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Jane Kidd Curious Exhibition Tapestry

Curious, as a word, can imply strangeness but also the penchant to inquire. The dense, evocative tapestries in Jane Kidd’s Curiosity Series confront us with five “objects” that invite and reward investigation. Each object is presented as important, propped on a tilted display stand to face the viewer directly; they hover in sharp relief, without casting shadows, on a brilliantly coloured background. Each has a number, making it specific, consciously labeled. A spinal column sprouts the delicate wings of a dragonfly. A humble, whiskered root vegetable seems quite normal. But wait, its foliage includes pea pods!  A human ribcage curves into the spines of a seashell. A royal purple cardoon has a telescoping, metallic stem. Half a blazing red leaf is joined to a branching pattern of bleeding tributaries. All the works speak about structure, the way things are formed and put together. Yet here symmetry is subverted and growth is dictated –by what? by whom? Kidd puts on her figurative lab coat and asks pointed questions through this venerable medium.

The seemingly plain backgrounds –lime green, red, turquoise– are actually fibres of different colours. On close viewing, they chatter and ping on the back of one’s eyelids. What is making the noise behind the cryptic beings? Scientific debate, certainly, but also the voices of power and money. Or is it our anxiety? Are these modifications the key to how we will survive or abominations that stand to benefit only a few? They recall the menacing weirdness of Margaret Atwood’s creatures in her futuristic novel Oryx and Crake. “Pigoons” and “Snats” were originally created for specific purposes, but have gone rogue. Atwood has many pages to unfold her story. Kidd has only a small series of discrete images that force us to speculate: Why did this happen? Why does it look like this? What does it mean? And to ask both “what if” and “what now?”

Kidd’s long and intense practice of tapestry weaving has produced a stunning body of work rich in pattern, colour and images. She has combined a deep respect for traditional world textiles with a very personal pursuit of ideas through representational yet unconventional imagery. “Objects signify much more than simple reality”[1], she says. Her work speaks from the very core of symbolic and metaphoric language: the human brain seeks to explain one thing in terms of another.

The companion tapestry Curiouser #1 travels along the wide span of a tilted shelf, rolled up at its right edge. The eye travels left to right, a nod to, or accusation of western culture. Each section of the scroll seems like a paragraph or page. On the left, a storm of little seeds with hair-fine parachutes stream by, each slightly different. The next “page” features assorted round forms with glimmering centres: seeds or perhaps small fruits. A golden bowl spans the blocks suggesting much within its emptiness: the spectre of famine, the human foible of focusing on the opulence of the container and not the contents, and an open-ended question about how it might be filled.  Next, a right-angled pattern like soft gold and brown fields; more fruit/seeds with what looks like cryptic writing inside; a lattice of hexagons; and finally a code with letters and numbers, accompanied by two stalks of grain. Even without knowing that the code is taken from Monsanto’s GMOs, it proposes a recipe, a formula, a way of turning out the same thing over and over. And this at the end of the weaving that is still rolled up, a vague promise in an unintelligible, partly concealed script. Philip Ball describes pattern in nature as “arrays of units that are similar but not necessarily identical, and which repeat but not necessarily regularly or with a well-defined symmetry.” [2]  Kidd’s saga, packed into a human arm span, suggests an increasingly alarming pattern, the trajectory from variety to uniformity. Beyond issues of agriculture lurks the acceleration of diminishing biodiversity, the loss of languages and the homogenization of culture. It is a sweeping document.

Skill, the ongoing investment in learning to speak through one’s materials, is important to Kidd. The weavings are substantial: they have thickness, sheen, texture, nuances of colour and detail. The quality of her drawing, composition, and execution of each component parallels a writer whose work has achieved an eloquence that moves us. Skill is not some stodgy, over-valorized and mindless gesture; it is what gives any artist the ability and confidence to direct the conversation. Through Kidd’s sensuous and compact discourse, we are invited to be thoughtfully, critically and insatiably curious.

[1] Kidd, Jane artist talk May 14, 2015 Carousel Theatre.

[2] Ball, Philip  The Self Made Tapestry p9