13 April - 7May 2011


Julie Monro-Allison

How To Make Your House Truly Your Own sees Julie Monro-Allison exploring the codification of art, production and process through the locus of textiles. The project considers the erasure of the individual and creative identity through repetitive process – utilising the familiar of textile production to disseminate craft technique and media as well as the function of pattern and prototype through installation.


In the list of rules for this gallery there’s a bit that reads something along the lines of: If it’s not art then it shouldn’t be on the wall.

Well, is pattern making art? Surely if it is stretched across a canvass stretcher then it has a claim on art. What about if it’s on the wall of a mosque? If it’s made by a woman to decorate her home? If it is merely the expression of a culture and any accompanying beliefs and aesthetics, and not the thumbprint artistic vision of an individual? If it lacks irony, figuration, concept, abstraction? If it isn’t authorial? These are the questions I would like to bring up in response to the textiles Julie Monro-Allison has produced for this exhibition. It’s easier to ask these questions than to answer them. After all, these textiles are far from didactic; they are primarily aesthetic, utilising pattern, disruption of pattern, colour, texture (including tactile texture), line, and reference to other pattern based work. Theories about order and spirituality and absence of iconography, as in some Islamic art, or about gender, race, and the distinction between high art and commonplace decoration as in much other contemporary art, might be far removed from the brute experience of these textiles.

Julie is however playing on this distinction and hence touching on these theories simply by hanging these works in an art gallery. She is asking that they be looked at just as some canvass stretched across a stretcher and covered with pigmented medium is looked at, while retaining the baser qualities of something that we might touch, or wear, or spread on our bed. These qualities are not to be underestimated! They are perhaps the finer things in life: the domestic, the soft warm and comfortable things, maybe sometimes the sensual or sexual. Who says these things don’t belong in art?

Tracey Emin’s bed is a fine example of a tactile personal comfort zone thrust into the cold public context. However Emin’s bed aligns itself strongly with the trajectory of Great Western Art, being, in addition to soft and comfortable, gross, disheveled and rock-star like, setting itself up as an individualistic concept typical of Young British Artists, and not as an expression of generic cultural pattern making, order, comfort and aesthetics.

The 1970s US Pattern and Decoration (P&D) movement in part sought to emphasise this distinction, highlighting the importance of human enjoyment of artistic practice (like P&D) that may not have been so important for Great White Artists. World-wide, these artistic practices were and maybe still are strongly associated with women, artisans, and non-western art, and certainly not individuals. In addition to this, on the pallate for any contemporary artist we see continuums and interconnected types of visual stimulation emerging: conceptual, figurative, geometric, abstract, iconic, motif. All art will engage with some combination of these, and P&D creates tension because although at a glance it is simply aesthetically pleasing shapes, at another glance it refers to a world of undervalued practices.

If the individual pattern maker and decorator (say, textile artist) has been under constant erasure throughout history, because of race, class, gender, cultural norms or geography, then perhaps this is apt. Geometry and pattern can be a window into the divine, to order, oblivion and the universe. A circle can be divided along its circumference infinitely and infinite geometric shapes can be drawn from these points; inversely spheres of any size can be constructed from any recurring shape of any size. (Do any of these concepts- ideological, referential, historical, philosophical, spiritual- have much to do with what you see before you?)

Of course, use of pattern and geometry have been staples of western art to varying degrees since well before Julie’s time, though not as foregrounded elements. And now in Julie’s time it is not hard to look around and see many artists who may be her age and may even be her colleagues using pattern, repetition, decoration reference, decoration, and so forth, as primary elements: bead patterns forming z shaped tribal worm-things, string pinned to gallery walls in various shapes and criss-crossings, found objects decorated with a repeated diamond mesh, pixelated figurative cartoons made from graph paper. I detect a certain amount of comfort these artists find in creating such objects, and I hope Julie finds comfort in creating her textiles.

One last thing I would like to mention is that Julie was looking at Gee’s Bend quilts as she was starting this project. Watching her try to emulate relaxed line making while using the sewing machine, I was reminded of Hundertwasser’s rant on the straight line: the bane and torture, literally the ruler of the artisan. It’s like a dichotomy: we need order to create patterns, but maybe we don’t feel that comfortable with order.

- Alister Price