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Bobbin Lace and Tracery

The first sources for bobbin lace-making are provided by some 16th-century pattern books in Italy where the origin of this technique is presumed to originate. As early as 1557, the first pure pattern book for bobbin lace-making was published in Venice under the title Le Pompe. From Italy the technique is said to have first reached Spain or the Spanish Netherlands, and then France. In the 16th century, the first bobbin lace can be found in the Erzgebirge. Nowadays, bobbin lace-making is practically no longer in fashion and hardly anyone is really interested in the finesse of artistically designed and handcrafted bobbin lace, leave alone that the younger generation would actually be able to distinguish it from industrially produced lace.—In the age of science and technology such expertise might be considered moot, for everything has to serve speed and precision rather than slowness and creative artistry rooted in craftsmanship.

In numerous artworks Alke Reeh explores precisely these bobbin- and other laces, questioning their material properties, mathematical-geometric laws and play with the permeability of lines of sight as well as its refusal—imparting insight into areas of condensation. Laces are based on principles and lawful orders, even though it is not rare that they negate these, for their often floral patterns seem to follow rank growth rather than concrete rules. No less complex appear the highly geometric forms and folds which Alke Reeh develops with sewn fabrics and which she likes to abandon to the laws of plunging and falling where gravity correlates with the softness of the material. What evolves in the process appears more like a hybrid that can’t decide to become and to remain an austere geometric form, countering the stabile precision instead by flowing softly and easing down. The antagonism of the forms which almost always testify to the same origin becomes acutely evident and accounts for the at times prude attractiveness of all of Alke Reeh’s works of art. Time and again, she explores the seemingly structural inconsistencies of ornamental arabesque juxtaposed with geometrical precision as well as the lightness of many of her materials, such as lace, fabrics, papers. Even if she uses hard materials like porcelain and plaster—these, too, seem to negate the intrinsic impermeability and consistency. Often enough, this is due to the playful manner in which Alke Reeh’s works sensuously laminate resistance, discharging in forms pleasant to touch.

The dialectic play with opposites is not only pursued with material and uncovered, but culminates when analogies of form are to be retrieved and to be manifested. All of a sudden, the viewer discovers that a doily instead of a perspective can be almost effortless inserted in the high dome of a mosque and is optically assimilated. Or a smooth porcelain cup turned over can not less convincingly fill out the dome of a Hindu temple (for instance in Ranakpur). In a sensuous as well as aesthetical manner even the formal analogies of Gothic tracery (delicate work of stonemasonry) are divested either from tracery windows, ceiling vaults, or the domes of cathedrals—themselves always based on geometric patterns, and the mathematical equations of lace patterns for doilies. Only in the symmetric arrangement—as complex as it may be—the conception of the pattern succeeds which in turn enables the intrinsic permeability of the reception. Only in this way it can be understood that the forms seen close-up merge so completely that at times they can no longer be distinguished, connecting the seemingly sacred with the obviously banal.

Here Alke Reeh demonstrates in a sometimes quite humorous manner the universality of patterns and forms, which surpass—and this is an important effect of her works—religious and ethnic borders. One could almost assume that with her photographs of patterns embroidered in architectural spaces she herself thoughtlessly jumps ethical or religious principles, denying them. At no time, has this been Alke Reeh’s intention. It is much rather her delight in games of deception, in transgressing (seemingly) tabooed demarcation lines which does not intend place in one plane the lofty sacred and the base profane. Her leaning toward playfulness, toward a diffusion or even stimulation of the senses is activated precisely at that moment when, for instance, in old coffee cups instead of cloudy coffee brew a painting is gradually emerging, the face of a Madonna, or a Rococo scene which in turn is not to be there. And yet, associations strongly reminiscent of the clairvoyant ability to “read tealeaves” immediately impose upon the viewer. This is not much different from the fact that in the 1930s a teacup was being crochet and transformed the pattern of the yarn into a structure intrinsic to the image. The borderlines become blurred, appearance becomes deceptive because it offers modes of perception that do not exist in this form, but which are kindled to life in order to enable precisely through sensuous merging inspired questioning of the (seemingly) reliable familiar. This osmotic exchange of materials and materialities is further explored in Alke Reeh’s most recent works, photographic works in which she deposits multiply-sewn fabrics with geometric inlays of lace with a photograph. In the viewing, linen and cotton fluctuate between their material look-and-feel and their sensuous alienation in that they can also be read as part of an architecture. In this context, the inserted geometric lace pattern transforms into a Moorish window which is open, but because of its filigree wall structure does hardly allow the viewer to look inside. Behind the delicate texture of Alke Reeh’s works the viewer perceives a second layer of apparitional contours, intimations of architecture, places and people. The series of photographs Insight - Outlook of 2008 offers many levels of approach, it seemingly opens up insights which are at the same time illusive and offering an enigma. Viewers quickly find themselves caught in a vexing cycle of reflections which- through the look-and-feel of the fabric that itself turns into architecture and lace structures that offer options for openings and insight are reminiscent of Arabic ornament - communicate the making visible of a however defined “beyond” that provides perspective and eventually - as an essential artistic recourse - also the suggestive play with fabrics and materials which are completely integrated in the haptically irrelevant medium of photography. So everything which offers itself to the senses and appears as being of the highest material precision is condensed into the close-up view of photography which is essentially based on smoothness and two-dimensionality.

Alke Reeh’s artworks are entirely conceptualized works that leave nothing to chance. Always in search of these analogies of forms, of geometrical structures that are based on essential mathematic principles which inspire her work in their particular complexity if seemingly mathematics are involved: One has only to compare her Fan for Art (2008), which in a transformed shape reappears in Stalactite Ceiling (model design sewn for fabric) and is being correlated with a ceiling structure from Istanbul, or is eventually integrated in Sewn Fabric (2009) which also comprises this complex folding design. In the sewn fabric, however, the formal austerity is sensuously and manifestly driven ad absurdum. The physicality remains, becomes stronger in gradual parts, but the normative form looses its austerity. The all-encompassing blueprint which Alke Reeh so plausibly deduces from architectural forms and rediscovers in the delicate lace- and bobbin laceworks reveals especially in the fabric not rarely also that of nature. In the staged monumentality of many of her sculptural works these take on a moment of irritation and, at the same time, (and sustainably) a moment of the auratic.


Dr. Beate Reifenscheid


Röcke und Schnittmuster