A century of history woven into the “Dare/Avere” tapestry
“Dare/Avere”, a tapestry designed by William Kentridge, is an artwork produced under the ZegnArt project for the recent opening of the New Bond Street boutique in London. The South African artist’s poetics has breathed new life, in the form of yarns and colors, into the documents in the Zegna Archives, from which we see the elegant figure of the founder emerge into the foreground.
To find out more about the source of inspiration for this extraordinary work we interviewed Casa Zegna’s archivists.
Kentridge weaves the figure of Ermenegildo Zegna into his tapestry, along with everyday objects such as a sewing machines, labels, paper patterns… Every detail tells story, doesn’t it?
Certainly, the fascinating silhouette of Ermenegildo Zegna comes from photos of him in day-to-day situations: while he’s walking, with his cane, along the Panoramica Zegna road, under construction, or in the Rhododendron Bowl, proud and smiling, inside the Wool Mill, or strolling with his elegant wife Nina. The sewing machine is from the ‘40s. Machines like this were used in the Wool Mill and then in the professional training school that Ermenegildo Zegna opened to teach young people the trade. The label identifies the precious fabric made with the finest South African kid mohair. There’s a competition every year for the finest fibers, with a trophy going to the farmers. This long standing drive for quality was started up in 1970 to create a relationship of trust with the farmers and to secure, from the year to year, the finest fibers. The paper models, on the other hand, were used, up until a few years ago, for the Made to Measure service, which was launched by Angelo and Aldo Zegna in the ‘70s.
Ermenegildo Zegna’s silhouette seems almost to be walking, moving effortlessly between the mountains and the accounts ledgers in the Wool Mill. It’s as if the texture of the tapestry were trying to represent the dual nature of the founder - philanthropist and businessman - that we see in the title of the work, Dare/Avere. What sort of relationship did Ermenegildo Zegna have with his territory?
The map that provides the background for the figure of Ermenegildo Zegna is very old: it’s from the 17th century and is of Piemonte, the land where the Wool Mill was founded in 1910 and to which Ermenegildo Zegna was deeply attached. He devoted much of his life to the mountains around Trivero: he reforested them with over half a million conifers and made them more accessible by building the Panoramic road. They were also the “theater” for the social projects he undertook to improve his people’s quality of life. The accounts ledgers – whose “debit and credit” columns inspired the title of the work – not only reflect the economics of the market but also the philosophy underpinning Ermenegildo Zegna’s philanthropic vision, which is still inspiring the activities of Fondazione Zegna, more than a hundred years on.
Arts and crafts: the dividing line between them is very thin when we speak about fabrics. Just think of the creativity of the designers and stylists, not to mention the 500 hands needed to make a Zegna suit, for instance. A tapestry is by definition an art form and midway between craft and artistic representation. Kentridge’s work, woven in mohair by Stephens Tapestry Studio in Johannesburg, takes us back to the complex world of warp and weave, the know-how that’s also in the Zegna DNA...
Kentridge has been working with the Stephens Tapestry Studio in Johannesburg for years. As in the Trivero Wool Mill, albeit to a different extent, there’s a team that looks after all the phases preparatory to the weaving: the spinning, dyeing and warping are done by Coral Stephens Handweaving in Swaziland. After this comes the most crucial stage in the job: translating the artist’s design into the fabric. The cardboard pattern becomes a map that the weavers have to follow in precise detail: the colors, shapes and lines that enable the work of art to come into being on the loom. The art of weaving, in fabrics from the Zegna Wool Mill as in this tapestry, requires high precision. Kentridge’s artistic vision combined with Stephens’ meticulous execution made it possible to produce a work of art that’s received the imprint of the people who took part in its creation, artist and artisan, to embody the spirit of Ermenegildo Zegna.