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If someone mentions architecture and textiles perhaps, like me, the first thing you think of is Medieval tapestries, those richly worked wall hangings that extend ceiling to floor. Your second thought may glide to the chunky wool works that furbished the modernist decor of many hotel and office foyers in the crafty seventies. Although in both cases the objects take on an impressive scale, for the most part the relationship they maintain with architecture is one of mask. The fabric acts as a cloaking device either hiding the imperfections of the crumbling castle wall or proffering a veneer of the natural in an otherwise synthetic world.
Expanding the consideration of these two art forms, Pamela Gaunt's New Works fabricate a dialogue between fibre textile constructions and architectonics in which neither is masked. Rather, the gallery space becomes a three dimensional games board wherein Gaunt entertains the interplay between texture and form, motif and grid, ornamentation and space. In keeping with her oeuvre, questions concerning the interface between the conventions ascribed to craft objects and the preconceptions of the art world flourish. While upholding her commitment to the techniques and traditions of textile production, Gaunt explores the domain of the gallery with its authority to legitimate and privilege specific practices. As viewers, we enter into an environment where meanings, like the materials presented, are malleable. Those familiar with her practice will recognise her use of multiples, but here she broadens the leitmotif to call attention to the spatial relations of the gallery interior and its authority to countenance art.
Reminiscent of the gestalt found in Islamic decoration, in New Works the individual segment becomes integral to the fashioning of the whole. A vast sense of scale is achieved by mapping the unique specimen onto patterns of thematic arrangements. In one set of variations, Material Whimsies, snatches of recycled fabric are bunched into tiny waxed pouches, becoming an ordered dispersal of seemingly lawless wantons that gaily frolic over the gallery wall. Each humble, single gesture combines to create a grand sweeping panorama, a recipe for delight in the art of object making. In another, Traces #1, #2 and #3, fabric swatches are tightly rolled then evenly spaced on the wall, providing mathematical tableaux of fabric nori maki which also press the viewer to consider the wider ramifications of spatial networks. Individual proclivities are dispersed and given a sense of community and continuity through the trappings of the various grids. Classical order holds wisps of romantic sentiments in good measure.
Of the works presented, my favourite suite, Puckered, Pleated Black (and White) and Vile Nil consists of cut and pleated aluminium components each embellished with decorous photocopied transfers that amplify Gaunt's already deft material vocabulary in a new direction. Still valorising ornamentation and decorative patterning, these works take on a subtle sophistication. With them, she engages not only with the architectural demands of the gallery space but also revels in paradoxes of signification. For example, in Puckered delicately ornate origami commandeer a territory stretching from the floor to the ceiling. What first appear to be softly folded papers on closer inspection become taut metal articles. Here, decoration is no longer a servant of form but rather integral to the work. Gaunt establishes a play between the flourish of transfer designs and the ordered restraint of the pleated squares as they parade across the wall. On this field of speculations, all surfaces are marked as decorative with none privileged over another.
Yet it is in Vile Nil that the humour of Gaunt's interventions in the ubiquitous white cube is most rampant. The retro-styled kitchen aesthetic of the domestic tile assaults the walls of high art as these pink hued squares of vinyl wallpaper defy the confines of the floor and march victoriously upward to the greater glory of the sight line. Or are we witnessing a reversal of fortune, where abstracted minimalism in all its vainglorious beauty is sliding into an abyss of pedestrian reality, a patchwork quilt to cover the cold divide between modernist art and time honoured craft? It is through such paradoxical moments of perception we can perceive the artifice of the gallery setting, the humble becomes ostentatious, the pretentious slips to banality, while glorious decoration pervades triumphantly.
Certainly, the seduction of Pam Gaunt's New Works lies in her ability to foreground such juxtapositions. She reveals to us not only her well-crafted expertise in object making but also her canny sense of meaning production that is grounded in the materiality of things. Through these new works we become aware of a number of issues that pertain to the relationship between objects generated from the traditions of textiles and the architectonics of the contemporary art gallery.