Today Collect 2020 opens to the public at Somerset House, London.
The culmination of 8 months work, Margo Selby presents VEXILLUM, an immersive triptych of large scale hand woven art works.
Each year on the Preview Day, Crafts Council presents 3 awards across the show. We are proud to share the news that Margo has won the Collect Open Award 2020.
Margo was one of 12 artists selected by Crafts Council England for COLLECT OPEN 2020, an exhibition of craft-led installations during the International Art Fair for Modern Craft and Design, at Somerset House in London.
Margo Selby: VEXILLUM
COLLECT Open 2020
International Art Fair for Modern Craft and Design
Stand W3, West Wing
27 February – 1 March, 2020, Somerset House, London
VEXILLUM: by Lucy Howarth
Margo Selby is a textile artist making visionary singular lampas woven pieces on a 24 shaft dobby loom. These works are both painterly, in regard to the optical mixing of pure colour – and sculptural, due to the physicality of woven thread as a mode of construction. They are stretched and wall-mounted but operate as objects rather than pictures or decoration – they are non-representational, and their colours are integral rather than applied to a surface. Formal aesthetics are paramount to this work, and in constant intersection – colour, form, shape, orientation, rhythm, – the grammar of Selby’s language. The new series – VEXILLUM – is a leap in scale from the intimacy of her wall-mounted pieces to date – the human to the architectural. This heralds an emergence from the reverie of a weaver-at-her-work, to a new assertiveness, and desire to be heard – let the trumpets sound!
Installed as a triptych for Collect, VEXILLUM becomes an imposing secular altarpiece – a sensory chapel or even a cathedral for loud cantation rather than silent prayer. The air between each panel is activated, they zing; the tessellation of the designs building to crescendos. They are visual works, employing optical effect like that of Bridget Riley in their off-kilter symmetry, but in their presence a synesthetic effect is palpable – they sing. More raucous than religious – they are flags for a banqueting hall – banners for carnival. They compel the viewer to participate – to dance in syncopated jerky jazz gestures like Milča Mayerová. They are celebratory, but with an element of aggression – a ‘vexillum’ being a portent of battle, as well as a Latin sail, and the delicate fronds of a feathery plume.
Weave is in accordance with industrial production – the Jacquard loom is the original computer, with its binary punch card system – and the functional nature of textiles to clothe and comfort the human body, and cushion the domestic environment. Textiles are associated with the realm of craft, often pejoratively as opposed to ‘art’, and a gendered conception of creativity – female students at the Bauhaus were largely confined to the medium afterall – VEXILLUM is a tribute to them (Gunta Stölzl, Otti Berger, Ruth Hollós-Consemüller, Benita Koch-Otte, Lena Meyer-Bergner, Margaretha Reichardt, so many names as well as of course Anni Albers) – but imposed limitations are so often a prerequisite of great expression, and the discipline of the loom is at the centre of Selby’s practice. The postmodern revision underway of marginalised historical textiles art, such as the female outputs of the Bauhaus in twentieth century Europe, and the Alabama USA tradition of Gee’s Bend Quilts going back to the nineteenth century (Arlonzia Pettway, Annie Mae Young and Mary Lee Bendolph are some of the still-living artists associated), in exhibitions, collections and publications, prompts Selby to reassess her own conception of her work. This is concurrent with a re-emergence of textiles as a contemporary art practice – with a special section at Frieze London 2019 for example. Medium is certainly no longer either necessary or sufficient to define any discourse of art as art – Tracey Emin is not ever described as quilt-maker.
The process of weaving is rhythmic and meditative – as the shuttle is sent through the warp with deft flicks of a wrist – working at the loom can bring on a transcendental state – the repetition akin to a devotional chant. Selby’s work is spiritual in this way – but rather than an atonement it is an affirmation – and a sensory delight. Each thread is placed, pushed, positioned – cumulatively constructing the fabric. Many many hours, and days, goes into the build. There is an element of obsessive compulsion to this work, which Selby freely admits – but it is creative in the truest sense, rather than therapeutic – and it is performative, the finished piece being a by-product of an action, as in a Lee Krasner.
To go beyond the scale of the loom, as Selby has done with VEXILLUM, is a technical feat – the designs are conceived in their entirety and subsequently executed to an exact plan – the works are made in sections, as dictated by the loom, requiring absolute accuracy to achieve a perfect match and a cohesive whole. Each of the sections comprises 9,000 strands, so 18,000 per square panel and 27,000 for the largest central panel – each one of those hand-threaded, each counted and re-counted and accounted for. Geometric pattern is made macro in these fractal compositions, expanding infinitely – the forms optically project and recede, creating a sensation of movement, and almost becoming images – alluding as they do to stairways and steps or pyramid forms – a chromatic hall of mirrors.