‘If war really becomes imminent our duties as socialists are clear enough, and do not differ from those we have to act on ordinarily ... that the interests of the workmen are the same in all countries and they can never really be the enemies of each other; that the men of our labouring classes, therefore, should turn a deaf ear to the recruiting sergeant, and refuse to allow themselves be dressed up in red and be taught to form a part of the modern killing machine for the honour and glory of a country’.
(William Morris in E P Thompson, ‘William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary’, 1976)
The title ‘Parade’ is inextricably linked to the overall concept for the fifteen-artist exhibition in Broadway Gallery, Letchworth in Hertfordshire. The gallerist-turned-curator Kristian Day has based the showcase of multi-disciplinary artworks on the banner ‘Foursquare our city’, designed by Edmund Hunter in 1903. The banner celebrated the founding of Letchworth. ‘Parade’ as a word, either operates as a noun — wherein it refers to a public procession, especially one that makes light of a special day/event — or it’s a verb. In action as a verb, ‘parade’ is indicative of an assemblage of troops for formal inspection and for ceremonial occasions, and for a display, which involves marching or moving around a place. Therefore, ‘Parade’ immediately sets the scene for the exhibition we are about to see. Many of the elements within the exhibition connect back to the definitions and meanings for the word ‘parade’ and the textiles, flags and banners that are paraded or of carnival spirit.
The artists in ‘Parade’ are woven together with common threads of narrative and socially engaged themes. In vivid colours and an assortment of textures, the exhibition boasts multi-sensory appeal. David Mabb, Chris Alton and Yelena Popova’s artworks unite in their banner-esque activism and politicism. Mabb exhibits a number of works, and in these are William Morris’ ‘Tudor Rose’ patterned placards for ‘Mutinous Submariners’, and propaganda posters reminiscent of the 1960s and 1970s, emblazoned with protest slogans. Both display clear messages for nuclear disarmament. Morris’ fabric, meanwhile, notably upholstered the interiors of British nuclear submarines from the 1960s to the 1990s. It is very much apparent why Morris inspires, as he positioned himself against the establishment. As a revolutionary socialist and an anti-industrialist, he gave power back to artists through endorsement of skill. Through socialism, author Hassan Mahamdallie says in his quintessential text “Crossing the ‘river of fire’: The socialism of William Morris”, art was not exclusive to the upper classes but ‘under socialism it became part of the fabric of everyone’s life’. In Alton’s ‘After the Revolution They Built an Art School Over the Golf Course’, the artist presents literal fabrics; a trio of banners. The use of a golf course, in this vain, references the moment that Fidel Castro and Che Guevara played golf at the Havana Country Club. Prior to the Cuban Revolution, the private space was occupied by the elites, and decked out with signs declaring: ‘whites only’. (Castro and Guevara went on to construct an art school over this very landscape.) The artist prompts the viewer to re-imagine a future wherein again, art exists for everyone regardless of social class or colour. Russian born Popova’s intricately beautiful jacquard woven tapestries in her trademark Constructivist graphic design style, were an absolute highlight of the show, with stark contrasting colours, in china blues and glowing tangerine oranges. The work ‘One neutron too many’, recalls the artist’s childhood in Ozyorsk, Russia, the birthplace of the Soviet nuclear weapons programme. The designs are fashioned on circles of radiation coming from uranium and plutonium.
With strong focus on textiles in particular, the exhibition, as the curator says, ‘blurs that line’ between artistic definitions. It explores several forms of art/design and their different functions and purposes. More favourite works include the eye-catching abstract needle-points of Fiona Curran, the magnificent life-size yarn sculptures of Will Cruickshank, Cecilia Charlton’s retro pattern hand-embroidered wool on panelling and Anna Perach’s unusual floral decorative yarn sculptures, with the Salvador Dali-like titling. Such exhibits highlight the issues surrounding the making processes, whether work is traditionally hand-made or modern machinery is needed – indeed, Cruickshank builds his own machinery to create sculptures.
‘Parade’, is a meticulous and thoughtful show and there is an abundance of high-quality artworks that are ‘paraded’ in their display. To end on another quote from Morris on art and the type of making that is exactly seen in this exhibition: ‘When people once more take pleasure in their work, when the pleasure rises to a certain point, the expression of it will become irresistible, and the expression of pleasure is art, whatever form it takes’. It is through this that ‘another world is possible’.