Floral Constructions that Disturb

Curated by June Hill, Forever Changes is a major retrospective of the work of textile artist Michael Brennand-Wood. The exhibition was originally conceived for the Ruthin Craft Centre, Wales and has been reconfigured for Dovecot’s South Gallery.

Alongside the exhibits on display, interpretative text includes quotations from the artist himself and those who have admired his work. Of his decision to study embroidery at Manchester Polytechnic in 1972 Brennand-Wood has said “It struck me going round the various areas [of the college] that… it was uncharted territory open to exploration.”

Detail, Michael Brennand-Wood: Forever Changes, Dovecot Studios 2012
Detail, Michael Brennand-Wood: Forever Changes, Dovecot Studios 2012

Given its retrospective intentions, the exhibition contains a selection of Brennand-Wood’s objects from the 1980s to the present day (though the layout is not strictly chronological). The sense of exploration in through making is evident from the very beginning. Though described as a textile artist they are often mixed media, a combination of thread, textiles, wood and paint. Archive (1984) makes visual reference to the power of textiles as memories. Scraps of fabric are strapped to a grid of wooden beams, held in place by woven threads. The suggestion of the US flag by white stars on a blue background is a hint of the political aspect of the artist’s later constructions.

On a much larger scale are Brennand-Wood’s constructions of the 1990s in which ready-made textiles are set into wood, often with the addition of paint. From a distance it is difficult to tell if these are paintings or woven textiles. It is only when close that you see they are both. The most striking is 9 Dreams with the Here and Now (1998-9) a set of nine circles of wood, painted white and inset with black textiles. The stark contrast of black and white is at odds with the vibrant colours that fill the rest of the gallery space.

Michael Brennand-Wood: Forever Changes, Dovecot Studios 2012
Michael Brennand-Wood: Forever Changes, Dovecot Studios 2012

In more recent years Brennand-Wood has become known for his floral embroidery constructions, in which small individual stitched blooms are mounted on stems and given a three dimensional quality as the burst away from the wall. At the same time his work was becoming increasingly influenced by politics. He has said that an artist’s work should be relevant to its time and how “choices of colour or material can make something more palatable, less initially disturbing”. 27 Holding Pattern (2007) does exactly that. From the centre of the piece is an explosion of embroidered flowers and butterflies on stems in bright blue, pink, orange and red. Lying in a circle below them are mangled, distorted wooden models of the human body. Each is strapped down with thread and covered with an embroidered butterfly. Beneath each body are segments of text such as ‘Britons killed in swift dawn raid’.

A review such as this can only touch upon the great depth of feeling present in this exhibition. The opportunity to see such a breadth of work in one open gallery allows the viewer to truly appreciate the skills, themes and influences that have made Brennand-Wood an international star.

Review by Francesca Baseby

Forever Changes: Michael Brennand-Wood
Until 12 January 2013. Closed 21 December until 3 January 2013. Café closed until 7 January
South Gallery, Dovecot, 10 Infirmary Street, Edinburgh EH1 1LT
Open Monday to Saturday 10.30am – 5.30pm

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