Tuesday, December 30, 2014

I might have known

that of course a book edited by Jessica Hemmings would in fact provide a several course meal!  The first chapter of Cultural Threads has me wandering off into further fields of thought, not wanting to move on before I have had a good mull.
I continue to delight in the way that threads pull together to weave elements of what I'm reading, thinking about, seeing, etc. into a substantial cloth to handle and even in which to wrap myself.  Reading the first artist contribution to chapter 1: Artist statements had pulled two main threads from my recently completed reading of A.N. Wilson's fictionalised biography of Josiah Wedgewood, The Potter's Hand, the extensive research which Penelope Fitzgerald did for not only her biographies, but also her fiction, as noted by Hermione Lee in her biography of PF
These have been joined by a niggling frayed edge: my own sceptical approach to works of art born of research.  I well remember a novel marred by too much insistent information about growing, pressing, transporting, eating olives, way beyond the point of contributing to the plot, characters, or ambiance - and also been frustrated by looking at some impact-free art object whose presence was justified only by an accompanying essay.
The artist Julie Ryder's account of her work in the 2008 exhibition Generate for the Australian National botanic Gardens to coincide with the bicentenary celebrations of Charles Darwin has fascinated me.  The above work, Generate: Emma represents Charles Darwin's wife, Emma, also his first cousin, and is made of hand cut leaves stuck onto tapa cloth.  (The process is described here.)  The point of the exhibition was to tie together inspirations from Darwin's voyage on the Beagle, his approach to collecting specimens, his outlook on all he was observing, the culture he represented, and the indigenous cultures he was witnessing. 
Patterns from 19th century European textiles are used alongside indigenous patterns and materials such as tapa cloth.  Although examples of the work are shown, I have been frustrated in that details appropriate to the research are not illustrated, such as a triptych symbolic of indigenous societies that Darwin encountered:
Pollinate: Originate, Infiltrate, and Eliminate are to represent the effect of colonization on eradicating the traditional.  The three works carry a tapa cloth design from Samoa (of which the above is one third: Originate) that is slowly being supplanted by an English damask design.  I am intrigued by the idea of this, and would really like to see the work to appreciate its meaning.
The photographs, like of the ones in this post, are pleasant patterns, seen from too far to discern sufficient detail.  The words do the work of conveying what I would hope that the work seen displayed looks like.  I also wonder what has happened to the work.  Does it fall into the category described by Margaret Cooter in this post for Ragged Cloth Café: is this work to be remembered as a temporary exhibition to commemorate an anniversary, and as a visual summary of research, noted here and there in passing on the artist's website and the odd blog?

If this book continues to occupy my mind like this, I shall be here for some time!


  1. I went to look at details of the book ... and somehow my finger must have slipped ... it's on its way to me ... But the two biographies will have to come from the library.

    The book with too much information on olives could no doubt have done with an good editor!

  2. On the last - indeed, my blue pencil was twitching like mad!

  3. I just came across your blog with reference to my work inJessica Hemming'sbook, 'Cultural Threads: Transnational Textiles Today'. I have just returned from London to present at the Cultural Threads Symposium and book launch, so not sure if you attended that?
    I am so pleased you liked my work and that the concepts behind it have provided you with food for thought! As with all publications, it is impossible to represent everything for the sake of brevity, but I assure you the works do exist! All the works are framed behind glass which this ensures they are not ephemeral! They are in my studio at present but hoping for another display later this year for an exhibition related to the book at COFA in Sydney. Jessica Hemmings is also curating an exhibition in May in Dublin and I have made a small "leaf" work for that exhibition as well as two of the large digital textiles mentioned in the book that will be displayed. I thought it would be important to see that intricate leaf work close up rather than as a photo as it doesn't really do it justice. The 'Generate' exhibition actually travelled as a whole over several years to different galleries and there is a small flyer on the work that explains much of the concepts behind the making of it, although so does the book. Feel free to contact me through my website if you have other questions, and thanks for engaging with my work.
    Cheers, Julie