Archive for September, 2016

Exhibition: Tracey Deep Shadow Poem

Tracey Deep Moon river

Tracey Deep
Moon river

The opening of this exhibition last weekend at Sturt Gallery was warm, friendly, beautiful. Sunshine on spring gardens, the large light gallery space full of texture and movement, a particularly relaxed and friendly crowd, works inviting, intriguing, rewarding our attention and thought.

Tracey Deep and Slavica Zivkovic (gallery manager) in front of Shadow song

Tracey Deep and Slavica Zivkovic (gallery manager) in front of Shadow song

Tracey Deep’s background is in floral sculpture and installation. That sensibility is still seen in her eye and the shapes she creates as well as some of her materials, but here she has created less ephemeral but still organic, lively and often visually, if not physically, fragile pieces.

Tracey Deep Exhibition view

Tracey Deep
Exhibition view

The exhibition was opened by Robin Powell, garden columnist. I particularly appreciated her talk as she really did introduce the artist and her work – both new to me. Robin spoke of the way Tracey is able to show us the world, the garden, with new eyes. There is a sense of surprise, of discovery.

Tracey Deep Wind spirit

Tracey Deep
Wind spirit

Tracey Deep Wind spirit (detail)

Tracey Deep Wind spirit (detail)

Tracey gives new life, a double life, to what has outlived its first. Before the opening formalities I had looked carefully at Wind Spirit, admired the liveliness of the lines, what looked like barbed wire but was actually a mass of very carefully wound and finished ends, rusty metal tendrils in a wreath.

How could I have missed the (not so) unmistakeable coils of bed springs?

Tracey Deep Wisdom

Tracey Deep

Not all the materials were so hard to identify – Wisdom, here on a plinth but with potential for wall display, undulates over its base of bra underwires. Other raw materials included an outdoor chair, beaded seat rest, frayed ghost net. Tracey was very friendly, happy to chat with us (I was with Claire of Tactual Textiles), and she confirmed she is always looking, alert to found materials with potential.

Tracey Deep Moonscape

Tracey Deep

As the exhibition title suggests, shadow is a significant concern of the artist. Light falls on and through the works, layered, like shadows in nature. Robin Powell suggested shadows are the spirit of Tracey’s work. The ample light in the gallery, both natural and artificial, made the most of this feature.

Tracey Deep Shadow spirit

Tracey Deep
Shadow spirit

There was a real sense of unity and yet diversity in the works on display. I particularly like the way Tracey revisited ideas in different materials and scales. For example Shadow Spirit used quite a wide wire mesh, formed into a shape, in this case an open-topped box or vessel, and then interlaced with a feathery string. Those light laces created movement, defined the space contained without hiding it, gave an air of fragility.

Tracey Deep Sacred Spirit

Tracey Deep
Sacred Spirit

Visually similar materials at a smaller scale were used to create a series of pouches or bags, Sacred Spirit. That pouch shape was also seen in Bush Spirit, back in a mid-scale and in wooden beads.

Tracey Deep Moon shadow (detail)

Tracey Deep
Moon shadow (detail)

The idea of open metal frame interlaced with feathery yarn was used again at large scale in Moon shadow (seen in the background of the exhibition view photograph above). This work formed a deep relief on the wall, with complex layers and once again those ever-present, ephemeral, shadows.

I found so much to admire, to learn from, in this artist and her work. With my upcoming (in a few months) welded sculpture workshop I am very excited about the possibilities in combining metal forms and textile elements. Many of the pieces used textile techniques, particularly weaving (one example among many Tree Spirit) and wrapping – Woodwind II would make a great case study for one of the Mixed Media for Textiles assignments.

However I think more important is the approach – Tracey Deep’s work displays great care and attention to detail, thoughtfulness laced through with humour and joy.

The exhibition is on until 13 November, a rewarding destination for a springtime drive.

Weekly roundup 25 September 2016

Lecture: Glenn Barkley The Laverty and Ann Lewis Collections (part of the AGNSW Collectors & Collections series).
This was a heart-felt and very personal lecture, as much about people and relationships as the art. Some staggering images of homes filled with mainly Australian art. Glenn Barkley’s musings as a curator about the combinations of works were particularly fascinating.

