Peter Anker, catalogue text 2000
System or life?

Publisert 28. apr 2011


Kari Hjertholm’s works are in large dimensions which strongly manifest themselves spatially. Monumental is a word which immediately comes to mind for describing these pieces: Symmetry and repetition of shape and motifs in geometrical order appear often, and so contribute further to the monumentality. But the artist discloses nothing of this in the almost poetical descriptions or names she gives her tapestries.
Some of the works are in an unrestrained style, as in most expressive arts, but nor do these express themselves in any direct, easily understandable way. «Glissando» og «Shadows» belong to this category. The latter is an irregular free composition of grey leaf-like shapes drifting around a white expanse, connected by sketchy black lines, which again suggest branches, slender stalks, and leaf stems. At times quite thin, at others in the process of swelling, they give the idea of something living – or even organic forms which move around the surface. Is this a microbic world vastly enlarged, or a visible organic world in the process of decomposition? Pictorially such a composition lends itself to interpretations in several directions.
In a textile context this ambiguity may seem rather special, but let us change our perspective: From the viewpoint of art today, the compositions of both «Star Pattern» and «A Star and a Memory» are not far from the minimalistic paintings of the past decade or so. Whilst «Labyrinth» can be interpreted as an artful allusion to the hard-edge movement, «Slanting Stripes» appears less sophisticated, with an almost sensual texture. The new possibilities that Kari Hjertholm has elicited from the textile medium are what make the distinction between her tapestries and a ⌦painting. On the one hand the freedom to burst out of a confining framework, as in giving a tapestry a star-like or circular form. (This is unorthodox also in textile art). Of more vital importance is the singularity of expression given by the diverse textures. The knotted, pale floss grows up from the woven, black groundbase, which shows as blurred contours in their interspaces – a softness which is specially noticeable in the stringent star tapestries, but also in the circular «Glissando» and of course in the freely developed works such as «Shadows in White». This gives a manifest plasticity to the textural surface, the diverse levels being determined by the thickness of the knots.

The tension in her expression arises therefore in the areas between ornament and free form. But this mobility presupposes the demanding textile techniques and resources which the artist herself has developed and refined, and on which she places determinative emphasis.
So far the word colour has not been mentioned. It can be described briefly but inadequately: white and black. The white covers a range of shades from pure snow to dirty ice, grey fur, burnt branches and singed forest floor, until the white has become black.

As if all this was just preparation and practice for her most recent work «Under-current», which forms a conclusion both technically, structurally, and expressively. This huge work, nearly five metres long, two metres high, and very white, includes elements from both the more formal and the freer forms of composition as described above. Simply stated we see a multitude of indeterminable organic forms undulating in broken rhythms over the expanse of the tapestry. Surrounded by ⌦clusters of narrow seaweed-like forms, and by black stalk- and straw-like contours, the big leaf-like forms are the dominant motifs. As in a torrent, they stream out over the edge of the tapestry, and then return, forming the undercurrent of the composition. But straight across the fluctuating white surface, a white dark band is drawn: the unifying motif. Were it not for the textural softness, we might see a long beam creating order in the composition with its straight edges. There is just a suggestion of two narrow vertical areas, at a measured distance from the left and the right which support the horizontal beam. So much for the monumentality.
It’s almost a pity to disclose that these compositional intimations are indeed a technical and aesthetic refinement, concealed in a shorter knotting and a delicate thinning out of the floss, which makes the background show through; the band emerges only as a long dark shadow.
Thus is fluctuating life united into a higher order.

Peter Anker

Text translated by Anne Eileen Hjertholm