From Where I’m Looking II, Miranda Argyle. Review by Ilinca Cantacuzino.
This is Miranda Argyle’s second show in Princelet Street. The panelled Georgian drawing room at the gallery, Eleven Spitalfields provides a sensitive context for Argyle’s subtle stitched work and luminous photographs. The light floods in through the tall sash windows from either end of the room on the first floor. Its mirror image, a terrace of Georgian brick and glass across the narrow street can be seen from every angle.
The title of the exhibition is significant on many levels. It is a statement by the artist about not only a visual viewpoint but also an attitude. It is only a phrase, perhaps purposely left open to invite the viewer’s enquiry. Argyle frequently uses text in her stitched works, so they embody both language and image and evolve into the three-dimensional, to become sculptural. It is interesting to consider that ‘text’ comes from the Latin, ’texere’, to construct and weave.
Historically, needlework has been a medium charged with associations of female subservience and suppression and since the seventies reclaimed by feminist artists as an appropriately ironic vehicle. Argyle refers to this in ‘Domestic Appliance’ (Dictionary definition: ‘a machine used for household tasks’). She lists words vertically, unevenly and imperfectly embroidered in red silk – ‘Appliance Domestic Compliance Domestic Appliance’. Repetitive, robotic, with the word ‘compliance’ squashed, pressed into the centre, it questions how far we have come from a time when a woman’s place was seen to be ‘in the home’.
In the title piece ‘From where I’m Looking’, the artist is presenting her viewpoint but is also directing us to question ours. Her stitched work always subverts expectations of the medium, as she invites us to see the sewn word as not only language and image, but hinting at the hidden through an active existence of the back of the cloth. The piece appears to be glancing out in its position hanging by the window, the letters ‘from where I am looking’, repeated over and over tumbling from the corner. The double ‘o’s and the vertical lines of ‘i’s are no longer readable as words, massing together they become a sign of urgency. They speak of a multiplicity of viewpoints.
On the opposite wall a piece revealing the delicate criss-crossing of cream threads on cream linen is curiously indecipherable. Its title ‘Inside Out’ explains that what we are seeing is the reverse.
Traditionally, the embroiderer took pride in the back of the work being almost as neat as the front. Here Argyle is not interested in this feminine skill from the past. She is concerned to show the unexpected, the raw, the authentic, and by so doing, reveals its own beauty and makes us curious to imagine the other side.
‘Self Portrait at Sacy’ (photo) dominates from over the mantelpiece, utilising another aspect of domesticity, the recording of a traditional interior. Argyle subverts the elegance and warmth of the interior scene with her own presence in the mirror and the distraction of unexpected light patterns across the image. Argyle’s interest in Lacan’s views on ‘the gaze’ is evident. It is disconcerting for the viewer to see the artist apparently looking at us (looking at her) when in fact because of the timescale she can’t be. She is looking directly at herself and the interior and her place within that interior. As John Berger says ‘a photograph challenges disappearances… it has stopped time’.
In contrast, the stitched work, like a drawing, presents the passing of time – into which we step. It reveals the process of its own making, ‘and proposes the simultaneity of a multitude of moments’. As Argyle says, ‘One piece takes days to complete and hours can be measured in stitches’. Her two ‘Braille’ pieces, ‘Rainbow’ and ‘Heartbeat’ are uncompromising: the Braille dots cream on cream are hardly visible and since they are behind glass, certainly not available to the touch. The minute coloured dots, one for each colour of the rainbow are useless markers for the unseeing.
Argyle’s photographs of Duck Island Cottage, are strangely lit and difficult to fathom. ‘St James Park I’ is of the cottage dwarfed by a dusky herbaceous border of delphiniums. They fill the image with an atmosphere of ‘nostalgia often invoked by twilight’. The tall flower heads, although dark appear pale mauve, almost white against the blackness of the dense grass and shadows. They need an adjustment of the eye, the sense is of something fleeting and transient.
‘From Where I’m Looking’, suggests the artist’s ‘I’ becomes the ‘eye’. But this is in no way the end of the story. Through every piece Argyle has led us to question what is in front of our eyes, to question our own responses to what we are looking at, and question our ever shifting position. She would probably find agreement with Göethe when he says, ’Thinking is more interesting than knowing, but less interesting than looking’.
Ilinca Cantacuzino © January 2016
15 January – 26 February 2016
Mon – Fri, by appointment only,
020 7247 1816 or firstname.lastname@example.org
11 Princelet Street
London E1 6QH
 Dominic Walker, Photo Analysis 2016.