An exhibition at the Collins Gallery celebrates ten years of the Feltmakers Association. Beatrice Colin looks at one of the most adaptable mediums which has a resonance beyond the toy shOp.

‘Obviously wool doesn’t felt on its own.‘ writes Sue Freeman in her book. Felt Craft. ‘Otherwise sheep would be walking round in felt jackets.‘ Something about felt makes it the Norman Wisdom oftextiles. A fuzzy, flat fabric that comes in packs with fake fur and instructions for soft-toy making. felt is the kind ofthing that gathers dust in craft shops.

But preconceived ideas are there to be proven wrong. as felt is actually the oldest man-made textile and has a long and serious history. in this exhibition of work by feltmakers from around the world. the versatility and diverse use of this material is displayed. Here. wall hangings. small sculptures. hats. boots and other strange pieces are vivid examples of how felt can be used creatively.

Constructed using fleece. soap. water and a rolling pin. felt has been around for centuries. The oldest example dates from 700 BC and was found in the Altai mountains in Siberia. It belonged to a nomadic tribe who made patterned felt into clothes, tents. saddles and even armour. as felt's strong weather- resistant properties made it an integral part of ancient rnan‘s life.

The tradition has lasted until today and nomadic tribes in Iran still make their portable homes from felt. In Turkey too. shepherds still wear kepanaks which are thick cloaks made from very stiff natural coloured felt which double as portable shelters.

But history aside. felt does have a hip slant and was used in the 60s in conceptual pieces. Joseph Beuys explored the theme of survival and used felt and fat in a series of works; he locked himself in a room

Maureen Galbraith’s ‘lialf Term’ (left) and katltl lioppler-Dlnkel's ‘Duck Boots’ (right) with cultural references.

walking stick fora short time. and dropped sledges of : ‘In pursuit of felt I travelled,‘ writes Sally Thomson . in a statement about her work. ‘l discovered much

wrapped in felt accompanied by a wild coyote and a

felt and fat in the mountains. Today felt-making seems. however. to look at the

' natural world in a less confrontational way and the

works in this exhibition don't have quite the same zing. Jorie Johnson from Japan‘s work, Sunntu II: 3 Fish. 3 Row/rs is an abstract carpet depicting silvery fish swimming around rocks and Jessie Ann Mathew‘s piece Half Term is inspired by lichen found on the rocks in Argyll. Canadian artist. Maggie Tchir‘s Awakening Woman is a richly textured piece which uses buttons. leather and two grouse wings. indeed. the common theme which seems to crop up in tnuch of the work is a fascination for the ancient and the traditional. Felt‘s historical shadow seems to haunt a considerable amount of the subject matter and many pieces deal with the central European cultures and feature decorative symbols. religious motifs and elements of architectural design. Sally Thomson's work in particular frames scenes filled

more than material. each society held its own fascinations and cultural textures. Pattems crossed and rc-crossed my path. Some repeatedly in different locations. others peculiar to one place. People transported their own patterns to keep in touch with their past and in doing so wove a new present with a pattem already in place a continual overlap of image anti culture.‘

Felt-makers are a strange and dedicated breed. Today the curator. Laura Hamilton. is perturbed. Some of the felt-makers booked in to speak at a forthcoming conference have called in sick. Sick with delight and anticipation that their visas have come through for far flung places. ‘They're all like this‘. Laura Hamilton points out. ‘Any opportunity and they‘re off again.‘

Fell Directions is at the Collins Gallery/mm Sat 9 Jul-J3 Aug.

:— Humankind

Since abandoning a successful career as an economist in his late twenties, Magnum photographer Sebastian Salgado has become one of the world’s prime exponents of ‘concerned photography’. As Photographer of the Year, he has made it his mission to, ‘seek the dignity of the human spirit in the extremities of human experience’, far exceeding the realms of mere reportage.

The 100 black and white shots that comprise his exhibition at the Mclellan Galleries are drawn from four of his most celebrated projects. Other Americas, completed between 1971 and 1984 heralded the Paris-

; based photographer’s return to Latin 3 America to roam the remote mountain villages and places where, he says, ‘It is so difficult to know if we are in one world or another, where death is the inseparable sister of everyday life.’ In recording the lives of the native Indian population he commented that, ‘Making these images was like a trip seven centuries back in time . . . to observe unrolling before me the flow of different cultures, so similar in their beliefs, losses and suffering.’ The Famine In The Sahel section is a moving and disturbing record of the

no matter what their circumstances. ‘There is no monopoly of either wealth or beauty in the world,’ he states.

The third section focuses on the maimed victims of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and his most recent project, Workers, is a personal testament to the demise of manual workers around the globe as they are gradually usurped by new technology. The images here Salgado describes as, ‘A visual archaeology of a time that history knows as the Industrial Revolution.’

Salgado is clearly a photographer

fifteen months Salgado spent with the French relief agency, Medecins sans Frontieres, in the midst of the Ethiopian famine. Despite photographing such suffering, he asserts that it is wrong to deny people the qualities of ‘beauty‘ and ‘dignity’

whose conscience rather than bank account dominates his work and whose philosophy could be summed up by the quote at the start of the exhibition ‘We are all one people. We are all probably one man.’ (Ann Donald)

The List l~-|4 July l994 65,