2019 Tate Modern: Spending Time with the Works of Anni Albers...
Getting the train directly from my lovely hometown of Brighton straight up to Blackfriars, just minutes from the Tate Modern, often feels too good to be true. Today I am making this journey specifically to visit the Anni Albers exhibition. The Tate Modern itself always takes my breath away, the vastness of the space when you step inside the doors, immediately feeling inspired and ready to take in new ideas. As Anni would say, ‘You all know how great art can affect you, you breathe differently.’
The story of Albers work was told by the curators at the Tate through 11 chapters. Covering many aspects of the work and life of Albers through the Bauhaus, Black Mountain, her interest in ancient Peru, pictorial weavings, her various commissions and finally a chapter focused on her essay ‘Tactile Sensibility’, from her book ‘On Weaving’, .
From the moment we began the Albers Exhibition I started to wonder if it’s almost impossible for me to truly appreciate the innovation of the work in front of me. How would this work been perceived at the time of its making? In today’s world where her geometric modern style is commonplace, and with our unlimited access to visual inspiration from all ages and all countries at any moment, I felt that surely my lense must get blurred. I felt an awareness that I would need to slow my mind down, to focus and engage with the significance of these works if I was to see clearly and make the most of the experience.
As I walk from room to room I feel a steady consistency to the style and themes of Albers work, despite the varying mediums. Albers works with colour, geometry, line, knots and textiles. Each piece of work is given space to breathe and laid out in a classic gallery fashion. As spatial designers, both Kate and I comment on the quality of the rooms at the Tate, the use of its own colour and layout to enhance the narrative of her works.
One of my favourite rooms displayed Anni’s free-hanging room dividers. Anni was always thinking about the wider conversations to her work, and what it’s applications and intentions might be for the future, and therefore it always has another level of meaning to it. Her works were not just about aesthetics, but about challenging the boundaries of how we view textiles as a medium.
Anni was interested in bringing textiles into the conversation of architecture, not just purely for it’s aesthetic quality but functional value too. She was interested in how spaces could be divided or enhanced in softer ways, rather than traditional use of partition walls, by designing fabric hangings or semi-transparent planes which would have been a relatively novel concept at the time. This was just part of who Anni was, always one step ahead. You could read an essay by Anni today and think it had been written recently, which goes to show the completely remarkable and forward thinking nature of her as an artist and writer.
In her essay ‘The Pliable Plane - 1957’ Albers discusses the relationship, and likeness, of architecture and weaving. She describes how architecture and weaving are made up of component parts which are still easily visible once the whole composition is complete, unlike say, pottery where separate elements are no longer defined when complete. There are perhaps many other similarities between the two disciplines when you look a little closer; the attention to detail, pace of process and discipline that is required in an architect are not a far stretch from those of a weaver. There is a clear influence of this relationship in Anni’s aesthetic style of weaving and graphic works in that they often speak of architectural language through their geometric repetition and grid based nature.
I can see how Anni is still such a huge influence to the modern weavers of today. Our own work at LLL is driven by a passion to keep our modern day artists and designers work alive and a viable route to making a living. The resurgence of craft and growing social awareness into the way we consume affects everything we do. Supporting designers who embody values such as process, design, traceability and craftsmanship is a joy. Beatrice Larkin, a UK based weaver has been working with us over the last couple of years has been hugely inspired by Anni Albers and is such a delight to work with.
‘Anni Albers has been a constant inspiration to me since I started studying weave ten years ago. I have always been attracted to the block geometrics of The Bauhaus and Albers' work specifically. The fact that as a weaver she was able to move the craft into the modern art arena has been fundamental. Looking at fabric as art as well as for purpose and blurring the lines between is a driving goal in the work that I create.’ - Beatrice Larkin
This shift from textiles as a craft, to art, or even architecture, that is so central to the work of Albers, is such a huge part of her success. Something that often dwindles from the practice of many crafts people and artists once they have graduated is the growth of their theoretical practice alongside physical making. Being a teacher, as Anni was, meant that she continued to expand this side of her practice. Continually asking questions about the meaning of craft or design, looking at it sometimes from more of a philosophical viewpoint, opens up so much opportunity for development and originality.
As we become more conscious about our environment, we are giving more equal weight to check boxes such as functionality, process, sustainability, quality and questions as to who made it and where? These questions often take us back to slower, traditional based methods in many areas of making and design. It is incredible to think of how long it would have taken Anni Albers to create her works, without our modern editions to the loom, sometimes taking months to create one relatively small piece but I think she liked this in some ways, giving her time to process the design and really know the work she had created. There seems to be something so special, albeit daunting, about embracing a slow craft, being able to let the mind unwind as you appreciate each step, taking the time to really know the work and be at one with it. With so many of us working in faster based commercial design projects it can lead to a disconnect between the designer-maker within, a lack of space for letting ideas settle and grow organically due to time restraints and costs means we have to actively commit to making time for a slower, more thoughtful approach. Making a conscious effort as a consumer to look a little further than the stylistic impact of something can enrich your experience and keep this kind of craft alive.
There are so many facets to being a good designer-maker and we will do well to remember it. Anni continuously worked on many levels; from teaching students the importance of context and history of their chosen craft, through to deep explorations and understanding of materiality, design, colour, pattern and technique. On top of this, Anni taught her students to look at the big picture, to ask questions and to think about the way people might interact with what they were creating and its wider future potential.
At the year that sees the centenary of the Bauhaus, which opened in Weimar, Germany by Walter Gropius in 1919, it is a very special time to enjoy a retrospective of Albers work. I felt it was a wonderful experience to take the time to focus on the life and works of Anni Albers, it has been enriching and eye-opening.
The exhibition at the Tate led me to learn so much more about Anni Albers than I had first expected, it renewed my energy and reminded me of how incredibly important it is, as creators and consumers to look through many different lenses and apply ourselves from many different angles. Anni wore all the hats, so to speak; a maker, a thinker, a researcher, a writer, an artist, a teacher and a person not afraid to ask big questions about the context and future of her craft.