Dovecot is a pretty well-hidden venue. Tucked at the end of Edinburgh’s Infirmary Street, in what used to be a public bathhouse, the Dovecot Studio produces tapestries and rugs for worldwide clients. It also maintains its own creative foundation, and the Dovecot Gallery shows contemporary art exhibitions, which drew me in to visit.
The Dovecot Gallery’s leading current exhibitions are striking in their own right, but together they make a formidable pair, and they’ll be running until late September to give you a serious culture injection.
Bernat Klein: A Life in Colour (31st July – 26th September 2015)
Serbian-born painter and textile designer Bernat Klein made an impact in Scotland during the 60s and 70s, with his woven fabrics, such as mohair and tweed, helping to revive the Scottish textiles industry. However, his colour-saturated tweeds reached a global audience when they were used by the likes of Balenciaga, Christian Dior and Chanel to make haute couture designs. This is a rare chance to see the multi-layered paintings that Klein used to develop ideas for his signature textiles.
The gallery at the Dovecot is the perfect setting for Klein’s paintings. Each canvas is thick with paint looking freshly applied with a palette knife. Rough patterns and scraps of fibres appear on closer inspection, and the colours gradually merge and ooze into each other.
There are also plenty of the Dovecot Studio tapestries on display, created for Klein in the 1970s, where abstract forms have been woven into liquid curves and gentle folds. Upstairs you can go to the viewing balcony to watch Dovecot weavers at work (open to the public between 12:00-15:00), which is an experience in itself, but down here you see the kind of thing that inspires them. For more on Klein’s extraordinary story, including his Jewish roots, design accolades and his children’s upbringing amid the hectic fashion scene, see the Herald.
Kwang Young Chun: Aggregations (31st July – 26th September 2015)
Kwang Young Chun’s artwork is breathtaking, and I don’t use that word lightly. Inspired by childhood memories of traditional mulberry paper found in his native South Korea – where the paper is known as hanji and has an estimated life span of 1,000 years – he’s created vast 3D sculptures and panels drenched in colour and text. Each one contains hundreds, if not thousands, of tiny geometric parcels tied with threads. According to the New York Times, Chun has spent over 20 years collecting more than 20,000 traditional Korean books to harvest the handmade paper inside.
Most of the pieces in Aggregations are presented on 2D panels, either square, rectangular or circular, filled with shapes in a small range of colours (bright blue, indigo, or perhaps red, orange and yellow together in one frame). Though at first they seem like basic colour studies, they’re hypnotic and engaging, especially up close.
The one that really stopped me in my tracks is a staggering spherical mass suspended from the ceiling, studded with angular forms in grey and white. It could resemble anything from a particle of dust to the flu virus seen under a microscope, or perhaps one of those huge boulders that rolls ominously across a film screen in hot pursuit of an intrepid adventurer. Maybe it’s a medieval torture device; maybe it’s an embodiment of some terrifying emotion, or the elephant in the room. Whatever it symbolises to you, I hope you’ll be gripped by it.
Visiting Notes: Dovecot Studios, found at 10 Infirmary Street, Edinburgh EH1 1LT, is normally open between 10:30-17:30 Monday-Saturday. However, individual exhibition times vary – the two featured were part of Edinburgh Art Festival, and they’re on show until 18:00 on 26th September 2015. All exhibitions are free to visit.