Until 2nd November
Julie Cope’s Grand Tour: The Story of a Life is part of the 2019 Edinburgh Art Festival and Fringe Festival. Dovecot Studios worked with the Crafts Council to bring this expanded touring exhibition to Edinburgh. This complete set of tapestries from A House for Essex (2015) has never been shown in Scotland before. Essex-born Grayson Perry has been working with tapestry since 2008. Julie Cope is Perry’s fictional Everywoman and his most ambitious project to date.
The exhibition inhabits two large rooms split into three sections. In the first part, four large-scale tapestries are laid out on raised plinths. Critical events in Julie’s life are highlighted, almost collage-like, in two of the tapestries. They commemorate “the trials, tribulations, celebrations and mistakes of an average life” (Perry). The artist playfully stamps his authorship on the works, his memories of favourite teddy bear Alan Measles and his witty trademark symbol.
Perry, as storyteller, reads aloud an audio version of the twelve-part Ballad of Julie Cope (2015) inspired by traditional English ballads and folktales. You can also read a text version whilst walking around the space. Delve a little more into the tapestry details using an app installed on tablets dotted around the exhibition.
Unfortunately, the large tapestries don’t fit fully upright in the Dovecot Studios gallery space. They are displayed at an angle which offers an unsatisfying perspective. Although some have found it distracting to read the text whilst the loud audio is playing, this diversity of methods used is inclusive and accessible.
Perry offers a witty perspective on class, social aspiration and cultural taste. There are many modern references to the culture of the 1970s and onwards: Elton John, Tolkien, Duran Duran, Bowie, well-known branding on lager cans and sweet wrappers. It’s a surprisingly touching tribute to the ordinary people of Essex, the people that Perry grew up with. Here, as in folktales, a personal life story is made immortal.
Also on display is a selection of limited edition woodcut prints, some with lithographic colour underlays, designed by Perry for Paragon Press. Six Snapshots of Julie (2014) curates six decades of her life in the style of family snaps. The black and white versions decorate the ceiling of A House for Essex.
The second part of the exhibition explores the making of A House for Essex (between 2012-15). This secular chapel was designed in collaboration with architect Charles Holland of FAT Architecture and commissioned by the Living Architecture project. Situated on the Stour Estuary at Wrabness, Essex, this is Julie Cope’s Taj Mahal, inspired by Our Lady of Essex chapels – wayside places of medieval pilgrimage.
Charles Holland has also created Heavenly Mansions (2019), especially for the exhibition. This cabinet of curiosities displays artefacts, maquettes and sketches of the house and includes samples of the exterior ceramic tile cladding – faience tiles of the type used in traditional tube station and pub frontage. Two excerpts from Grayson Perry’s Dream House (2015) TV broadcast are also available to view, subtitled and with headphones charmingly perched on weaving bobbins.
The final part of the exhibition looks more closely at the weaving techniques used in Perry’s design collaboration with digital production studio Factum Arte in Madrid, and specialist weavers at Flanders Tapestries. The Essex House Tapestries (2015) were produced on a digital Jacquard loom where both warp and weft create greater possibilities for intricate textures and patterns.
The fundamental techniques of tapestry weaving have remained the same over its 3,000-year history. Even with computer technology, it is still a long and labour-intensive process to create a large-scale tapestry with so many structural effects. Tapestry was once only available to families with status and significance and usually depicted the dramatic and mythical. So, it is interesting here to see this ancient craft illustrating an ordinary, contemporary life. Here Grayson Perry does something refreshing in monumentalising the ordinary.
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Edinburgh EH1 1LT