Immersive new art installation pays tribute to Shetland’s wadmal

Shetland Museum and Archives continues its wide-ranging programme of exhibitions with the opening of a new art installation ‘Taxcloth: the Toevakoddi Project’ on Saturday 18 March in its Gadderie space.

The Toevakoddi Project is a collaboration by three Shetland artists, Hazel Hughson, Barbara Ridland, and Joan Fraser and the immersive art installation is the culmination of the artists' exploration of the little-known subject of the Shetland toevakoddi and their exploration of Shetland woven cloth as currency.

From the Middle Ages until the 1700s Shetlanders in every community paid part of their rent and tax in quantities of wadmal, a plain wool cloth of handspun yarn, which they wove in their homes and fulled (cleaned and milled) in the sea. This was done in toevakoddies, clefts in the coastal rock with suitable wave action. The knowledge of their location was passed down through generations, and they are still found as named places on some maps.

The mixed media exhibition aims to bring into the gallery the atmosphere and essential function of the toevakoddi at the fulling time when natural energy transforms volumes of cloth. It also reflects on the domestic and communal experience of processing regular quantities of cloth as currency, the continual tensions between demand and delivery, and the precariousness of home and livelihood.

Karen Clubb, exhibitions officer at Shetland Museum and Archives said: “We are excited to include ‘Taxcloth’ in our exhibitions programme. It is an astonishing piece of work by three extremely engaged artists who explore our on-going relationship with our natural environment, land and sea, people and place. Tied together by strong historical and cultural research, the resulting exhibition employs a range of media including video shot in and around the water, the use of the woven cloth itself, photographic installation, poetry and drawings which pays tribute to Shetland wadmal and its place in history.

All the artists said: “We are delighted to be sharing our project with a wider audience and would like to thank our sponsors Jamieson’s of Shetland, Jamieson and Smith, Ocean Kinetics and Laurence Odie Knitwear. Our art explores the psychological and physical landscape surrounding the community task of processing surprisingly large quantities of cloth for an annual deadline. This is an early ingenious use of wave energy. Throughout our collaboration we have worked at toevakoddies around Shetland, fulling cloth, making ebb art and sketches in various media. Through these media we hope to share something of the atmosphere and significance of the toevakoddi, an environment only just beyond the shore that is linked with lost processes and not quite reachable images of our island past.”

As part of the Shetland Museum’s learning programme there will be a series of talks to run alongside the exhibition. Details will be shared on the museum’s website and social media shortly.

To find out more about the project visit the Tax Cloth website.

The exhibition will run from Saturday 18 March 2.00pm to Sunday 7 May at Da Gadderie in Shetland Museum and Archives.

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