Diana Taylor, ‘A Ghost for Today’

William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow, London

February 18 – March 19, 2022.

Published: March 19, 2022.

Exhibition imageshttps://www.instagram.com/dianataylorstudio/

Info: https://www.wmgallery.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions-43/a-ghost-for-today

Housed in a Grade II listed building on the grounds of Lloyd Park, Walthamstow, the William Morris Gallery combines permanent displays that document the life and contribution of its Victorian namesake, a designer, craftsman, writer and campaigner, with one-off, temporary exhibitions. Visitors can meander through themed rooms featuring photographs, publications, letters, designs and personal items connected with Morris, a key figure in the arts-and-crafts movement.

Diana Taylor’s ‘A Ghost for Today’ is the most recent exhibition to co-exist in this environment. Occupying a gallery next to the glass-roofed tea-room, it overspills this space to include a short film about her practice, and five small works wall-mounted along an adjoining corridor. 

 

This historic setting, dedicated to a figure who helped to shape the prevailing approach to architectural preservation, provides an interesting context for an event that mounts a dialogue about ways in which visual culture degrades and fragments over time. Marking the conclusion of the artist’s practice-based PhD, it forges links across time to also investigate how social and cultural remnants from the past persist in and influence the present. 

Taylor uses the term  ‘hauntology’ to capture how our current reality is impacted by such spectres. Coined by Jacques Derrida, it was adopted by Mark Fisher, whose book Ghosts of my Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures is cited by the artist as an important influence on her research. [1] This resonates with a concern threaded through her work with how, to use William Morris’ words, 'we live and how we might live'. [2]

The title of the exhibition references the plethora of ghosts it summons into being, Morris predominant among them. Taylor mirrors his return to earlier methods of making in response to the dehumanising effects of industrialisation, deploying his designs in her work, not just to probe their continuing influence but also the relevance of a parallel return to analogue in this information age. Similarly, by using digital processes in the making of material artefacts, she courts the idea of perpetual iteration, with forms appearing and reappearing in new and refreshed life cycles.

Taylor draws from an archive of appropriated material that comes from different times and places, and was made using fast and slow, old and new technologies. Alongside designs by Morris, it includes representations of classical sculptures and textiles associated with her Greek-Cypriot heritage. It is used, in combination with her own varied processes, to 'reflect our contemporary condition, as punctuated by contradiction, anachronism and poly-temporality through the continuous push/pull, decision/indecision of painting/un-painting, making and un-making.' [3]

The eclecticism of the resulting artworks conveys the visual excesses of our time, as paint, print, weaving and needlework coalesce within busy compositions. Swept Under the Carpet: Carbrook, Acanthus and Hammersmith are three large-scale ‘collages’ on canvas which reference, through their titles, things hidden or left unsaid. The works feature discontinuous oil and acrylic renditions of Morris’ carpet designs, linked by spray-painted ‘threads’ to other fragmented reproductions relating to his work. 

Taylor translated the patterns into flat, pixelated surfaces, reinforcing this squared-off imagery with a proliferation of screen-printed grids. These call to mind the ever-present textile as an ancient binary (over/under) technology, as well as up-to-date digital code. Latticework recurs across many of the remaining works as an overlaid and/or fractured motif

that contrasts and collides with organic forms.The grid (along with collage as a mode of making) is also associated with the modernist movement, adding a further temporal dimension to Morris’ nineteenth-century, revivalist aesthetic.

The titles of two large fabric pieces, So Swift the Hours are Moving and A Tale that Never Ends, are both taken from a William Morris poem and make allusions to time. Assembled from materials Taylor inherited or sourced from charity shops and recent Morris & Co pattern books, they are layered with hand sewing, screen prints of traditional needlework and three-dimensional scans of folded antique fabrics. The grid is echoed in their construction from variously sized rectangular patches. Some have ‘pinked’ edges, which add visual interest, while others break out of their geometric form to destabilise its associations with order and constraint.

These wall hangings are interspersed with three smaller works on canvas, titled The Tangling of the Net. Based on a colouring-book reproduction of Morris’ Strawberry Thief textile design, the application of layers of acrylic silkscreen is intended to convey the degradation that results from the incessant circulation of images. As in others of Taylor's featured works, traditional handicraft is represented by an overlay of colourful stitching, which reinforces detail or adds a decorative element.

Nearby, three inkjet prints, April, September and December, communicate rupture in chronological time. Having crumpled pages from a recent William Morris calendar, the artist made digital scans which captured, while flattening, the resulting folds, creating interplays between front and back and obscured or displaced information. Collaged fabric and embroidery threads stitched onto the surface disrupt their inherent two-dimensionality and add a tactile element. 

The pared-back, largely black-and-white imagery of two fabric pieces suspended from the ceiling belies the complex processes used in their creation. Titled The Ghosts of Kelmscott Past, they incorporate illustrations from The Kelmscott Chaucer, 1896, Morris’ final project before his death, which focused on reviving the skills involved in hand printing. Taylor digitally scanned cropped elements of these handmade images, before programming them into a digital jacquard loom and reproducing them in impressive detail. This linkage of analogue and digital is brought into sharper relief by the nearby display of textile printing blocks from the Gallery’s collection. Above these is a point-paper pattern hand-drawn by Morris for use with a Jacquard loom, and a print of Trellis, his first wallpaper design. 

Rounding off the main exhibits is Ghosts of my Life, a four-minute looped video which takes its title from Mark Fisher’s above-mentioned book. It interweaves imagery associated with Taylor’s late mother (including Victorian figurines, traditional Cypriot lacework and crochet) with scans of folded cloth. As with the other artworks described, it fosters, by means of such residues from the past, the experience of encountering multiple time periods at once.

In the end, A Ghost for Today comes across as a curated confusion of mediums and motifs, tangled up in grids and folds, masked and revealed using opacity and transparency, that seems to question what, here and now, has meaning. Taylor has stated that she uses assemblage to collapse 'hierarchies in arts and crafts, ancient and modern, high and low culture, and other assumed dichotomies'. [4]  Given that hierarchy and dichotomy are structures of certainty and, too often, rigidity, opportunities may be found in the turmoil of their undoing to consider what lies between absolute extremes. At a moment in history in which oppositional forces appear, once again, to be at odds, an exercise in discerning what from the ‘loss and ruin of visual culture' [5] could point towards viable alternatives may well be timely.

 

[1]  https://www.instagram.com/p/CaU-5YpsJq4/

[2] The title of a lecture given by Morris in 1884, and published in 1887. 

[3] https://www.dianataylor.co.uk/about

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.



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