamp.
Some of them would look a bit scary if you were to enter the room in the dark. Alongside the Wayward Sisters stand three Poupees (mannequins). Franquet has sewn life-size fabric sculptures, pattern-cut from her own body and 'tattooed' in a similar graffiti to the tapestries. They look like vandalised showroom dummies but they represent repositories of memory, stories, and myth. I didn't like them as much as the tapestries.
Franquet's work has featured in Vogue and Elle and her art was included in the More Material exhibition in New York curated by Duro Olowu. There's obviously a lot of interest in this kind of art (or, if you'd prefer, craft) and, on the most part, it's not covered in the traditional art media. At least the elements of it that I subscribe to. It was an education for me and although I wasn't completely sure about all of it I think I've got the taste for some more. The October Gallery in Bloomsbury was quite a find too - and talking of taste there's a small vegetarian/vegan restaurant in the same building that may well be worth sampling when and if I'm back in the gallery.