“Oldest”, “rarest”, “most celebrated” … these adjectives are deliberately averted within the main new exhibition, Tartan, on the V&A Dundee. It is ironic, subsequently, that myself and the opposite curators have chosen to show the earliest authenticated fragment of tartan present in Scotland – an merchandise which could possibly be described utilizing all three adjectives.
Following radiocarbon relationship and intensive dye evaluation, the Glen Affric tartan – first found in a peat lavatory within the Eighties – has been dated to between 1500 and 1600. Naturally occurring inexperienced, brown, purple and yellow dyes have been detected within the textile fragment, which is woven within the attribute sample (or “sett”, as the person sample of a tartan is formally recognized).
This discovery revises earlier scholarship which instructed that the Falkirk tartan (relationship again to the third century CE) was the earliest instance of “true tartan”. In reality, this older fragment is definitely a easy two-colour checked weave – or “shepherd’s plaid” – in contrast to the multicoloured true tartan sample of the Glen Affric.
As essential as this discovery is, the Glen Affric fragment is displayed not as an origin story however as a part of the exhibition’s opening theme of tartan as a common and inspirational grid sample. The fragment shares this house with examples of superb artwork, together with a collection of tartan-inspired prints by American minimalist (and tartan obsessive) Donald Judd.
There are examples of Nineteen Sixties ecclesiastical structure by Dutch Benedictine monk Hans van der Laan, based mostly on the Grey Douglas tartan sample.
Contemporary vogue that deconstructs and reassembles the elemental construction of tartan can also be on show, as are examples of world indigenous checked textiles. This consists of Shuka fabric from west Africa and Bhutanese material that shares a visible affinity with Scottish tartan.
Visitors are inspired to grasp tartan in 4 interlinked areas: Innovating Tartan, Tartan and Identity, Tartan and Power, and Transcendental Tartan. Historical and up to date, distinctive and on a regular basis, acquainted and sudden juxtapositions are all used to interrogate established histories of tartan and illuminate a few of its lesser recognized tales.
Moments of rupture and discontinuity
We rejected a chronological narrative for this exhibition due to tartan’s distinctive historical past, which is complicated, multilayered, and filled with moments of rupture and discontinuity.
Possibly essentially the most important of those ruptures occurred following the ultimate defeat of the Jacobite trigger on the Battle of Culloden. It was then that tartan (as a part of Highland costume) was outlawed beneath the Disarming Act of 1746.
This act sought to stamp out Scottish opposition to British rule. Wearing Highland costume – together with tartan – was thought-about an expression of anti-government feeling, even of rebel.
While there have been many exceptions to the rule (together with ladies, kids, the Highland regiments and the landed elite), a textile being perceived as a supply of riot is only one of many components that makes tartan distinctive. So, reasonably than show the Disarming Act doc inside a linear storytelling of tartan’s improvement within the 18th century, we’ve displayed it inside the broader idea of Tartan and Power.
Tartan and the institution
Adjacent to this doc is a pair of tartan bondage trousers, showcasing the sample’s potential for confrontation and its symbolism in punk’s anti-establishmentism.
This show is, in flip, subsequent to a screening of a scene from the National Theatre of Scotland’s celebrated manufacturing, Black Watch (2006). In this sequence, a soldier of the Black Watch regiment serving in Iraq is repeatedly dressed and undressed in successive variants of the regimental tartan uniform. Here, tartan is used to characterize a choreographed collapsing of army historical past.
Within eyesight of that is the work of artist Michael Sanders, who makes use of the Polaris tartan, developed for the American submarine base in Holy Loch Scotland, to query colonisation and the nuclear contamination of UK waters.
Finally, there’s a trio of Alexander McQueen tartan clothes on present. This features a costume from his seminal Widows of Culloden assortment of 2006/2007. That assortment catapulted tartan into the twenty first century, reclaiming its potential for resistance and revolt.
The lengthy shadows of chronology and hierarchy that normally fall throughout such design exhibitions are dispelled right here. Instead, our exhibition directs guests away from beginnings, “firsts” and stuck origin tales, and in direction of new prospects.
Tartan is on on the V&A Dundee till January 14, 2024.
Jonathan Faiers is the writer of Tartan, the guide which was the inspiration for the V&A Dundee exhibition. He's additionally one of many curators of the exhibition.