When the Metropolitan Museum of Art presented Tapestries of the Renaissance: Art and Magnificencein 2002, I think we all hoped that would spur an increased interest in contemporary tapestry. One could argue that we are currently seeing the revival we had hoped for, because there is certainly a lot of tapestry in the galleries these days. This includes the show Distant Mirrors featuring tapestries and works on paper by digital media collaborators Anthony Aziz and Sammy Cucher currently at ClampArt on W. 29thin New York through June 8.
The Met show was the inspiration for their jacquard woven tapestries now on view. According to Aziz, “It inspired us to think how we might do that for the current moment to create a kind of history painting for the present through the language of tapestries.”*
The tapestries are an outgrowth of an artists’ residency the two experienced in war torn areas of the Arab world and the Balkans. The physical and emotional evidence of unresolvable conflict and its devasting effects inspired the duo to make a video piece where two clowns (the artists themselves) walk through the rubble, powerless and visually absurd in the face of issues too complicated to fully grasp. This then led to video installation (In Some Country Under the Sun, 2012) where dancers were shot in contorted poses in front of a green screen and then projected within the desert environments filmed during their residency.
The green screen dancers appear again in the tapestries, literally collaged together in chaotic compositions and digitally reproduced in an edition of six by a computerized jacquard loom by Magnolia Editions. A nice touch was the addition of a profusion on pattern and color in the clothing of the figures, a clear nod to the renaissance tapestries that served as inspiration. Given that the duo are photographers, I will forgive them the use of machine reproduction. Although the process does dull the colors, reduces contrast, and further flattens the image, it is true to the artists practice and acknowledges the realities of making commercially viable monumental tapestry in the present day. (As a result, one could own the entire cycle of tapestries for less than one could purchase a single large hand woven piece by Chrisina Forrer, but I digress. See previous post.)
In the tapestries, devastation reigns but life goes on. Modernity invades the desert everywhere evidenced by a profusion of cranes, people celebrating, refugees on the move, scientists in hazard suits, people being shot (?), and people just casually filming it all on their phones. A great critical essay by Glenn Adamson can be found on their website (http://www.azizcucher.net). According to Adamson, “If these tapestries have a single subject matter, that’s it: the sheer profusion of imagery, and the distancing effects of mass-mediation, that are reshaping the contours of culture. We live in a distortion field.” **
Also on view are screen prints of the dancers in silhouette, with multiple overlays of pattern derived from their tapestry influences.
As one with a passion for tapestry, I loved this show. There is still time to see it if you are in New York.
*Aziz and Cucher – Tapestries and New Works on Paper by Bob Chaundy. https://consideringart.com/2018/10/10/aziz-and-cucher-tapestries-and-new-works-on-paper/
**Body Politic by Glenn Adamson, 2018