Eline McGeorge: On Joined Flight Lines
Charlotte Johannesson: …Dust and Shadow…Space and Time…
“Do you realise that you will not only wreck your civilisation, such as it is, and kill most of your people; but that you will also poison the fish in your rivers, the squirrels in your trees, the flocks of birds, the soil, the water? There are times when you seem, to us, like apes loose in a museum, carrying knives, slashing the canvases, breaking the statuary with hammers.” Walter Tevis, The Man Who Fell to Earth, 1963
Science fiction has frequently employed the device of the visiting alien to deliver dire warnings to us: in the 1972 film The Man Who Fell to Earth, David Bowie’s character is an extra-terrestrial, dispatched to planet Earth in search of precious water to save his own, ravaged planet. Warnings of ecological disaster have been a constant in science fiction for fifty years: Isaac Asimov, Ursula Le Guin and John Brenner to name but three, have all explored this territory.
For some years now, Eline McGeorge has adopted the biomat as the spectral visitor in her work. A literally nebulous figure from the TV sci-fi fantasy Blindpassasjer, broadcast in the 70s in her native Norway, the biomat is a programmable cloud of molecules that coalesce as a humanoid figure in order to protect a planet under threat of invasion from human space explorers. The artist has in a sense detached the biomat from its original narrative – for her it is “not a fully defined character, it is a shape shifter that I expand on, not to make up an argument but as a form to think with”. And so it appears as a shimmering half-formed figure in a new series of pencil drawings called Biomatic notes 1 – 12/On Joined Flight Lines, 2018. They call to mind the Star Trek transporter that disassembles and reassembles beings at a molecular level in order to beam them on and off the ship.
McGeorge compares the simple, rectilinear pencil hatchings of the drawings to stitches, connecting them in this way to the large scale works also in the show. Companion Species, Emergency Weave, 2015 interweaves strips of silver foil emergency blanket with inkjet prints – again producing spectral images that overlay each other so that only fragments are glimpsed through the reflective surface: tree roots, human legs, animal legs. Once again we appreciate the kinship between the woven stitch and the pixel, and are reminded of the fact that in the first years of the 19th century tapestry, via the Jacquard loom, was the first digital technology.
In the three most recent works McGeorge has employed a ground of stitched-together rectangles of simple white cotton cloth as the support for the most delicate of watercolours. Extinct species of birds, frogs and lizards, butterflies and plants are depicted in fragmentary parts. The overwhelming sensation is one of extreme delicacy, the machine-stitched collage of cloth seems to suggest something only tentatively held together, apt to fly apart or disintegrate at any moment. As a means of conjuring the fragility of our ecosystem, it is eloquent. McGeorge’s watercolours are also achingly beautiful. Her message, delivered with great discretion is nonetheless a powerful one.
In the small upstairs gallery is a group of works by the remarkable Charlotte Johannesson. Like her predecessor Hannah Ryggen, Johannesson used the medium of tapestry to pursue an agenda of direct comment on the politics of her times. Her tapestry here – Terror – may sadly seem comfortably part of current discourse, but in fact dates from 1970. In the late 1970s she took her tapestry practice and admiration for the work of Hannah Ryggen and made a pioneering leap from the woven stitch to the pixel. In 1978 Johannesson obtained one of the first personal computers and taught herself to code, going on to produce works on paper, a suite of which from the early 1980s are shown here. The digital graphics include images of marching people and moon shots. Through the spectrum of her work Johannesson aligns craft with technology and scientific advance as well as activism.
In this month’s Crafts magazine Tanya Harrod has discussed the occasional myopia of the art world when craft practitioners are brought into the museum or gallery context. The tendency she identifies is to treat them as if they were new discoveries, when they are often individuals of significant and established standing in their own sphere. Harrod points to Hannah Ryggen as a case in point. The current shows at Hollybush Gardens offer a fascinating and more nuanced view of successive generations of artists coming out of Scandinavia. One can trace a lineage of thinking that crosses textile, technology and socio-political concerns from the heritage of Ryggen through Johannesson and on to McGeorge, which spans a century of activity. “The history of craft is fragile enough as it is.” writes Harrod, but here is a chance to appreciate some of the subtleties of the relationship between disciplines.
Very highly recommended
Hollybush Gardens, 1-2 Warner Yard, London EC1R 5EY. Open Wednesday – Friday, 11.00 – 18.00, Saturday 12.00 – 17.00. Exhibitions continue until 30 June 2018. www.hollybushgardens.co.uk