Monday, 28 May 2012


I love the Barbican. It's one of my favorite places. It rockets skywards into the London skyline like some bizarre rock formation. A man-made urban Monument Valley. 

In winter I'll sit in the library reading the periodicals and in summer I'll have coffee outside in the middle oasis by the fountains. At anytime I'll be winding around their art galleries soaking up whatever is on offer.
The latest morsel for consumption is a comprehensive corral of textiles, glass, ceramics, furniture, and architecture from that most celebrated of design schools The Bauhaus, which was founded in 1919 by architect Walter Groupius. It's intention was for all arts and crafts to become anonymous design directed towards production rather than individual creative expression. The Bauhaus went though three destinations of Weimar, Dessau and Berlin before being closed by the Nazis in 1933 for being too radical, revolutionary and left-wing.
The Bauhaus's obvious legacy is it's influence on Modernism and the idea that design and function have to go hand-in-hand to be taken seriously...yawn...zzzz...sorry dropped off there for a second but 'Art Is Life' seems to contradict a lot of the bollocky-boo that surrounds these ideas of what constitutes good design. Many of the exhibits, especially the early output, and the numerous photographs show a surprisingly playful, brave, and highly expressive creative approach to not only the art and design side of the school but life in general. There were regular concerts, performances and parties. The girls cut their hair short and wore trousers and there was even a Bauhaus jazz band, and this sense of happy and mad freedom is reflected on every level throughout the exhibition.

Above, a madcap costume for 'The Triadic Ballet' by Oskar Schlemmer, 1922.

If you would like to add a touch of bonkers Bauhaus to your home why not go for our braids and tassels from the Newport collection.

11cm 'Vision On' braid
left 'Miles' tassel,
right, rosettes

The best thing about Bauhaus -Art Is Life? The textiles, and a chance to see their wonderment in the flesh rather than pawing over their images in books. I've always been smitten with the Bauhaus weavers output especially Anni Albers and Gunta Stolzl who are to weave what Shakespeare and Marlowe are to theatre.
Stolzl was instrumental in setting up the weaving workshop,and at first the students had to self teach the rudiments of weave- dressing looms, drafting pattern structures and how different materials reacted to being woven. Unlike the other workshops, which had a technical master and a 'formmeister' who over saw the design development, the weavers, because there were no qualified tutors available, were allowed to weave anything they liked- hangings, cushions, upholstery fabric and carpets- and the early textiles were boldly coloured, abstract and geometric, and a complete departure from the naturalistic and figurative ornate textiles of pre-First World War design.  

Above, two examples of Stolzl's weave designs.
Below, the lady in question.

Above, two designs by Anni Albers.

Anni Albers came to the Bauhaus as a student in 1922. Unable to get into the glass workshop she opted for weave and soon became completely enamored with it's infinite possibilities. She was very influenced by pre-colombian textiles, especially the extra warp/weft and inlay structures. She also experimented with new materials e.g. the mixing of cellophane with linen.
She emigrated to America with her husband Josef Albers, a Bauhaus master, in 1933, to teach at The Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Anni continued to develop and design woven textiles, as well as writing and later printmaking.

Below, Anni Albers

For all their creativity the weavers also adhered to the Bauhaus doctrine that all design had to be able to work for production and that the structural and practical qualities were as important as the aesthetic i.e. trying new fibres and playing with texture to see what their properties were as regards to light reflection, sound absorbency, and durability. They were also one of the most successful of all the workshops selling designs to textile manufacturers in Dresdan, Berlin and Stuttgart.

Bauhaus weavers on the stairs. I'm somewhere at the back.

Loom Heaven. The weave workshop.

The influence of the Bauhaus weavers can be seen in the work of any weaver worth his or her salts- and yes there are his weavers out there [check out Travis Meinolf AKA Action Weaver]. In fact in some parts of Africa weaving is purely a patriarchal occupation, which scuppers Freuds -who's in my top ten of all time misogynist windbags- theory that weaving was invented by women as a subconscious reaction to percy [and yes, that is a euphemism]envy. 

The magnificent Mr Meinolf sets his loom up in fields, parks and motorways- bringing weave to the people. He's even organized weave parties with warps hanging down from the ceiling so you can weave while you dance. On a more serious note Travis has very interesting theories on the politics of weave and it's potential usage as currency.

Pictures of me weaving taken by Alun Callender last October for a shoot for Homes and Gardens magazine.

On your visit don't by-pass the Barbican's other exhibition, the complete antithesis of Bauhaus modernism -clutter- in Chinese artist Dong Song's 'Waste Not' in the Curve Gallery. An instillation of 10,000 household objects collected by his mother over five decades which are laid out in series of connected items like an idiosyncratic market of unwanted but potentially useful goods.

 Recommended reading,
On Weaving.
Anni Albers.
Wesleyan University Press, 1965.


Bobs gone

Pucks arrived


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