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Video: Monumental new 'tapestry of light' on display in Brussels cathedral

20:52 26/04/2017
Made from glowing fibres of threads and light, an extraordinary 108m² illuminated tapestry reimagines the medieval Angers Tapestries of the Apocalypse

London-born Australian artist Irene Barberis first got interested in the Book of Revelation in the 1980s. "No women had worked with the full cycle of the Apocalypse and I wanted to fill the gap," she says. "I started imagining a new work of art, full of light evoking rather than illustrating the Book of Revelation - something that would englobe the visitors in light."

So, following the Angers Tapestry by Jan Bondol (1380) and tapestries by Bernard Van Orley (1520) and Jean Lurçat (1956-61) Barberis spent more than 10 years working on this contemporary version of the Book of Revelation. The result is an extraordinary achievement due to her prodigious talent as an artist but also due to her search via new technologies for light-creating thread.

"I worked with a scientist at RMIT Design Research Institute in Melbourne for seven years to develop a phosphorescent thread," Barberis says. "The science is nanoscience, it creates a type of luminescence that glows in the dark for a long period of time. And then we have fluorescent thread that glows under UV light and finally natural thread. So there are three different ways of viewing it, under natural light, under a UV light and in the dark. When it's in the dark it begins to glow and the image changes; we discover sacred and mathematical geometries and maps of the world in the tapestries as well as the entire Book of Revelation."

The tapestry, the complete name of which is The Tapestry of Light Intersections of Illumination, is in 14 sections - a total of 36m long by 3m high - woven with the three different types of thread in 240 different colours. It features all 22 chapters of the Apocalypse in both classical and contemporary contexts. Among the things portrayed as part of the simple life is a jar of Marmite.

One of the reasons it is having its world premiere at the Brussels Cathedral is that the tapestry was produced in Wielsbeke (between Ghent and Kortrijk) at Flanders Tapestries, a workshop that produces tapestries for clients around the world including the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles.

The exhibition opens this Thursday (27 April) at 20.00 with a concert of works by Allan Charlton, Boudewijn Cox, Jocelyn Lafond and Sébastien Van Bellegem. All four pieces have been composed for the occasion.

There will be a guided tour by the artist on Saturday (29 April) at 10.00 and there are two partner exhibitions. One is at the Royal Library in the Librarium where 60 manuscripts, books and prints devoted to the Apocalypse will be on display. The other is at the Museum of Modern Religious Art in the National Basilica in Koekelberg where etchings on the Apocalypse by 20th century Antwerp artist Victor Delhez will be shown until 4 June. 

28 April-15 June, Cathedral of St Michael and St Gudula, Brussels, free. Opening concert on 27 April, 20.00. Guided tour by the artist 29 April, 10.00.

Written by Richard Harris