Archive for October, 2014

Annette Messager: motion / emotion

Recently Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) showed the first retrospective exhibition in Australia of Annette Messager’s work. There were pieces created from the early 1970s to the present, including large kinetic installations.

A lot of the works referenced the human body – its presence or absence, movement or stillness. There was often a duality, sometimes a rather sinister note, or at least observations of things we might prefer not to notice.

Les Gants-Grimaces The Gloves-Grimaces 1999

Les Gants-Grimaces
The Gloves-Grimaces


messager_04Empty gloves had sharpened pencil inserts like long claws. Photographs with glimpses of grimacing faces were framed by the wrist band. Is it a visual play, creating a weird character from discarded clothing? Has the defence/protection of the warm glove been perverted into a means of attack? Is it simply an absurd, perhaps amusing, combination of everyday domestic items?

Gants-Tête Gloves-Head 1999



Signage at the MCA suggests these pencil-gloves symbolise the artistic process. The empty glove evokes the human presence. But here the gloves mass to form a human head – or skull.

Les Dépouilles Skins 1997

Les Dépouilles


I found the work shown to the right even more sinister and unsettling.

messager_12This is a series of children’s clothes and soft toys, unstitched and opened out. Gallery information suggested they resemble carcasses or targets, but they reminded me of photographs of the aftermath of some terrible explosion or bomb. There is a sense of viciousness, of wanton destruction.

Looking at it now reminds me of butterfly and insect specimens that have been pinned out for display, presented for the cool eyes of the collector. Really horrid.

 Pénétration Penetration (1993–94)



In contrast, walking around a display of the products of a disembowelment was more intriguing than disturbing to me. What were all those soft fabric organs? Lungs were easy to pick, along with other more obvious items, but much was quite anonymous to me.

messager_10On the walls around were small sketches and watercolours of body organs, connected by a maze of yarn. Small items of knitted clothing such as socks joined their unravelling extremities to the exercise.

messager_09The hanging organs swayed slightly with the movement of the air, and a few strategically placed light bulbs created a mass of shadows on the walls. Both movement and shadows recurred frequently in the works included in the exhibition. One that seemed a particular joy, but difficult to photograph, was Le Tutu dansant (The Dancing Tutu), 2012. A froth of tulle was suspended from the ceiling, while on the floor below a strong fan sent up blasts of air. The tutu danced and spun in the absence of the ballerina.

Chance 2011-12


Language and text were also seen in a number of works. Sometimes they were repeated over and over, losing meaning.

Désir Desire Detail 2009



In Chance (above) and Désir (detail on the right), the single words were wrapped in a knotted net and cast their shadows on the wall. Enigmatic and rather beautiful.

Ma collection de proverbes My collection of proverbs)  1974-2012

Ma collection de proverbes
My collection of proverbs


Ma collection de proverbes included both a book and individual stitched and framed texts of proverbs, “received wisdom” about women. The one shown here translates as “When a woman is born, even the walls cry”. Messager doesn’t seem to be a feminist as such, and doesn’t appear to be reflecting on her personal experience. The chauvinistic views are abhorrent, the stitching a clear reference to domesticity and traditional woman’s work, but it felt more like a calm presentation than a denunciation.

Obviously I brought my textile orientation to the exhibition, and there was a lot of work involving textiles. However Ma collection de proverbes was the only one which seemed to involve Messager in the actual use of textile techniques.

messager_03A resource area off the side of the gallery included copies of catalogues and books about Messager, as well as these samples of materials available for touching. So some of the things I find most important about the textiles, the hand and drape, were seen by the curator at least as of interest. But overall I would say that Messager finds the connotations of textiles of interest, as well as the absence of the body that is apparent in old clothing – not anything purely about the textiles themselves. If there was something else that had similar associations she could just as well use that.

My interest in using textiles goes beyond that, in a way that I ponder about but which is not clear to me. Working with textiles gives me a pleasure and interest which I think goes beyond the associations I see used by Messager and I think Hiromi Tango (see 30-Oct-2014). This is all mixed up in my mind with “art” and “textile art” and “craft”. At the moment I want textiles and/or textile techniques to be predominant in my work, but somehow I want them to be part of answering or responding to wider questions and concerns. I don’t really know what I mean by that… I’ll keep pondering.

