The longest day of the year, the magical midsummer day near the end of June, fast approaches. In Scandinavia, people cavort on the beaches under the once-a-year kiss of the 24-hour sun.
But to have that glorious day, Scandinavia must also live through the longest night of the year, in late December, when the sun shines not at all.
Dark and light, night and day, are transformed into 80 textile works by 20 artists in "The Scandinavian Touch." The exhibit, part of the year-long, nationwide Scandinavia Today observance, opened last night at the Textile Museum, with a preview there and a reception afterward at the Swedish Embassy. The show continues through Aug. 21.
The one-of-a-kind works are to be judged as art rather than craft. Their creators are artists and sculptors who use colored and textured fibers in place of bronze or stone or paint and canvas. Their work satisfies no need except to delight the eye and express unspeakable emotions.
These works are at the opposite end of the spectrum from the familiar mass-produced Scandinavian textiles: the deep piled rya rugs and the superflowers and Nordic lights of the Marimekko prints. Those delightful textiles, with their feeling of wild fantasies held under strict control, swept the United States a decade or so ago, bringing a cool breeze of design from the north.
Both grew out of good Nordic tradition. The rya rugs were originally women's work, satisfying both artistic and practical needs, as did the quilts of American women. The ryas were originally bedcovers on Viking boats, long piles in imitation of furs. The strong and cheerful colors of Marimekko silk screening grew out of the romantic national folk traditions that inspired painters around the turn-of-the-century in response to the Art Nouveau movement's romantic motifs from nature.
Some of the works at the Textile Museum owe their techniques to the rya and their colors to Marimekko. But others are more directly descended from the intricately woven tapestries and heavily textured wallhangings that kept the wind from sending icy daggers of cold through the chinks of the log cabins encircling the fjords.
The strongest in this category are the aptly named works by Irma Kukkasja rvi of Helsinki: "The Country of Black Snow," "Black Waves" and "Black Delta." The sculptures look as though the artist had cut thick slices of the northern nights on sea and shore and hung them up to dry. The large wall hangings, about 2 feet square, are double woven in linen, wool and sisal, the surfaces using a rya technique, but in high relief.
If Kukkasja rvi's work is night, Norwegian Brit Fuglevaag's work is day. She likes to think of them as nonfading versions of the bouquets of flowers she brought her mother in spring. The vividly colored cotton, sisal, silk, linen and wool works have loops and ties that exuberantly erupt from the tightly woven backgrounds.
Poised on the horizon between night and day are the sunset-colored hangings of Ann Naustdal, of Oslo. She uses Gobelin tapestry techniques to weave jute, linen, wool and sisal.
The work of the four Icelanders included in the exhibit is strange, wild and a bit frightening, full of untidy fibers and strands of horsehair that threaten to escape from the confines of their bindings.
In Swedish artist Elisabet Hasselberg-Olsson's subtle linen weaves, Stonehenge-like phallic images and mysterious mountains are dimly seen.
The most imaginative works in the show are the remarkable wearable sculpture of fibers, beads and shiny rocks teased and tortured into shape by Sonja Hahn-Ekberg of Finland. Neck hangings, not wall hangings, the jewelry pieces are only a few inches across, but in their convoluted strata you can read a whole planet of possibilities.
All the artists are women. Their techniques derive from the long line of unknown women who made marvelous artworks that stayed at home while the men's art, no better and often worse, went out to the gallery and the museum. But only the feminist figurative motifs of Sandra Ikse of Sweden demand to be judged as expressions of women's arts. The others are, not so simply, art.