London riots get tied up in knots
Marc Quinn has turned a defining image of the violence and looting into a tapestry
By Gareth Harris. News, Issue 243, February 2013
Published online: 07 February 2013
The artist Marc Quinn has turned one of the most memorable images of the 2011 UK riots into a tapestry. The photograph, which shows a hooded figure standing in front of a burnt-out car, became a defining image of the mob violence that engulfed London. The artist acquired the rights to the work by Kerim Okten and subsequently reinterpreted it, creating paintings (History Painting, 2011), a sculpture (Id, 2012) and the new tapestry, The Creation of History, 2012. “I felt that the London riots of 2011 were a piece of contemporary history,” Quinn says. The tapestry, produced in an edition of five, was made using a computerised Jacquard loom in Flanders. Meanwhile, History Painting is due to go on display this summer in a solo show at Venice’s Giorgio Cini Foundation.
When asked if the work is a commentary on the state of England in the age of austerity, Quinn says: “I am always interested in making work that reflects the world we live in and this work is a reflection of England now. However, as with all history, it is a complex story and raises as many questions as it answers. Is this man a politically motivated rioter? A looter? What is in his pocket? And rucksack? More intriguingly, the mask he wears appears to be police-issue: could he even be a policeman?”
The medium combines both historical and contemporary aspects for Quinn, who explains that tapestries could be considered the first “pixelated images” before the advent of digital photography. “Each knot in the tapestry is exactly equivalent to a pixel, so the translation between the two media is like time travel, from the medieval world to our internet age. Tapestry by computer, originally with punched cards being fed through an automated loom, was perhaps the first digital imagery in the history of art,” he says. Quinn was also inspired by the “Mappa” tapestries of Alighiero Boetti, which he describes as historical and political images in fabric.
Quinn is one of a growing number of contemporary artists who have turned to tapestry (see right). Elizabeth Cumming, who organised an exhibition at Compton Verney in Warwickshire last year comprising tapestries made at Edinburgh’s Dovecot Studios over the past century, says: “The surface [of the tapestry] absorbs light too, quite a contrast from a painted surface, regardless of the paint medium. It’s the translation and interpretation that fascinates.”
Ties that bind: artists’ tapestries
The US artist Chuck Close’s practice has extended to tapestries based on Polaroids. “I build a painting really in the same way you build an image on a loom,” Close told ArtNews. “It’s the ultimate grid, just horizontal and vertical threads. I always thought tapestry was right up my alley.” Close works with Flanders Tapestries in Belgium, preparing the corresponding digital weave files at Magnolia Editions in Oakland, California. Late last year, he unveiled a tapestry (see below) at the Mint Museum in North Carolina, depicting President Obama, to mark the Democratic National Convention. The tapestry, Obama 2012 (I), reportedly priced at $100,000, was available in an edition of ten, with sale proceeds going towards the Obama Victory Fund.
In May 2009, the Pasadena-born artist Pae White had a show of works at 1301PE gallery in Los Angeles which included seven tapestries depicting swirls of cigarette smoke (centre). “Each of the six door-size tapestries downstairs is made up of a Donald Judd-style stack of three, four or five photographic close-ups of smoke sinuously drifting as it dissipates and eventually disappears into pure blackness,” said a report in the Los Angeles Times. White began creating tapestries in 2004.
The UK artist Craigie Horsfield says “tapestry has a materiality and presence, of substance and structure… it also has a history that is to some extent familiar but far enough from the generality of present practice to allow invention.” His photorealist tapestry, entitled At 99 Posse concert. Via Gianturco, Naples. September 2008, 2010, which portrayed revellers at an Italian rock concert, was shown in an exhibition devoted to tapestries at Venice’s Fondazione Giorgio Cini in 2011 (“Penelope’s Labour: Weaving Words and Images”). The past and present came together with Horsfield’s stark tapestry Broadway, 14th day, 18 minutes after dusk, New York, September 2001, 2012, shown at the Kunsthalle Basel last year. The work, made in a medium popular during the Renaissance, showed the destruction at Ground Zero.
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