Lucy McMullen: Maelstrom

Lucy McMullen; Maelstrom

Maelstrom is a woven spiral sculpture created by Scottish textile artist Lucy McMullen, it is currently being exhibited in Lisburn, at the R-Space Gallery for ‘Beauty is the First Test’. The exhibition explores artwork which examines the relationship between mathematics and craft processes, such as weave, embroidery and digital designs. The main mathematical connection throughout the exhibit is geometry, and this is viewed aesthetically by the mandala-like pieces formed by the ancient methods of Asian-Islamic pattern making and the Fibonacci sequence, often referred to as sacred geometry.

Decent into the Maelstrom, the Edgar Allen Poe story (1841) was a main reference in the large and specific brief that Lucy McMullen had to adhere to, which was set by the Centre for Creative Industries in Shetland, to encourage the development of innovative design concepts. This brief also outlined that the maker must use shetland wool, and that the piece must be easily transportable, which further contributed to the unusual circumstances of the Maelstrom’s creation.

Constructed from shetland wool warp and copper wire weft, the spiral is made from three separate woven lengths, composed of three different inter-locking layers, their pattern visible by their colour difference. The piece can be ‘dismantled,’ as Lucy describes, into a mathematical pattern or equation, as relating to the Fibonacci sequence, or golden ratio. In terms of how the artwork interacts with the audience, the artist expresses a desire to encourage viewers to re-evaluate their opinion of traditional weave by her exploration into the potential of the process. In Maelstrom I can see a strong mixture of ancient and modern, in terms of technique, concept, form and material.

In the abstract textile context, the underlying themes of the piece reflect contemplation and the timeless, as often occurs when examining woven objects as according to the weavers sensibility. The versatile symbol and gesture of weave can speak of the history of fabric and culture, an ancient companion to mankind. Combined with the relatively new method of creating structures from woven wire juxtaposing the traditional Shetland wool used, we can see further the connections between old traditions and new innovations, a privilege of practicing makers today.

Maelstrom can be seen as an example of contemporary abstract art as a strong sense of contemplation can be felt by the artists personal connection to the piece through meditative aspects of weaving and planning such a construction. Lucy McMullen also asks the viewer to contemplate the incredibly wide range of nature that the golden ratio relates to, while comprehending the emotional complexities within Edgar Allen Poe’s short story. The fear and awe that the character feels is quickly replaced by curiosity, a quality which Charles Beaudelaire argued was essential for the modern artist to capture the ephemeral,

… so wonderful a manifestation of God’s power … I positively felt a wish to explore its depths …”

he experiences horror and admiration from the ‘terrific grandeur’ of the Maelstrom as it surrounded him.

It is always an inspiration to have a tutor that is working within the versatile career that I myself may some day aspire to, passionate about her field and an incredibly encouraging and engaging lecturer. Seeing one of Lucy’s fully developed pieces and how she incorporates global influences, mathematics rules, an emotive response to literature and still works within a strict and detailed brief is truly an insight into the level of depth and professionalism needed to become one of the practitioners are the fore front of textile art.