Earlier today, to meet a pressing deadline, I finished writing a review of Tanya Harrod’s quite remarkable biography of the potter Michael Cardew.

Cardew, like his friend and sometimes combatant Bernard Leach, was eloquently dismissive of the ArtSchool. He wrote to his wife Mariel that his teaching at the Royal College of Art kept him in touch with ‘all the unwelcome, absurd & irrelevant aspects of the Today Art Scene [though] it is a sort of duty for the aged to appear among students’.

Now this is not a view that I share, and perhaps there are few in this room who would do so. Tellingly, Cardew went on to say that teaching at the RCA ‘helps to clarify what I really think and believe in’. The ArtSchool could be a transforming place, after all.

Art and craft, of course, may derive from all manner of places and discourses; and may find its outcomes in all manner of places, too – from the mobile phone to the rural enclosure; from the studio to the renowned public gallery.

These public places for craft are increasingly contested spaces. Craft is interrogating them as never before. 30 miles west of here, in Winchester, Laura Ellen Bacon has used a formal white room as a starting point for a woven willow and birch assembly In the thick of it, both gothic and nurturing, wild wooded and hedgerowed.

Here, in the James Hockey Gallery, Fiona Davies has made a deeply contemplative, but also in its serene and powerfully considered way, rousing and challenging work. It is both rooted in this one place and complex in its multiple metaphors. These are personal and broadly human, subjective as well as elemental. Our entry into this major work feels like a private journey, an unfolding, wrapping and wafting; a breathing of life and loss. It is an extraordinary work both for its repetitive and mnemomic associations and its strength of sheen, its tearings and gossamered power; its whiteness and the mark of blood adjacent to the white papered hanging.

When Michael Cardew so cuttingly dismissed what happened in the ArtSchool, he relinquished, at least for polemic’s sake, the powerful creative opportunity that comes from these significant places. A natural, collegiate approach to creative endeavor lies at the heart of creative practice here. This ambitious installation by Fiona Davies is a collaborative endeavor, linking the artist, the curator (our own inspiring Professor Lesley Millar), the physicist Dr Peter Domachuk and the curator and write Dr Lee-Anne Hall.

 

Fiona Davies has worked with the most precious material – the thoughts of her father’s death – and considered its meanings in the light of the ideas of blood sampling and the measurement of blood properties. This is both science and elegy. Blood on Silk, a work of keening, has become, through reflective care and visionary making, the means of transformation of place as well as concept; of respect and challenge; and a means of driving forward a new language for textiles in the public gallery realm. It is an internationalist and progressive collaboration.

 

Professor Simon Olding

25 October 2012

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