Hiromi Tango

hiromi_tango_01In May I went to hear Hiromi Tango speak at her exhibition Dust Storm at the Australian Centre for Photography ( Hiromi describes herself as a performance artist, but there were many aspects to the work she presented.

hiromi_tango_02The entire gallery space was painted in a carefully chosen colour, a yellow-orange reminiscent of a dust storm that enveloped Sydney and other parts of NSW and Queensland in 2009. I remember that eerie, suffocating light very well, especially a visit to an elderly lady “voluntarily” locked in a psych hospital. Hiromi Tango’s strong memory is of wrapping herself in the tendrils of soft, wrapped sculptures she had made, and performing a slow, almost static, dance in a rose garden.

hiromi_tango_03For Hiromi this was the beginning of a process of healing and self-exploration. This exhibition was her reflection on that cathartic process. I’m not going to go into any of the information she shared with the small audience at the gallery. I want to focus on the range of work and the immersive experience she provided. There were layers and layers, almost obsessively repeating the events of the dust storm from different angles and using different senses.

hiromi_tango_04A high definition video of her performance in the rose garden was on a loop in a side room. The sound track filled the gallery with the muffled noise of the wind that day. On another wall was a series of stills, printed and framed.

hiromi_tango_05Neon lights gave pointers to the theme in colour and text.
hiromi_tango_06In the centre of the larger gallery space was another light installation, surrounded by a heap of soft sculptures and hand-made books. Hiromi sat in the pile, clambered over it, pulled up items, yarn balls trailing, and demonstrated her wrapping. She was so intent on immersing us and herself in the experience, in engaging every sense, that she sprinkled mandarin oil over the mound and around the rooms before beginning her performance. She painted her face with yellow-orange as she spoke.

hiromi_tango_07Many of the items around had been included in earlier exhibitions and performances, or created as part of them. For example I think she once spent time in a shop window, and communicated with passers-by through shared notes. All of these she collected, saved, stored – and now she was finding new meaning and purpose in them.

hiromi_tango_08I thought Hiromi was brave and thoughtful. She shared herself and her experiences, risked herself, but often paused in thought before speaking to make sure she protected others in her life. Hiromi wanted to honour the gifts of others and her own past – the notes, old photographs, memorabilia – and she had finally found a way by binding some, and by tearing some into small pieces that became part of this new experience, this performance.

hiromi_tango_09My thoughts have returned to Hiromi’s performance and exhibition many times since. It forms part of my musing about what art is, and what I want my art to be. Hiromi’s work obviously includes textiles, drawing on their layers of meaning including the domestic, protection, containers of memories… The materiality of the textile is important – but it becomes one part of a whole, and of an ongoing journey.

Khadim Ali: The haunted lotus

Above are two artworks by Khadim Ali, on exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales ( earlier this year. The image above is misleading in that the works are of totally different scale. The work on the right is gouache, ink and gold leaf on wasli paper, and perhaps 34 cm high. The woven wall-hanging on the left is wool and cotton, I’d say over 120 cm high. (All this is rather inexact – the individual works are untitled and I don’t have full documentation).

Prior to this exhibition Ali was best known for his highly detailed miniatures. His work is full of demons and heros, often based on his interpretation of the Shahnameh, overlaid with his and his family’s personal experiences. Ali’s family were Hazara in Afghanistan – his ancestral home was Bamiyan, the site of the giant Buddha statues destroyed by the Taliban – and he grew up a refugee in Pakistan, where his family home was destroyed by a bomb set off in front of a nearby mosque.

khalim_ali_04The move to include knotted rugs in his work was based on images after that bombing, when from under the rubble a red carpet was uncovered, virtually the only family treasure to survive and a link to the rug-making traditions of Afghanistan. Ali wanted to draw on that tradition, but use his own visual language. The exhibition included a series of drawings, woven works, and a digital video loop showing the dyeing of yarns and weaving.

khalim_ali_07Ali Khadim tells a story of loss – of cultural heritage, of humanist values – and of seeking to understand his identity – in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and now Australia, and as Hazara. He explores shifts of meaning and perspective – who are the demons? – and the perversion of words through ideology. By including carpets and hangings woven in Afghanistan, he responds to his heritage, to the dangers and losses faced by his family, to their resilience and, I think, hope.

