Fragments

A mix of media and weaving techniques makes this a must see for Culture Night

Coinciding with Belfast’s forthcoming Culture Night, the joint exhibition Fragments, by textile artists Jenny Haslett and Michelle Stephens, is a fitting addition to this year’s roster of great events. Not only does it feature some fascinating work, but it also reflects the hands-on nature of the aforementioned evening.

Taking place in Craft NI, the exhibition offers up two very different yet complimentary perspectives on how far the medium of weave can be pushed. Both artists combine the technique of weaving fabric with other processes to create new meaning.

Stephens chooses to compliment her work with technical processes, adding materials to her pieces that suggest a tension between the rational and the organic.

Haslett’s pieces, on the other hand, are married with reclaimed objects she has collected from a derelict farmhouse. Chance finds such as fragments of wallpaper, as well as tools like mangles and spindles, are juxtaposed with highly technical and calculated fabric work.

My favourite piece of Stephens’ is suggestive of a telegraph system or an electrical box. Brash lines dominate the work, with bundled up thread hinting at the chaos of a wiring system. Laser-cut Perspex numbers and letters suggest order.

The feeling of internal opposition within this piece, and the rest of Stephens’ work, is palpable, and engaging. The pieces are also deceptively deep in a physical sense, with multi-layered shapes protruding at different degrees.

This is interesting, challenging and highly technical work. However, I find myself more drawn to Haslett’s style. Her pieces offer hands-on interactivity for the viewer. One features three spindles which can be adjusted to manipulate a piece of woven fabric held tight in the middle. Another features a beautiful antique mangle, fabric running through it, which can also be manipulated.

All of Haslett’s reclaimed objects come from a derelict farmhouse she feels a close personal relationship to, and this shines through in the work. It is these ‘fragments’ that have inspired the name of the exhibition itself, found both inside the farmhouse by digging and salvaging at the site.

In combining these objects with wonderfully intricate weave and crochet work, Haslett forges a unique yet distinctly Northern Irish identity.

It is satisfying to see our heritage being mined without turning to tired old Troubles imagery, and, combined with Stephens’ work, this exhibition appears to look to the future. Whilst small in size, the work displayed is refreshingly large in ambition, engaging for the viewer on a tangible, physical level, as well as an emotional one.

Fragments runs until October 27. However, on Culture Night (September 23) the hands-on aspect of the show will be pushed even further, with the public invited to join Haslett and Stephens in creating a brand new collaborative piece for the exhibition.

As well as talks and demonstrations from both artists, a table loom will be set up (outside, weather permitting), and members of the public will have a chance to operate it.

Check out CultureNorthernIreland's What's On guide for more information about visual arts.