Progressive abstraction



Here’s a classic case of progressive abstraction, but this time we have some provenance to provide a time-frame. Both are small-scale versions of the Salang Pass landscape which celebrates the defeat of the Soviets. The best collection of large-scale, beautifully made rugs of this category is in Verona. The story which comes with the image above has been reported previously: it was found in September in Badmurghan Street, in Herat, being used as a doormat in a textiles shop.


This rug was acquired in Adelaide, South Australia, in 1994. When you look at the comparisons you’ll see that the overall image is remarkably similar, although being better made, and more detailed (even though its colours have faded) we can reasonably assume that it was made first, and that the Herat rug is a copy. By “progressive abstraction” we mean that the process of reproduction of a given design results in the simplification or evolution of forms, and a gradual reduction in the resolution of details. This can be seen in the image which compares the border design, and in the ways the helicopters become less literal in their representation.


In the case of these two rugs, the Adelaide carpet is better made, and of better materials. It has, for example, a two-tier selvidge with a more elaborate braided structure, and the border has much finer detail in essentially the same pattern.


See also how the warp in the Herat rug is a mixture of cotton and wool, as if the maker was really short of materials. From the reverse view, even the colours of the Adelaide rug are more intense and consistent than what was available to the Herat rug maker.


Apart from the fact that the Herat rug has had a harder life, and made of much poorer materials, we can safely assume that they both come from the same region, and a time frame of earlier and later in the first half-decade of the 90s is most likely for these parent-and-child examples.


3 Responses to “Progressive abstraction”

  1. Luca Brancati Says:


  2. max allen Says:

    Well, Nigel, that’s certainly a leap. Perhaps you might have headed your entry “Progressive Imagination.” Why is your explanation any better than mine, which might go like this: The two rugs have a common ancestor and were made about the same time, one by a more skilled weaver with better materials at hand. One does not “evolve” from the other. They are coeval. I can give you a hundred examples (and you have some yourself) of the horizontal city rugs, some of which are really nice and well drawn and detailed, and some are really crude and awful. Would you suggest that the nice ones are necessarily earlier?

  3. Nigel Lendon Says:

    Well, Max. Until we find a more ragged, more abstracted (pace Harold Osborne) carpet from the same ancestor with a proven earlier date than a finer, more detailed example, my perceptions still favour some kind of evolutionary model whereby copies (whether literally pixel-by-pixel reproductions, or by looking and making it up as the image is built, or made from memory) tend to produce less detailed representations which tend towards abstracted designs. So yes, I suggest that the nice ones are probably closer in time to the (nicer) ancestor, but yes, it’s not a neat time-line, more a tangled brachiate. That said, I prefer the “progressive abstraction” model to your more random skills and opportunities account of coeval production. Sure, it could even go backwards in the age of colour photocopiers and mass reproduction of pattern cartoons, but is that likely? Everything I saw which looked like contemporary reproductions of earlier (ie. already known in the outside world) patterns, were simpler, less innovative in the micro-structure of their imagery and pattern, and therefore more “abstract”. Which is not to say that this resultant abstraction follows any of the models and motivations we would associate with western artistic practices in the 20th C. which is what makes it an interesting and provocative concept. So, until we find the contradicting evidence, PA has more going for it than coeval.

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