A Pit Pony is a small equestrian assistant to the coal miners of England in lieu of women or child labourers, a Nova Scotian television series in the late Nineties about the trials and tribulations of the coal miners’ families in Glace Bay, Canada, and now: the title of Nova Scotian artist Brent Wadden’s second solo show at Peres Projects in Berlin-Friedrichshain.
Materially, Wadden’s “Pit Pony” continues along his trajectory away from tessellated paintings and towards abstract tapestries woven by loom. Wadden himself grew up in Glace Bay, and his small town upbringing offered little exposure to the international music and art scene. Instead, the isolation bred a rich do-it-yourself ethos in his community–one that Wadden’s Peres Projects show does not stray too far from.
His tapestries loom large on the already spacious gallery walls. Their patterns resemble a coloured-in heart rate monitor or an irregular sine wave: waves crest and then break abruptly, falling back to the point of origin before building back up asymmetrically. The grid-based structure from his paintings carry over into his woven works, providing the rotational axes around which Wadden lays a pattern down then flips it and reverses it. Rows and columns track the evolution of forms as they shift pixel-by-pixel across the threaded surfaces.
Wadden has talked about his works as characters before with the grids referencing systems of classical portraiture and it’s not a stretch to imagine the dark trenches stitching together horizontal components as the fingerprints and DNA of each work. The transformation of patterns, though clearly as meticulously planned as any handwoven work, is rigorously unformulaic and likely informed by ongoing trial-and-error as he teaches himself to work with looms. Lacking formal training in textile arts, Wadden’s inexperience is retooled as an inimitable fact of each tapestries’ identity.
Likewise, the textures of irregular colours and widths are distinctly homegrown. Any small-townie or suburbanite knows the power of repurposing pre-made goods, and Wadden’s choice to source threads, fibres and fabrics from second-hand sources as often as possible is another tradition rooted in Glace Bay. The cloths create inconsistent stripes across Wadden’s tapestries, reminiscent of the lo-fi waves of interference across analog television sets of the Sixties. It’s hard to imagine a post-internet art gallery or Yayoi Kusama retrospective passing through Nova Scotia, so Wadden’s new works serve as an artefact of the folk art–maybe even, dare we say it, “crafts”–that he likely grew up with.
Yet, his tapestries aren’t a rustic #throwbackthursday, nor an ironic anachronism. Instead, Brent Wadden synthesises his personal and artistic history into his large-scale tapestries. With the grid-based structure conceptually and visually guiding each piece, “Pit Pony” builds on Wadden’s abstract paintings; his handwoven collections of second-hand source material hark back to his days hand designing his garage band’s album covers and flyers, and the small-town folk art of his native Glace Bay.
Text by Nathan Ma
“Pit Pony” is showing at Peres Projects, Berlin-Friedrichshain until 10 January 2015