I found the exhibition interesting, thought provoking and painful in itself. It was also very relevant to my musings on the use of weaving in art works (see for example 4-Oct-2014).

khalim_ali_02I was able to go to a floor talk by Khadim Ali and learnt more about the actual weaving process. There were challenges finding a weaving shop in Afghanistan who were comfortable with weaving Ali’s imagery and the shading and mottling of colours, for example in the skin areas, did not fit with the traditional approach. Some embroidery and what looked to me like crochet were applied after weaving. I got the impression that they really had to work hard to get through both cultural and technical difficulties.

khalim_ali_05There were areas of weft faced plain weave using different wefts right next to dense knotted areas, some of which were sculptured in clipping, other parts such as the beard left shaggy. It led to some tension issues and distortion in the fabric, but that was totally beside the point. In fact it seems that it was incredibly powerful and freeing to have one person coming in with no weaving background but a very strong idea of what he wanted to achieve, combining with weavers who having once left behind a lot of what they “knew” traditionally were able move far beyond weaverly concerns while still using their skills.

khalim_ali_06Including weaving in the works made sense, emotional, intellectual, cultural and aesthetic sense. Plus having the three types of works/experiences together (weaving, painting, video) gave a lot of depth and context well beyond what a single work could supply. All the techniques added to the work, rather than the work existing because the artist wanted to use particular techniques. Things to keep in mind.

As a contrast in response to the artist’s cultural heritage of carpets, see Faig Ahmed – and

Polly Apfelbaum

This post is not quite stripes, not quite weaving.

I came across Polly Apfelbaum’s work while searching on stripes. Her room of stripes can be seen at and There are striped rugs on the floor and striped wallpaper on the walls. The stripes appear quite wide, creating a different visual and physical effect to those of say Jim Lambie (see 15-Apr-2014). Noreen Kress described the experience – ” the spatial boundaries of the architecture begin to disappear, blurred by the loud stripes of color. Complementary color choices paired side-by-side create visual tension—oranges buzzing against pale blues, vibrating with cool purples. In other moments of the painting, analogous colors rest next to each other, sharing a calm and gentle harmony. I reveled in the feeling of the undulating colors beginning to absorb and transform the physical boundaries around me—a feat of installation attempted by many and fully realized by few” (Kress 2014).

Lambie’s stripes made me acutely aware of every slight variation in the boundaries of the MCA gallery floor. Apfelbaum’s appear to dissolve the boundaries of the space.

However given my recent post on the interaction of weaving structures and non-textile art (see 4-Oct-2014), Apfelbaum’s recent exhibition A Handweaver’s Pattern Book, at Clifton Benevento is fascinating – see Almost any weaver reading this will recognise the reference to Marguerite Davison’s book first printed in 1944. This classic book is devoted to four shaft weaving patterns. Although the photos are monochrome and sometimes dark or blurry, and the notation method is different to the modern forms and tricky at first, the book is an absolute treasure trove.

Apfelbaum has taken inspiration from those photos and notations to create something quite different. Using a found punch-card Apfelbaum has created new patterns, drawing through the punched holes using marker pens, creating structured patterns on rayon synthetic velvet panels. Apfelbaum has referred to the works as “conceptual weavings”. There was a basic approach (a Serial Attitude?), a framework and method, but variations depending on mood, age of the marker (new or running out of ink), the thoughts of the passing moment. There are grids on the panels and the panels themselves are hung to form grids. As well as the fabric panels there are hanging beads that Apfelbaum has made, like marks that have fallen off. Altogether the works create an environment. Apfelbaum describes it as the viewer “walking in a painting” (quoted in Indrisek, 2014).

As a weaver I respond to the patterning, the sense of structure I see. There is wonderful variation in colour, and given the work is still textile there is drape and an expectation of hand. The idea of beads extending the work is a lovely piece of whimsy.

Again I am thinking of my weaving, my studies, potential paths, how to challenge and push myself…


Indrisek, S. (2014) Polly Apfelbaum Gets Up Off the Floor [online] Available from (Accessed 2-Oct-2014)

Kress, N. (2014) Seeing stripes–a celebration of Gene Davis at Temple Contemporary [online] Available from (Accessed 2-Oct-2014)

Exhibitions: Lines in Lane Cove

My final assignment in Understanding Art 1 – Western Art is with my tutor, so I have a small window of time to catch up on some exhibitions and events seen during the year.

