When planning her shows, Anne Low tends to respond to the architectural particularities of the given exhibition space. In the case of her current project, Bletting, installed in the underground space of Franz Kaka, this means thinking about the function of basements and their relation to the objects that typically occupy them. As basements are often used as storage, places where household items sit untouched for long periods of time, Low’s show looks at the ways such objects exist when not in use. She has arranged her own works (which resemble utilitarian household objects) to mimic our storage habits: a handwoven mattress rolled, tied, and propped up in a corner, a chair frame hanging out of the way, high up on a wall, and a tire left neglected on the ground.
There are very few objects displayed, five in total, which is decision I questioned at first. Storage spaces are usually packed and crowded and the show, on the other hand, is distinctly sparse. But as I thought more about it, I realized this sparseness pushes visitors to search for more in each work, asks them to be more attentive to details which might be lost in the multitude of a more maximal approach. This is crucial as it’s often at the level of detail where Low’s talent for subtle but delightfully disarming intervention becomes most apparent.
For instance, Chair for a Woman, a handcarved, wooden, clawfooted chair frame based on an ancient Egyptian artifact, has a few uncanny moments. The plugs are made from teal mother-of-pearl, its proportions are slightly off: shorter than would be expected, and the nails from which it hangs are covered by thumb-shaped caps of handwoven cloth, matching the rope used to hold it up.
A car tire wrapped in a drop sheet is a pretty innocuous thing to find in your typical basement or garage. In Low’s world, however, we find such a tire tucked in a loose sack of handwoven pink silk. Equal parts banal and curious, the work hints at the gendered associations that materials carry, particularly in a household context.
There is an undeniable magic in the way her work balances familiarity and strangeness, taking advantage of the homey aesthetic allure of the fine handcrafted object and then rendering it foreign and impervious upon closer observation. These imitations of domestic objects, so much a part of the daily human experience, seem so prescribed and so deliberately constructed that every tiny choice against the expected has a powerful destabilizing effect.
Something that recently gave me a deeper appreciation of Low’s practice was learning of her committed curiosity about the domestic and decorative arts. Like a historian, she researches textiles, patterns, and furniture, their histories and production techniques from around the world and through time – although she is most interested in pre-industrial, more craft-oriented modes of production. She also learns by doing, having her own weaving practice through which she applies the techniques she studies.
In an informative yet sweetly personal text, Tromp as Writ, Low gives examples of different textiles and what they can tell us about the people that made, traded, and consumed them. One is from 16th century England, a “decorative tradition of stained cloths” that served in middle-class homes as decorative wall coverings and as protection against cold drafts that would blow through gaps in the wattle-and-daub construction. “These stained cloths”, she writes, “were produced to have a resemblance to both painting and tapestry—items typically only found in the homes of the wealthy. Through this double aspiration the cloths became their own category of textile in and of themselves”.
It is with this sort of anthropological eye that Low approaches the subject and the medium of her work. The stories that these decorative objects and practices tell about form and function, taste and trend, class and gender, and social identity are the foundations from which her practice is built. Even though casual onlookers may never be privy to the depth to which she delves in her research, we can be assured that there is always something to learn in the details of her elegant and imaginative recreations. There is also something touching about her desire to reach back in time, in her inquisitiveness about the personal meanings such things may have held for people, particularly in times when household objects tended to hold much more personal meaning in general.
The show continues until May 25th:
 Low, Anne. Tromp as Writ. annelow.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/ti-TCR-pdf-new_short.pdf.
All images courtesy of Art Viewer: https://artviewer.org/anne-low-at-franz-kaka/