This collection of recent works by Shannon Bool at the Illingworth Kerr Gallery gets its title from a 1983 exhibition of carpets at London’s Hayward Gallery and offers refreshing complexity, despite its initial understated appearance. Upon slightly raised, white platforms lie a number of selections from her Madonna Extraction Series — hand-woven textiles that address the fraught relationship between Oriental carpets and Western art history through both imagery and the means of production.

Shannon Bool, Forensics for a Mamluk, 2013, HD video

 These works appropriate images of rugs found beneath the feet of Virgin Marys across art history (for example Madonna Extraction Carpet V uses carpet visuals from Jan van Eyck’s Madonna and Child Enthroned and Petrus Christus’ Virgin and Child Enthroned) and weave them into new compositions accompanied by the gray and white Photoshop grid standing in for figures and surrounding scenes. Adding an additional, crucial layer of meaning, Bool outsources the fabrication of the carpets to master craftspeople in Anatolia (the traditional site of production for Oriental carpets) who use ancient techniques to create these thoroughly contemporary objects. These rugs access a kind of circular, ironic Orientalism by fusing craft and technology as well as icons from East and West across one visually lush surface. I was amazed how seamlessly the various references blend into one confounding and frankly beautiful object.

 Bool’s works are united through a preoccupation with the potential of ornamented surfaces. In Forensics of a Malmuk, the single-channel video installation at the back of the gallery, the gaze of the camera travels across the surface of the giant Egyptian Malmuk carpet, one of the most valuable and rare carpets in the world. It was nearly forgotten in storage in Florence’s Palazzo Pitti and only rediscovered in the 1980s. The video offers an intimate, nearly excessive view of the carpet’s design and texture. Extreme close ups overload the viewer with information and detail, and render the precious object ultimately as an abstraction. The Eastern Carpet and the Western World Revisited offers a kind of densely, pleasurably layered work that warrants repeat viewing, and you will find yourself thinking about its visual puzzles long after you leave the gallery.

Illingworth Kerr Gallery:
 Shannon Bool: The Eastern Carpet and the Western World Revisited continues until February 11.

Sarah Todd is a curator currently based in Calgary. She has previously worked at Western Front, InterAccess Electronic Media Arts Centre, XPACE Cultural Centre, and The Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery. She has also produced projects with a range of organizations including Vtape, Kunstverein München, The Goethe Institute, The Pacific Cinematheque, Glenbow Museum and The Illingworth Kerr Gallery. She is Akimblog’s Calgary correspondent and can be followed on Twitter @sarahannetodd.

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