Artthrob, June 2003
Alan Alborough at the Sasol Art Museum
By Paul Edmunds
I'll probably have to visit the show again. There wasn't much to see at this stage, and, for the life of me, I can't remember how to do French knitting. I'm pretty certain, though, that Alan Alborough has shedloads of work to do - fortunately 'work[ing/ in] pro[cess/ gress]' runs until the end of July, so he's got plenty of time.
Recalling the work he produced for last year's 'Photo/ Art' show in the museum, Alborough has once again chosen to work with the circular aperture in the building's first floor. Last year he wove across this opening a beautiful design, which recalled the crescent-shaped shims of a camera's shutter mechanism and accompanied this with the laboured sound of a long exposure. Now he has cable-tied a series of spindles to the balustrade that encircles this aperture, and apparently intends to use these for a little bit of French knitting.
In case you've forgotten this arcane domestic craft, it is a simple method of weaving whereby an old cotton reel crowned with a few nails functions as a kind of loom. Winding your wool around the nails in a certain way, you soon find a length of plaited cord emerging from the hole in the cotton reel's centre. If you persist long enough you can produce a cord long enough to coil into a place mat and give to a loving parent on Mother's Day.
The spindles, which function as the nails, are equal part mom's sewing box and dad's workshop. A piece of threadbare passes through a deep blue, unused cotton reel and is finished off with a black nylon bauble, this last element recalling the adjustment levers on a table saw. You can't, at this stage, get really close to the balustrade because Alborough has made a temporary barrier of posts topped with the same cotton reels through which an almost indigo polythene rope passes. (I hope this is the same material with which he intends to knit, but he's not saying).
As I mentioned earlier, there isn't yet much to see. On the other hand, there is plenty to experience. The potential of that aperture for example, the space below begging for a long blue curtain to descend, the size of the task awaiting the artist. An inevitable process of deduction soon leads one to an imagine of a soft knitted structure passing through the museum doors and down the stairs. The work sits on the cusp between the currency of an idea and the physical experience of its manifestation. In his title for the show, Alborough places us there, on the continuum of both his activity and our consumption of it. Watch this space!
On a serious note, an educational component is central to the project, and Alborough is running workshops each Friday until June 16. In these, primary school kids are taught to do French knitting. The results of these are gradually filling up the walls on the sides of the museum's staircase. Tagged with the learner's name, they hang specimen-like, the muted tones of the string and label complementing the museum's curious colour scheme. Alborough has been working closely with the museum on this aspect of the project, to encourage younger viewers and to entice them, with the prospect of a gradually unfolding project, into visiting the museum more than once. He has received a National Arts Council grant to these ends.