A couple of years ago I went, on a misty, dreich winter’s morning, to visit the Burrell Collection in Glasgow in the Southside of Glasgow for the first time. Set within the picturesque, 360 acre grounds of Pollok Country Park, the Burrell Collection is dedicated to the extensive antique collection of the wealthy 19th century-early 20th century shipping merchant, the eponymous William Burrell. A man who, as anyone who’s ever visited the collection can testify, seems to have left very few stones unturned in his avid pursuit of treasure and precious historical artefacts.
I was lucky enough to be on time for one of the hourly guided tours around the museum. The tour took us around the most celebrated and noteworthy pieces in the collection, and there were a good number of them to be seen. But the one thing that really stood out for me from the tour was a grand, embroidered rug known as a Suzani from Central Asia, that took up a whole wall of one the rooms and must have been about 12ft by 10ft. Apparently it was given as part of a woman’s dowry when she went to live with her husband’s family.The level of attention to detail on this thing was absolutely staggering — as was the realisation of the countless person hours that must have gone into its making.
But there was something noticeably askew about the intricate geometric pattern that covered its surface, it was really quite asymmetrical and distorted in parts. Our tour guide explained that the weavers (usually the wife to be’s female relatives) would introduce little imperfections in the pattern for what they claimed were religious reasons.The idea was that if the pattern was too perfect it would displease God — since only God had the right to create perfect objects and for human beings to presume to do so would be for them to somehow arrogate this right to themselves. Something along those lines anyway.
I didn’t think this at the time, but later it occurred to me what monumental arrogance it must take for anyone to assume that they could create an artefact, whether that might be a rug, a painting, a sculpture or a building, that would be so perfect as to make the God, the creator of the world, the universe, time and space itself, jealous. I mean, with the best will in the world, no pattern created by human hands and imposed upon a physical medium will ever be entirely perfect: since regardless of whatever safeguards or precautions you try and put in place you’ll always end up with a myriad of imperfections and flaws working their way into the final product. (It’s like the old joke says: Q. What’s the best way to make God laugh? A.Make plans.) To think otherwise seems a gross act of impiety rather than the reverse. Indeed at the end of the day the whole imperfection explanation was probably a ruse: introduce some blatant mistakes, and then pass off the others, the inadvertent ones, as being similarly deliberate.