Richard Tuttle: I Don't Know . the Weave of Textile Language

By Spencer, Catherine | The Sculpture Journal, May 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Richard Tuttle: I Don't Know . the Weave of Textile Language


Spencer, Catherine, The Sculpture Journal


Achim Borchardt-Hume, Magnus af Petersens and Richard Tuttle (eds), Richard Tuttle: I Don't Know . The Weave of Textile Language

London, Tate Publishing and the Whitechapel Gallery, 2014, 204pp., 250 colour illustrations, £24.99. ISBN 978-1-84976-319-6

Richard Tuttle's retrospective exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in 2014 featured works that, as its curator Magnus af Petersens writes in the accompanying catalogue, teetered 'on the verge of disappearing while at the same time having distinct visual qualities' (p. 75). 3rd Rope Piece (1974), which consists of a seemingly unassuming white cord offcut measuring just over 7 centimetres long, was pinned to the wall with a nail like a lepidopterist's trophy, while the equally ergonomic Fiction Fish 7 (1992), with its multi-coloured ribbons, evoked a child's abandoned plaything. Carefully displayed at the Whitechapel for I Don't Know . The Weave of Textile Language, the proximity of these works to rubbish, lint and dust paradoxically endowed them with power. Their survival spoke of an endurance that belied their apparent contingency.

The same could hardly be said of the single installation Tuttle created for Tate Modern's cavernous Turbine Hall, which coincided with the Whitechapel exhibition. Here, Tuttle covered a large wooden armature hanging from the ceiling with swathes of material dyed deep red, burnt orange and inky blue. Elements of this gigantic structure had abstracted affinities with looms, shuttles and hydraulic machinery, but the emphasis was on obfuscation rather than exposition. Tuttle seems to have relished the opportunity provided by the two London exhibitions not simply to work at diametrically opposed scales, but moreover to confound easy distinctions between the microcosmic and the macrocosmic. Tuttle made this clear in an interview for the January 2015 issue of Art Monthly: 'even though I do a thumbnail-sized work on a 40ft wall, people who experience the work experience the full 40ft wall. It's my way of making large work I guess' (p. 2).

The catalogue, produced collaboratively between the Whitechapel and Tate, acts as a mediator between Tuttle's contrasting interventions at each venue. Tuttle is no stranger to deploying publication as part of an interdisciplinary practice: he has created artists' books featuring his own poetry, and co-authored a 2004 academic study on Indonesian textiles. The idiosyncratic title of both the joint show and catalogue, with its reference to weaving, implies the interlacing of ideas across the venture's tripartite structure (underscored by the further subdivision of the catalogue itself into three sections). Its ambiguous 'I' voice, which could be that of the artist but also offers a position that the viewer might adopt, asserts an agency that is then rapidly undone by the refutation of knowledge. The unconventional punctuation, which isolates the full stop separating the title's two phrases with a space either side, acts as both a placeholder for thought and also causes the reader's eye and mind to stumble. What emerges from this is less a conventional catalogue, and rather a space where Tuttle's shifts in scale can be continued through the ability of photographic reproduction to collapse different sizes, and for the continuation rather than explication of his practice.

This is particularly apparent in the first section, subtitled 'reveal', which features lavish close-up reproductions of textiles from Tuttle's personal archive. It's a catholic selection: a swatch of faded Italian brocade rubs shoulders with a brightly coloured twenty-firstcentury sari from India. The images are interspersed with quotes from books on various aspects of textile history chosen by Tuttle, delivering on the play between textile and text set up by the overarching project title (both words share a Latin root), and which several of the catalogue contributors subsequently invoke. …

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