Cove Lines March 2014

Cove Lines
March 2014

Cove Lines was one of a number of events in Lane Cove as part of Sydney Art Month. A community project, gallery staff conceived the display and developed a series of instructions. Students and staff at the community art centre, together with passers-by in the local plaza, followed the instructions to print banners, leading to the display in the Gallery Lane Cove forecourt shown here. According to accompanying material the curators, Felicity Martin and Laura Carey, were “inspired by the conceptual art practices of artists from the 1960’s like Sol Lewitt, who forged a new way of looking at art and the production of art”.

Upstairs in the Gallery was Grid Line Pattern: a serial approach. Also curated by Martin and Carey, this exhibition title was a reference to ‘A Serial Attitude’, a 1966 essay by Mel Bochner in which he “identified artists who were working in a serial way, ie, they were concerned with the repetition of a standard unity, where the aesthetic was the result of this process”. The artists included in the Lane Cove exhibition all worked with standard units of some kind, but continued to make aesthetic decisions throughout the making.

Wendy Kelly

Wendy Kelly
Mixed technique on canvas

Wendy Kelly showed a number of large canvases. The colour is rich, varied in detail, and intense. The patterning is very subtle. I believe Kelly stitches into the stretched canvas to create linear patterning and rhythms, then layers pigments, tissue paper, glazes etc to create the final luminous surface. An essay on Kelly’s website references the traditions of weaving and to me it certainly reads as weaving patterns on a very large scale. Kelly’s PhD work led to a publication “Abstraction and its Processes: An Historical and Practical Investigation into Abstract Visual Language”, and the Amazon blurb includes “Kelly demonstrates that her own highly process based serial imagery is seated within what is termed as the fourth generation of Abstraction, and addresses the current concerns of non-representational art”. I wonder if she started in textiles, as a weaver, or if her interests in abstraction and serial process led her to weaving structures as a resource.

Left and centre - works by Wendy Kelly Right - Kate Mackay Cube Tower

Left and centre – works by Wendy Kelly
Right – Kate Mackay Cube Tower

Kate Mackay is "concerned with the exploration of pattern making and repetition. Her work has become progressively concerned with process, and random difference within uniformity." (from material provided at the exhibition). I found the installation shown above the most interesting of her work, as it led me to move around exploring and discovering new views through gaps strategically left. In a brief scan I found on her blog some references to gender considered practices and modernist painting practices, plus some work weaving paper – see

Nadia Odlum Urban Moiré Studies

Nadia Odlum
Urban Moiré Studies

Nadia Odlum Perspex installation

Nadia Odlum
Perspex installation

Nadia Odlum was the third artist included in the exhibition. Nadia obviously works with optical manipulations and from material on her blog seeks to make the viewer “complicit in the questioning of their own mental and perceptual faculties.” ( The small studies shown above were clear plastic boxes with lines applied on the surface, and different broader striping on the back. Similar ideas on a larger scale were used in the installation also included in the exhibition. The interacting stripes and shadow shape space in a way reminiscent of traditional cross-hatching in drawing, and of course as a weaver I saw many connections to textile work as well. On her website Odlum includes some photographs of stripes added to the environment using coloured tape (see An intensified awareness of space and location is created, the applied lines echoing lines found in the envionment.

Ruth Feeney XXXXX

Ruth Feeney

Also part of Art Month in Lane Cove was a work by Ruth Feeney – “inspired by domestic textile crafts like knitting and quilting, XXXX explores methods of pattern making through the repetition of a singular unit” (from the exhibition blurb). I would of course add weaving (in particular block weaves) as textile work repeating units.

All of the exhibition had me thinking of my weaving, my studies, and all the potential paths ahead. Thinking of Bocher’s Serial Attitude – how important to me is the process, the repetition of weaving? Can I use some of his ideas as a starting point for some kind of weaving exploration? Kelly’s work had me thinking about scale. A weaver spends so much time designing structure that is often invisible to the casual observer. Can I scale up weaving to bring those structural considerations to the fore? All the artworks seen above have clear links to textile work – but none are textile work. How committed am I to textiles versus textile processes?


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October 2014

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