Alighiero Boetti’s (Italian, 1940-1994) embroidered Arazzi are among the most intensely eye-catching of all Conceptual art. They were created from 1971 to 1994 by Afghan craftswomen. Boetti arrived in Afghanistan, to where he travelled extensively, in 1971 and loved to spend time in Kabul, where he also opened the ‘One Hotel’ with his friend Gholam Dastaghir. After the Soviet invasion in 1979, Boetti was no longer able to enter the country but continued his work with Afghan women who lived as refugees in Peshawar, Pakistan. The craftswomen worked according to the artist’s designs, but used their traditional technique and were free to decide the chromatic combination according to their sophisticated sense of colour.
The Arazzi’s vivid, mosaic-like grids of blocky letters — so similar yet always different — often combine Italian and Persian texts, contrasting geometric European letters and flowing Persian calligraphy arranged in checkerboard patterns, alternating bands, grids or cruciform shapes. The texts include poems and idioms, and the words sometimes relay titles and dates, Boetti’s name, and his and his collaborators’ home cities. The Persian script often conveyed personal expressions of homesickness, homages to the Afghan landscape, and laments about its destruction during the Soviet invasion. With seeming randomness — a kind of visual ‘speaking-in-tongues’ effect — they reflect Boetti’s desire to span time and space, erase cultural divisions, and contrast order and disorder.
Marie Hazard (French, b. 1994) weaves to create her personal canvas and tell a story – her own and that of her time. The etymological origins of the French word tisser (to weave) highlight the significance of this traditional act, deriving from the Latin texere (to write). By choosing weaving as a medium, Marie Hazard is telling the story of a technique, of savoir-faire, of an ancestral artisanal production which she adapts to our present time. For Hazard, weaving is writing, weaving is telling, weaving is inventing a language. As with weaving looms, where shuttles move thread and yarn to create new materials, displacement and migration necessitate the formation and evolution of language. Hazard is fascinated by this journey, where images, letters, and alphabets meet, and where movement, chance encounter, and the unexpected combine to reveal the fallacy of language structures.
Both Boetti’s Arazzi and Hazard’s weavings recognize the inevitable fluctuation in all systems. Boetti was particularly captivated by duality and dichotomy, ideas he explored in his Arazzi by juxtaposing notions of order and disorder, fullness and emptiness, east and west. For Hazard, these metaphysical intersections are perfectly encapsualted in the four languages official to Switzerland: Romansh, Italian, German and French. She sees them as a traffic junction, a point of convergence that gives rise to a meeting both material (the threads that are arranged between them) and physical (the people who speak and express themselves). Her weavings, created specifically for this exhibition, will explore the boundaries of language and the effects of intermingling and displacement through these four mother-tongues. By breaking text down into its constituent parts, each artist’s work exposes language to be a sophisticated but ultimately artificial arrangement of forms.