Artist talks

In the past week I’ve been to two artist talks hosted at COFA (College of Fine Arts at University of NSW)


First some links:
* brief information about the
* Ruth’s website: (take some time to explore it).
* More photos of Ruth’s work:
* An interview with Ruth, focused more on travel to West Timor:

Ruth grew up in Australia, married in West Timor and lived there for 10 plus years, and now is more in Australia but somewhere in between. Her talk, which she read, was mostly in english, sometimes in Bahasa. It was mostly in the first person, sometimes in the third. She told a lot of stories, but not a single linear narration. Her practice is not simple or contained in boundaries – for her, her practice is the same as her life. Her conversations, reading, thinking, writing, textiles – all parts of her practice. A hard part being how to “present” when there was no outcome or resolution, but ideas that may converge or coalesce for a moment then continue in multiple directions. Her talk was part of her practice, Ruth experimenting with her ideas as she read.

A major strand was being other – the loss of identity living in a different world where there was no idea of “artists”, no galleries, an unknown language. Her life became a performance, an improvisation, where any feeling of confidence or certainty would be closely followed by a trip-up. In ten years no-one, not once, asked what she did. They were interested in family and social connections.

Working on a PhD gave Ruth a lifeline – deadlines and purpose. She focused on small decisions and movements in the moment, on conversation as a tactic for making sense, on writing as thought made audible, visible, as if language constructs the entire world. Ruth spoke about the point where blindness and light meet, about exploring and processing, about the arrogance of familiarity, about response ability.

Ruth’s slides of her work showed her writing on gallery walls, making shapes and patterns with words in pencil, or by pinning thread to the walls to make the shapes of words. She pins or hangs little shapes on the wall, or layers shapes of tracing paper and words.

I feel I should finish this with comments about what this could mean in my work. Ideas about identity and light and layering all attract – but so far not even partial resolution.


The links:
* brief information about the talk:
* Pat’s website:
* A video of Pat talking about some of her work at an exhibition:
* Some more information:

Pat started by showing us a slide of a gut parka from Alaska – you can see one here. Since she first came across it this material has fascinated Pat. It has qualities that she hasn’t found in anything else – the way light passes through it, how it can be shaped or wrapped around something when wet, how when dry it seems fragile but (if layered) is actually quite strong and stable, the organic shapes it forms. Pat uses other materials as well, but the hog gut (pig intestines more often used as sausage casings) is a major part of her work. She has combined it with rusty nails, creating marks that seem like a universal language. She has layered it into large sheets, capturing the marks made by a rusty door. It can be “dribbled” over sticks or objects to make flexible linear elements.

The shapes Pat creates seem to become components that she mixes and displays in different configurations in various installations. It could look like lines of writing pinned to a wall in one orientation, then become a kind of ethereal shadow forest hanging from the ceiling.

On a different twist in materials and scale, Pat showed us work based on knotted nets. In this case the work was scaled up hugely – it looked like she had knotted sheets – and then cast in metal to make gates. Another series of work was based on waxed paper, often old to-do lists, which Pat stitched on in waxed linen thread to form shapes and marks and words.

When talking about her career history Pat showed us some slides of Turkish needle-lace used in edging headscarves. A woman’s dowry would include perhaps 40 headscarves, capable of giving a whole range of emotional messages. For example wearing a scarf edged with red peppers could mean arguments at home, while another scarf could announce a pregnancy.

Still no neat conclusions, but this talk has me thinking about materials and conveying meaning. In Textiles: A Creative Approach we were encouraged to experiment widely with materials and that makes a lot of sense for students. A lot of Pat’s work has been done in one material – novel to most viewers but not, now, to her. It’s not that she restricts herself to it, but somehow knowing what she is using frees her to explore ideas.

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September 2013

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