I decided to come to London a day early so I could visit the Anni Albers exhibition before it closes (and visit the Tate Modern which I’ve not been to for years).
If I can, I like to approach the Tate Modern Gallery on foot, crossing the river on Millennium Bridge from St. Paul’s. I enjoy the feeling of being suspended between the water and the sky. And I like to see how the city has changed. They have built glass towers since I last time I stood here – science-fiction skylines emerging.
The first object encountered in the Anni Albers exhibition is a 12 shaft floor loom. It’s an imposing looking machine, but probably only because I’ve never used one. I do, however, understand the mechanism and I was delighted that the very last object in the show was an 8 shaft table loom, not too dissimilar to my own, that Albers used for her smaller weaving.
I was struck by the muted colours of the weaving, a limited number of basic colours mixing through various configurations of warp and weft to create shades, tones and tertiary colours.
I find this notion of the technique leading the work especially resonant. Of course, all art/craft practices are defined and confined by their processes and materials, but I always find work that brings this to the fore particularly fascinating. This exhibition is about the process of weaving.
“One of the most ancient crafts, hand weaving is a method of forming a pliable plane of threads by interlacing them rectangulary.”Anni Albers – exhibition leaflet
The whole exhibition seemed to me to be about texture – surfaces and structures created by combining different materials, adding metal threads, using plastic and sticks, twisting the warps and wefts into knots and patterns… I just want to get to my loom and try some things out!
One thing I did wonder with regard to Albers’ ‘floating thread technique’ is at what point a woven thread becomes a stitched thread? Generally we would say a stitch pierces a woven surface, but with counted thread embroidery techniques the needle (and hence the thread) goes between the warp and weft, so does the stitch then become part of the woven structure? And vice versa – if you are “adding surface threads to a basic weave”, isn’t that more like stitching? Perhaps it’s about WHEN in the process the additional threads are added? Does it even really matter?
(I’ll not even get into techniques like darning!)
What really fascinated me were Albers drawings, diagrams and sketches – the working out of designs and ideas. Quite beautiful drawings, but even more interesting if you know how to read the technical notes.
This is something I’ve been thinking about, that difference between a drawing and a diagram. All diagrams are drawings but not all drawings are diagrams.
1: A simplified drawing showing the appearance, structure, or workings of something; a schematic representation.
1.1: Geometry A figure composed of lines that is used to illustrate a definition or statement or to aid in the proof of a proposition.
1.2: British A graphical schedule for operating railway locomotives and rolling stock in order to provide a desired service.
1: Represent (something) in graphic form.
1.1: British Schedule the operations of (a locomotive or train) according to a diagram.
Early 17th century: from Latin diagramma, from Greek, from diagraphein ‘mark out by lines’, from dia ‘through’ + graphein ‘write’.
Implicit in the concept of a diagram is an assumption of prior knowledge on the part of the viewer/reader. In certain cases, there is an established method of creating diagrams so they can be read by another who is familiar with the conventions, e.g. circuit diagrams.
But there are also personal methods of creating diagrams, for example, when I am designing for laser cutting I rarely include dimensions for slots as I know the material thickness.
A diagram contains information, often in notation using accepted symbols, that is used to create or reference something beyond itself. It’s an abstract representation of a process.
I decided over Christmas that I wanted to create a ‘standard’ way of documenting all the patterns I’ve been encountering. Possibly to use as a data set when I begin to build the reconstruction system but mainly just to have them recorded in a comparable format and to spend a little bit of time with each pattern. I got myself a small notebook with dotted grid pages and spent my spare moments over the holidays drawing out patterns – one to each page as a repeat.
The small size of the notebook makes it awkward to draw in. I’m not using a ruler, I never usually do when drawing out patterns. Even though I draw on pre-defined grids, I need to retain something of the ‘texture’ to the lines – keep an echo of the quality of a thread.
There is something compelling in attempting to draw straight lines by hand – it’s never going to be consistent. By avoiding the use of a ruler, you can see the lines wobble. But it is a much slower and demanding to draw straight lines without a ruler – so why do it?
Perhaps I want to feel closer to the pattern? (Less tools = decreased distance… I’m sure I read something about that…)
Let me try it:
I drew some small repeat patterns with and without a ruler to see if I could feel a difference, and I do!
Drawing without the aid of a ruler is far more absorbing – you have to concentrate more, think about how you are moving the pencil between the start and end points, with a ruler that thinking about the between is almost completely removed (you could always move away from the rulers edge but that’s a different thing).
The way patterns are plotted is also different. With a ruler you position the edge across the start and end points (and, due to the repetitiveness of the patterns, you can draw more than one line in a single act of ruler positioning), then it’s simply a matter of running your pencil along the edge between the points – it’s almost automatic.
Drawing freehand is subtler. Often the line is not made in a single stroke, I find myself making ghost marks, feeling out the angle of the line without touching the page.