By Hannah Nicklin
I’m continually impressed with the feel of MAC whenever I visit. Recently renovated, the Midlands Arts Centre nestles both in Cannon Hill Park and at the heart of the general public who live in and around that part of Birmingham, on a sunny weekend or early evening the centre is full of families, young, old, artistic types, and people who might not usually step inside a more city-centric venue.
In MAC last Wednesday for the excellent Fierce Festival, I was also lucky enough to be given a sneak preview of Aleni Iuris (from someone else’s authority) by Doug Jones. A visual arts exhibition focussing on craft pieces – reclaimed, subverted tapestries line the walls, and tall mannequins stand (slightly eerily) in custom religious garb.
The exhibition was a highly playful one, taking traditional forms (tapestry, craft, religious clothing) and both subtly and violently subverting them. A tapestry piece of the heads of animals are given grisly dripping severed necks, a religious-dress headpiece for one of the mannequins shows an appliqué skull sucking a cock-with-wings.
However it was the subtler subversions which were slower burning, able to sneak in and surprise you; fine details of embroidered black flies, a fox fur draped around a robe made of fabric themed around the story of the crucifixion/resurrection of Christ. The larger inconsistencies made way for the re-revelation of the smaller ones – raising questions about iconography, religion, material, and our individual connection to the sources (the blood on our hands) of all these things.
The robes are made of a selection of contemporary and vintage fabrics, and all of the tapestries are second hand, in the surprising juxtaposition of one hand with another, we are reminded that materials, garments pass through many hands. As do ideas of art, religion, and masculinity.
Craft (rarely given the same status of ‘art’) is the functional underbelly of creativity; most often the work of female hands, it is art that passes under the radar. The brusquely taking of it into male hands; the blood, gore, camo, and embroidered gay sex acts, walk a tender line. I am slightly uncomfortable with the idea that great male artists are needed to make the quiet craft of generations visible, but that doesn’t feel like the intention of this loudly subversive, and quietly nudging exhibition.
Rather than discarding, Jones collaborates.
Aleni Iuris will be running at MAC with accompanying Curator’s Tour and Artist Talk from the 26 March- 22nd of May