Tulle and Tapestry

This summer, Hyde Park Art Center’s Gallery 4 houses “Woven Gardens, Shredded Shadows,” an exhibition that showcases decades of woven works from artist Ani Afshar. Having divided her time between Turkey, Switzerland, and the United States, Afshar has lived a well-travelled life, and while it’s not clear exactly what impact such diversity of place has played in her art, the works themselves are certainly as wide ranging as the places she’s called home.

The materials of “Woven Gardens” are what immediately capture the imagination: an eclectic mixture of wispy tulle creations and sturdy hand-woven tapestries, tassels and all, line the walls. The tulle pieces are inevitably reminiscent of ballet skirts, their colors bold, bright, and somehow childish, like the flowery barrettes worn in the hair of grade-school girls. But titles like “Shadow Forest” and “Captives” give the airy, whimsical works a darkly satisfying complexity, like something out of a fairy tale for adults. Accented with intricate beading and, in some cases, other familiar shapes (feathers, jewelry, and even dragonfly wings are trapped in the tulle), the shadows these works throw on the wall are fantastic and hypnotic, simultaneously blurred and precise.

Seemingly polar opposite from the thin, delicate tulle pieces, the tapestries, on the other hand, are solid and coarse, utilizing rough brown tones ornamented with mohair and beads. The ancient art form of tapestry creates an interesting contrast to the light, almost ephemeral fluffiness of the tulle pieces.

In producing the tapestries, Afshar also stays true to traditional techniques: the beads and other ornamentation are incorporated into the mats on the loom, without backtracking, and no edits are made to the finished product. “In weaving one is always going forward,” Afshar writes in a statement on her website. “Once I have woven, I don’t go back and unravel or embellish; everything is created on the loom.” Thus the completed tapestries are the result of a single burst of creative inspiration, expanded upon and built up throughout the weaving process. These initial whims or inspirations develop into tapestries that address the horizontal division between earth and sky, creating large-scale desert landscapes dotted with spare trees–subject matter well suited to the expansive, horizontal lines created organically in the act of weaving on a loom.

What bring these two seemingly disparate media together are little explosions of tiny, colorful beads irrevocably woven into the tapestries or precariously positioned on the tulle. Pieces like “Shredded History 1-5” combine the two materials. Tulle flowers and shapes sewn onto fragments of intricately patterned Turkish towels present a synthesis of delicacy and durability. Placing tapestries and tulle together suggests a meeting of disparate materials that brings up notions of temporality and permanence. Afshar’s experiments with tulle explore what the brochure accompanying the exhibition calls “the artist’s interest in the disintegration of material over time.” The tulle pieces hang, move, cast shadow, and cannot last forever. The tapestries reflect an inflexible form of decoration and storytelling that has lasted for thousands of years, the images woven into the tough, steadfast material remaining unchanged.

Simultaneously timeless and modern, “Woven Shadows” offers a look into the work of a master in the decorative arts of jewelry and tapestry. When the gallery is relatively empty–a shame, given the exhibitions it has on display–the only sounds are those of the collection’s tulle and tassels, set in motion by a breeze from outside. Swaying in the wind in moments like these, Afshar’s fabrics seem both sturdy and everlasting, and poised to move and fall apart at the touch of the hand.

Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 S. Cornell Ave. Through September 2. Monday-Thursday, 9am-8pm; Friday-Saturday, 9am-5pm; Sunday, noon-5pm. Free. (773)324-5520. hydeparkart.org