30.4.24

Outi Pieski – 'Art comes from the land, it's made for the land' | Tate

Drawing inspiration from her Sámi heritage, artist Outi Pieski creates large-scale textile installations which feature tassels based on traditional clothing. Her work references ‘duodji’, an Indigenous craft practice that was marginalised in the wake of Scandinavian colonialism. In this short video, watch Pieski as she prepares new work for her exhibition at Tate St Ives. Subscribe for weekly films: http://goo.gl/X1ZnEl




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23.4.24

Sargent's Diva Portrait | Tate

After watching Ellen Terry play the role of Lady Macbeth in 1888, artist John Singer Sargent knew he had to paint her. But his dramatic portrait, with Terry holding the crown above her head, depicts a scene that didn't actually occur in Irving's production. Nevertheless, Sargent's painting established Terry as a true Victorian 'diva'. This is an extract from Exhibition on Screen's film John Singer Sargent: Fashion & Swagger. Filmed at both the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and Tate Britain, the documentary explores how Sargent used fashion as a powerful tool to express identity and personality. The exhibition Sargent and Fashion is at Tate Britain until 7 July: https://ift.tt/7eyG29W Find out more at https://seventh-art.com. Subscribe for weekly films: http://goo.gl/X1ZnEl




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21.4.24

Five things our research uncovered when we recreated 16th century beer (and barrels)

Susan Flavin, Trinity College Dublin and Charlie Taverner, Trinity College Dublin

It’s true that our 16th-century ancestors drank much more than Irish people do today. But why they did so and what their beer was like are questions shrouded in myth. The authors were part of a team who set out to find some answers.

As part of a major study of food and drink in early modern Ireland, funded by the European Research Council, we recreated and analysed a beer last brewed at Dublin Castle in 1574. Combining craft, microbiology, brewing science, archaeology, as well as history, this was the most comprehensive interdisciplinary study of historical beer ever undertaken. Here are five things that we discovered.

1. People didn’t drink beer because water was unhealthy

It’s often assumed that lack of access to clean water led people to drink beer instead. We know this isn’t true for many reasons, not least because brewers needed a constant source of fresh water to make the best beer.

Water was certainly viewed as less healthy, but not because of any understanding of microbial contamination. According to a system of medicine and treatment used at the time, Galenic humorism, water was a “cold” drink that affected digestion, causing fluctuations and windiness. Meanwhile, beer was “warm and comforting”, balancing the “humours” and quenching thirst.

2. Beer was a payment for work

Beer was taken as medicine, often mixed with curious ingredients. Treatments for conditions such as flux or bed wetting, for example, required ground kid’s hoof or grated stag’s penis to be taken with a drink of beer.

People drank at work, commonly receiving drink as part of their wages. The quantities were staggering. At Christchurch Cathedral in Dublin, masons received up to 15 pints per day when undertaking heavy work.

More typical was a range of five to ten pints, as was the case at Dublin Castle. There, servants imbibed up to 2,700 calories a day in beer alone, the cost of which exceeded what the household spent on bread.

3. Beer had some different ingredients then

In many ways, 16th-century beer would be recognisable today. The key ingredients were malt (made from barley or oats depending on the region), water, yeast and hops.

The addition of hops, a Dutch innovation, spread throughout Europe in this period. This resulted in a longer lasting drink, accelerating the development of the brewing industry as we know it today.

But there are differences between pre-modern and modern beers, relating primarily to the nature of the ingredients. Four centuries ago, cereals were grown as landraces.

A landrace has a wide range of characteristics distinct from those of standardised modern varieties, through adaptation to their regional climate, soils and topography. Shrinking cultivation of these landraces meant that sourcing heritage ingredients was challenging.

The variety of barley we chose was bere. This is the only landrace barley still grown commercially, thanks to the conservation efforts of agronomists and farmers in Orkney, Scotland.

The experiment was a unique opportunity to examine the significance of these varieties to the taste and quality of drinks in the past, and the benefits of saving heritage crops for future generations.

4. Making beer required skills in short supply today

Industrial brewing today produces the same beer every time. Brewing in the past, using simpler equipment and in a more open environment, was much more challenging. Brewers were deeply in tune with their working conditions and didn’t have modern devices such as thermometers.

They used their senses and knowledge to make adjustments as they worked. As the project team learned the hard way, small mistakes could be disastrous, resulting in spoiled beer and accidental porridge.

Recreating the technology of the past also highlighted the wider craft skills, such as coopering (making barrels), wicker-weaving, woodworking, and coppersmithing, that went into making all the equipment needed to make a pint. Much like heritage crops, these skills are in worrying decline.

Our oak fermenting barrels and mash tuns (a vessel used in brewing) were made by Les Skinner, at the time one of the last two master coopers in England. He has since retired. We had to go all the way to Portugal to find coppersmiths who could build a large freestanding boiler.

5. Even everyday beer was strong

One enduring misconception is that people were able to drink so much in the 16th century because their beer was relatively weak. Based on little evidence, it is assumed that beer of around 2% alcohol by volume (abv) was the most common drink of the working classes. But we know this so called “small beer” was widely rejected by workers, as well as by physicians, dietary writers, and government officials, who all deemed it dangerous to health.

Our experiment showed that a typical beer of middling strength actually had the potential to be around 5% abv, comparable to modern lager. This means people could have been extremely inebriated from merely what they drank alongside work. Unsurprisingly, there were loud and frequent calls for drinkers to show moderation.

Those calls often came, however, from the same people who liberally supplied their workers with beer. This suggests that the context in which people drank was very important. If having a pint or two at breakfast and dinner was acceptable, even expected, many more at the village alehouse was seen as more troublesome.

