Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, the Flanders region of Belgium functioned as the center of European tapestry production, commended for their particularly large textile works filled to the brim with intricate, painstaking detail. Flemish artist Sylvie Franquet is attuning herself with her own cultural roots, employing tapestries as her artistic medium of choice. The artist is presenting over 20 unique tapestries for reMembering, her ongoing exhibition at London’s October Gallery.
Franquet doesn’t create her tapestries from scratch; the artist builds upon her own cultural history as she reworks found tapestries with her own embroidered imagery and text. Although her practice involves a certain degree of appropriation, the artist is particularly selective when it comes to finding her raw material, generally looking for tapestries adapting canonical art masterpieces, with a predilection for those that depict nude females.
One of the artist’s aims in this process is to understand what happens when iconic artworks are re-compressed into textiles and to pick apart the male gaze inherent to art history. She says, “I was intrigued to see that the masterpiece executed as a tapestry was immediately transformed into kitsch. Most often these paintings were done by men and the images, often of naked women or women in their traditional work space, were then fixed, confirmed, or accepted with the needle by women,” Franquet explains to The Creators Project.
“Like Penelope in The Odyssey, I started unpicking these tapestries, looking for some understanding, some truth about the original painting, about the work of art. In a way, I used it to look at art and to refer to other works of art. I wondered what the paintings meant to me, why the painting became a masterpiece in the first place.”
Through this unraveling process, Franquet adds her own embroidered writings, referencing recent events of popular culture, a wide range of philosophical quotes, poetry, and even text messages from the artist’s friends. More sporadically, the artist also adds designs and embroidered illustrations to the tapestries, often employing imagery that makes the previously sewn narratives more ambiguous or pointed towards entirely new directions.
“The visual, the text, and the whole refer somehow to truths of the past, though there is something very contemporary about it: The colors, the pixilation, the quotes that are all over social media as if we seemingly lost sense of the truth,” says Franquet. “As I went along, I loved the conceptual approach combined with mythology and the traditional craft of sewing, forever a language spoken by women. I liked the idea that sewing and embroidery, which conjure the subservience of women, could also be a subversive tool to question the passive role, challenge the traditions.”
Beyond the reworked tapestries, the artist has also included a series of sculptures to accompany the textile works. Run Ragged is a hovering cutout of Franquet’s own body, with her head missing and embroidered text scrawled on her bare skin. Also included are a series of smaller sculptures made of mostly natural materials encapsulated in glass domes that are “found objects that are transformed by me, put together, remembered into something relating to, but more magical and poetical than reality.”
Sylvie Franquet’s reMembering will be on view at October Gallery until January 28th, 2017.