24 March 2010

V&A Quilts 1700-2010 :: Private View

Walking into the Private View of ‘Quilts 1700-2010’ was a bit of a fantastic, blurry and surreal experience – the main reception of the V&A unfamiliar with its lights dimmed low, buzzing in anticipation; clusters of the most fabulously be-decked people chattering excitedly over a soundtrack of dreamy fifties tunes; waiters and waitresses milling through the ever moving stream of guests offering champagne and nibbles atop Perspex trays whose middle was filled with bobbins, threads, snippets of patchwork and images of featured quilts.

Curator Sue Pritchard admitted it took 6 years for this exhibition to be where it is at today therefore the celebration for them was long awaiting.

Contemporary artist Tracey Emin gave an impelling opening speech whose own piece was an ode to her childhood abuser in the guise of a ‘Princess Bed’.  Emin stressed the importance of quilting not only as craft but as an emotional outlet, a personal mode for expression- a theme which ran throughout the whole exhibition exploring each individual piece’s own hidden history and untold story.

Being able to see the exhibition for the first time was such an amazing moment. The exhibition flowed through a series of ‘rooms’ and walls affording each quilt an appropriate ‘home’ in its own right – some were hung loosely from the wall tempting the viewer to pull them down and explore them further, some pinned flat like Jo Budd’s ‘Male/Winter, Female/Summer’, others displayed in situ on a bed, in a crib on a working frame, and other quilts came in digital form as films or slides. The presentation of contemporary quilts alongside older traditional ones was beautifully done, emphasising the timelessness of quilting and its associated themes. The placement brought new and diverse insights to the subjects explored and it encouraged thought and questioning from the viewers. Turning the corner into the ‘Making a Living’ section to find Kirsty Fenton’s quilt ‘Threaded Wrists’ was a rather bizarre and wonderful moment. It encapsulated everything she had set out to do in terms of subject and aesthetic. Certainly a piece worthy of sitting aside that of artists we have studied and admired during our time in the textiles department at Duncan of Jordanstone College.

All in all, the Private View was a wonderful experience – an aptly surreal and exciting event!

By Kirsty Fenton and Sara Nevay

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