To learn more about brewing a beer from 1574, visit our online exhibition. A documentary film is coming soon. Details will be on our website.The Conversation

Susan Flavin, Associate professor of history, Trinity College Dublin and Charlie Taverner, Research fellow, history, Trinity College Dublin

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

9.4.24

How art can inspire solidarity across borders | Tate

How do artists create work within their communities, in a way that helps us see injustice and shows us the way towards change? In this film we look at five artists who demonstrate the power of collaboration across borders: Outi Pieski, Carolina Caycedo, Anna Daučíková, Zanele Muholi and Rita Keegan. Research supported by Hyundai Tate Research Centre: Transnational in partnership with Hyundai Motor. Subscribe for weekly films: http://goo.gl/X1ZnEl




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8.4.24

Unravel: The Power and Politics of Textiles in Art

Barbican show reveals the medium’s subversive nature

Textile art is having a revival, as the artists on show at the Barbican exhibition, Unravel: The Power and Politics of Textiles in Art, attest.

The show is a comprehensive journey through the themes explored by artists utilising textiles as a medium. But it also invites deeper reflection on the societal shifts that have prompted a revival of the art form. Historically associated with femininity, domesticity and craft, textiles possess a deceptive simplicity that conceals their potential for subversion and political dissent.

The exhibition focuses on this subversive nature of textiles in contemporary art through works by artists including Feliciano Centurión. His delicate floral embroideries on modest blanket squares are accompanied by poignant stitched phrases such as “Soy alma en pena” (“I am a soul in pain”) and “Estoy vivo” (“I am alive”). These words express his battle with HIV and affirm his queer masculine identity.

Małgorzata Mirga-Tas’s collaged textile hanging, meanwhile, revises historical depictions of the Romani community. In doing so, the artist reclaims space for stories excluded from historical accounts. And Igshaan Adams’s immersive ethereal installation, crafted from beads and wire structures, prompts reflection on the collective opposition to artificially imposed borders in South Africa’s apartheid regime.

The changing landscape of exhibiting textiles

The exhibition also includes works by established figures such as Sheila Hicks and Magdalena Abakanowicz. Their works were displayed in the Wall Hangings exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1969, a pivotal show that legitimised the use of fibre within the realm of the fine arts.

Using unorthodox and found materials, female artists of this era departed from the European tapestry tradition. Their three-dimensional fibre structures both physically and metaphorically reclaimed space in an art world largely dominated by their male counterparts.

In the catalogue for the Barbican exhibition one of the curators, Lotte Johnson, remarks: “Back in 2020, we had collectively noted how textiles were proliferating across contemporary art practices.” This proliferation can be traced back to recent societal changes, as well as the instrumental role of cultural intermediaries including museums and private galleries.

Social movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter have highlighted the need to tell a more inclusive history of art and acknowledge the contributions of women, people of colour and indigenous artists who have been overlooked in traditional accounts.

Further, the global spread of biennials and fairs, along with increase mobility of curators, has contributed greater visibility of artists from continents such as Africa and South America. Their practices often employ textiles and recycled elements, transcending the European dichotomy between art and craft.

The consumer demand for handmade textile items – a trend in response to an increasingly digitised society – has also played a role in the renewed appreciation for textile-based art. Additionally, movements associated with environmentalism and third-wave feminism have embraced traditionally domestic practices such as knitting and crocheting. These enjoyed further popularity during the COVID pandemic as a stress-coping mechanism.

Museums have been pivotal in endorsing the revival of textiles. And the increased prevalence of women in positions of power at cultural institutions is partly why. The retrospective on Anni Albers at the Tate Modern in 2018, for example, is much-cited as a show that put the spotlight back on textiles. The show was supported by the appointments of Frances Morris as director of Tate Modern in 2016 and Maria Balshaw as director of Tate the following year.

Additionally, a new generation of curators are shaping curatorial programmes to include a more diverse range of artistic practices. These curators were educated by feminist art history scholars such as Griselda Pollock and have now moved into influential roles within prominent art institutions.

Interest in textiles is also gaining momentum within the private art sector. According to the art market database Artprice, textile works generated US$40 million (£31.6m) in 2022, a significant increase from $13 million in 2012.

Private galleries are exerting a growing influence on the art world, and have contributed significantly to the visibility of fibre art and textiles. Last October, the private gallery Alison Jacques opened a new space in London with a solo show on Sheila Hicks. At the Brafa art fair in Brussels in January 2024, Richard Saltoun showcased Textile Pioneers, which exhibited works by Barbara Levittoux-Świderska and Magdalena Abakanowicz, among others.

While the promotion of female textile artists is certainly a welcome shift towards a more inclusive representation of historical artistic contributions, the private sector’s commercial considerations cannot be overlooked. Female artists have been defined as “the bargain of our time”, and textile works are an affordable purchase for underfunded institutions and collectors who cannot afford works by male artists from the same period.

Moreover, the practicality of textiles, being easier to transport and install compared to paintings, further enhances their appeal to galleries.

The resurgence of textiles in contemporary art provides a vital opportunity for conversation and revision within both the art world and society at large. It also highlights the complex interplay of cultural intermediaries who juggle idealistic efforts and pragmatic commercial interests.


Looking for something good? Cut through the noise with a carefully curated selection of the latest releases, live events and exhibitions, straight to your inbox every fortnight, on Fridays. Sign up here.The Conversation


Francesca Stocco, PhD Researcher, Art Market, Nottingham Trent University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

"I needed to remember me" – Zanele Muholi on their series Somnyama Ngonyama | Tate

Listen to artist Zanele Muholi introduce their series of powerful self-portraits, Somnyama Ngonyama. These images are acts of resistance, wi...