The Contemporary Textile degree course at Shetland College is currently displaying the work of this year’s graduates, with a broad range of creativity on show that includes knit, embroidery, felt making, weave and printed textiles shown alongside drawing, photography and painting.
Degree level study enables students to develop practical and conceptual skills and this year’s work is diverse in style, technique and meaning with a cutting edge which expands preconceptions of what textiles can be or should be.
Vivienne Ratter has spent several decades working as a crofter, developing an intense relationship with the land and the animals. This deeply internalised experience is expressed in a large landscape inspired felted triptych. The piece is made from native natural coloured Shetland wool which she has felted, cut in to shapes then felted again.
When speaking of wool she says: “I am aware of its physical qualities, its texture, resilience, warmth, smell, the process of felting wool intensifies these pleasurable experiences.” This piece celebrates the beauty of Shetland landscape and rejoices in the physical act of making something by hand from the wool that abounds in plenty in these isles.
In contrast Sarah Riley has also produced a triptych that offers an existential beauty with a darker vision of these isles by focusing on industrialization and urban decay as symbolized by abandoned shopping trolleys that she has photographed against a brooding sea and sky.
The photograph is then manipulated and knited using an industrial Shima knitting machine at the college. She challenges our preconception of knit in that there is nothing cosy in this piece depicting a landscape that has been used and abused then abandoned by humanity.
The industrial knitting process is in keeping with the subject matter and offers further contrast to Ratter’s unspoilt vision of nature and celebration of the hand made. Sarah Riley was recently shortlisted for the prestigious Royal Society of Art Design Directions award, judged by a panel of leading architects and designers and her work was exhibited in the Home Office in London.
Emma Hudson is the sixth generation from a family of Shetland knitters and she reinterprets patterns and hand knitting skills that have been handed down to her through her family. She has knitted a series of witty, comforting, domestic orientated pieces inspired in part by her love of cats and by artists such as Claus Oldenburg who turn everyday kitsch in to high art objects, thus Hudson’s vision is simultaneously local in its making and universal in its appeal.
Julie Williamson has made a collection of colourful fashionable garments inspired by tropical fish. She firstly dyed the fabric into a kaleidoscope of colour then using the natural movement of the fabric has manipulated and stitched the surface to create designs. She cites the designer Robert Capucci as a major influence.
Shona Bright has made a challenging and multi layered art piece constructed from contrasting materials that include delicate hand crochet lace in conjunction with cast concrete poured into handmade textured moulds.
Shona’s inspiration came from a variety of sources but especially microscopic photographs of parts of the human body. She says: “When I explore human anatomy I am also exploring myself.”
A picture of the inner workings of the human heart had a major impact on her, the heart being an organ that keeps us alive and is extremely strong but also breakable. This is symbolized by her choice of material.
She says: “This concrete looks sturdy but is actually very brittle and is kept into shape by the delicate and beautiful hand made lace that surrounds it.”
From a distance these “floor pods” as she calls them, resonate organic forms that could be barnacles or butterfly eggs and which could be in a state of growth or in a state of decay.
For the last decade Shona’s art work has been an expression of bright and glowing colour, but in this piece colour has been abandoned allowing her to focus on the complexities of sculptural form and space.
Malcolm Stove exhibits a collection of machine knitted fabrics he made as part of a personal project to develop furnishing fabrics for the contemporary home. Interior design inspiration came from his sketches and paintings of Shetland boats. He developed ideas for rugs and throws using the computerized Shima knitting machine to reinterpret his knit patterns.
Malcolm uses two distinct pallets for his collection one bright and fashion led influenced in part by the colours of fashion in Paris the other earthier of a more Shetland inspired palette.
Jane Munck has been working on a personal research project experimenting with knitting techniques. She is showing a series of very colourful individual scarves that were in part inspired by the landscape of Shetland but also reflect the vibrant tradition of colour that can be found in the art and design of her native Denmark.
The exhibition also includes a selection of work by second and first year students. Three students in particular demonstrate the ethos of the degree course and how the course modules enable students to locate their development in a historical and cultural context as well as equip them with high skill levels through practical workshops.
Hillary Seatter has used textiles as an experimental platform to discover her individual artistic voice that has its roots in her long term interest in comic books and animation.
Her animated film of the Shima knitting machine, operated by Eric Stewart, is both funky and highly accomplished in its use of her hand drawn illustrations and stop frame animation. Hilary has also hand screen-printed her illustrations to make a toile fabric, which, when you wear the glasses she has provided, leaps off the fabric to become 3D.
Angela Irvine displays a selection of her exquisite handmade lace snoods that were developed in her professional practice module and are currently for sale in the Shetland Museum shop.
She is also displaying a selection of boldly coloured, very skilfully made, painted and woven fabrics that have their roots in traditional Shetland lace but jump excitedly into the future and were influenced by her study of Japanese street fashion.
Joan Manson’s collection of powerful and moving work pays tribute to the haaf fishermen of Northmavine. She has suspended hand made knitted lace shapes from cod hooks on the ceiling that are symbolic of drying cod and resemble the foam like shapes of a tumultuous sea.
Look carefully and you will see in her installation the secret words that fishermen of old substituted for real words, such was their superstition of and utmost respect for the sea that everyone’s lives depended on.
Visitors are welcome to call into the college lower building to see the degree show which will be open from 9am to 4pm on weekdays until 3rd July (closed 8th and 9th June).