The end of the world is a theme as long as time itself; in art, it has been represented across the different disciplines throughout the ages. The Tapestry of Light by Irene Barberis is a contemporary take on the story of the Apocalypse from the Book of Revelation; a re-imagination of the 14th century Tapestry of the Apocalypse. The tapestry consists of 14 panels, together 36 meters long and 3 meters high. Currently on exhibition at Canterbury Cathedral, the piece takes up most of the Cathedral’s Charter House space. The panels form a reversed U shape which lets you walk inside the Apocalypse and be taken away by it.
The content of the tapestry is, of course, composed of visions of the end of the world. Each panel has a passage of the Apocalypse embroidered on it. It makes a multitude of references to the original tapestry, some elements are nearly identical. Other elements are: angels ‘borrowed’ from Giotto and Botticelli, or more modern details as solders and helicopters. The work is incredibly detailed, each centimetre of it has its own little story, context and as a whole, they form a stunning work of art.
The neon tapestry is radiant and colourful. It is a great masterpiece in its own right, but what is really stunning about it is the science behind it. Irene Barberis worked in collaboration with a scientist, Professor David Mainwaring, to research how to make safe nano-particles which could be applied onto fibres to create a new visual effect. The tapestry is made out of three types of fibres developed by them: fine electroluminescent fibres, fluorescent dyed fibres, which can be visible after exposure to UV light, and phosphorescent ones which absorb sunlight and glow in the dark. In order to show these magical fibres, each fragment of the tapestry is lit by normal light, then UV light and no light at all for 3 minutes each. Each phase brings out different parts of the very detailed and chaotic scenes, and you can see things more clearly. The scale of the piece and the fact that you ought to wait for each light phase to change to see differently makes it very engaging. I recommend viewing the tapestry while it is dark outside, so the phosphorescent fibres are most visible.
The Tapestry of Light is on exhibition until 19 November at The Canterbury Cathedral’s Charter House, from 10 AM to 4 PM every day (except from Sundays). I really recommend seeing it, even if you are not a huge art fan, as it is a one of a kind piece and it is free to students.