Nick Relph’s London show is a beguiling contrary place. A series of weavings, stretched like paintings, shift from the rough-hewn—a shredded cheap cotton mix interwoven with bamboo in an awkward black-and-white grid full of knots and wavering lines—to the delicate: the lovely dark dusty pink fabric that shimmers like a disco version of Rothko’s Seagram Murals, or a silky spider web of black thread coating burnt orange.
Hand-made, using an ancient kind of loom, they’re something of a surprise. From the punky videos Relph created with his former collaborator, fellow-Brit Oliver Payne, to his recent solo explorations of design culture, his emphasis has always been on concept not craft. ”It’s kind of absurd, to be weaving in New York in 2013,” Relph says. “Crafting has become a phenomenon for young urbane people, which is nice in principle but also a little sinister and funny and I want to fuck with that a bit.”
The woven pieces are the latest development in Relph’s research into the relationship between art, fashion and the textiles industry, which began with his 2010 installation, Thre Stryppis Quhite Upon ane Blak Field, intertwining documentaries on tartan manufacturing, Ellsworth Kelley and Comme des Garçons. Following the history of dyes from this standardized red/green/blue palette—used by Kelly in his monochrome paintings and by Comme des Garçons in its wildly popular zippered wallets, and which is also the color model for displaying imagery in electronic systems—to the shades that affected early mass production, lead Relph to textiles. “It’s where the industrial revolution started and where a shift in the world occurred,” he says. “In order to understand it better I needed to align myself more closely with the origins.”
Interjected with C-prints—casual photos capturing lens flare or cracked glass—Relph’s weaves invite comparison between tactile handcraft and smooth digital reproduction. Light travels up and down their surfaces like TV static; up close the checked patterns start to look like pixels. “I wanted to make something that has a feel,” he says. “It’s sexy to me to touch this stuff.”
Nick Relph: Tomorrow There Is No Recording is on view at Chisenhale Gallery, London through November 10.