Exhibition: Jonathan Jones barrangal dyara (skin and bones)
This Kaldor public art program provides an amazing and varied experience. It’s impossible to sum up, I don’t have words – yet language is one of the most moving parts.

Jonathan Jones has reminded Sydney of its history – the 19th century Garden Palace building in our Royal Botanic Garden, built to house the Sydney International Exhibition in 1879, burnt to the ground in just a few hours in 1882. Among the losses was a huge collection of indigenous artifacts as well as early records of European Australians.

jonathanjones_01Jones has recreated the physical footprint of the building. Aerial photographs here show the massive scale of the project. At the heart of the space, where the dome once soared, is a circular garden now planted with kangaroo grass. A soundscape suggests the grinding of seeds into flour, voices of women teaching children, then a whoosh of fire. Most of the artifacts lost were related to men, presenting an image of savages overcome. Here women are the core of the community, peoples who cultivated land, made bread, used controlled fire as a means of rebirth of plant-life.

jonathanjones_02The perimeter of the building is marked by thousands of white shields. Made of gypsum they suggest ceremony as well as war. There are a variety of shapes, reflecting many clans, but they don’t have individual markings.

jonathanjones_03I particularly liked areas where the shields had grass growing up around them, and where they balanced at all angles on enormous tree roots, becoming an integral part of the land. It was such a powerful statement of place – this exhibition could only ever be here. There was also a powerful sense of being welcomed – by the elders of the Gadigal clan to Gadigal land, Aboriginal land, and also by the many invigilators and volunteers, some of whom share that heritage.

jonathanjones_04With one young man with a personal connection we discussed the importance of language. He was so proud and happy to share with us. There are eight soundscapes within the area, and Jones collaborated with various language groups, contemporary Aboriginal voices in the landscape.

There is an extensive range of talks and events included in the project. The breadth and depth of thought and attention is impressive. Also impressive is the positive vision shared. While traumatic, the devastating fire can be seen as a cultural burn, cleansing, providing space for regeneration of a more complex, inclusive culture.

Other art I’ve been seeing lately I’ve ended by looking for learning for my own work. This event is so far beyond that. My lesson is not to always analyse, glean, plan, take inspiration. Experience, feel, live.

Practical project

Kangaroo grass

Kangaroo grass

Early reading and experiment with collage was recorded 22-Sept-2016. I planned a mono-printing session, building a collection of related patterned papers for future collage use.

While exploring barrangal dyara (skin and bones) I collected some pieces of dried kangaroo grass that had fallen on the path, thinking they could be used in the printing.

Knotless net

Knotless net

Thinking of the dilly-bags that might have been used to collect seed heads, I wanted to try knotless netting again as another texturing device for mono-printing. The net would have to be quite open to ensure the pattern printed and didn’t create a total resist. It would also need to be flat. A recent experiment with that didn’t go so well (11-Sep-2016). This time, rather than trying to modify the stitch to go backwards and forwards across the work I attached the centre of a new length of thread every second row and worked in my natural left-to-right direction for every row. The ends of the thread were worked into a thick braid down the right-hand side, although perhaps in a future attempt I will try creating a fringe. I used a commercial waxed linen thread, which is very obedient and easy to use.

monoprint_20160924_01Mono-printing, all sorts of oddments of paper were used – paper bags, tissue, coloured card, various weights… I used the gelatin plate, akua pigments, the kangaroo grass, netting, a couple of texturing things. Ink colours were lamp black, red oxide and burnt umber – they seemed to fit with the fire and earth of the Garden Palace.

The prints are still drying, but the next and very big question is will I be able to make sense of it all in a collage???

A few closeups:

Reading: Laura Breede “ArchiTextile: Clothed walls from the middle ages to today” In Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg Art & Textiles: Fabric as material and concept in modern art from Klimt to the present Art & Textiles Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz Verlag.

There is reference to Gottfried Semper in 1860, placing textile art as a primeval art, a source for all other arts. Yurts, tapestry wall coverings, curtain walls of glass.

Most of the modern examples are use by artists of Jacquard weaving. I always have trouble with this – what does weaving bring to the artwork beyond the original source painting or photograph? Here at least part appears to be the deception or surprise at close examination. Still, I want textiles to have some unique edge or reason, not just a double-take by the viewer. It shouldn’t be a simple translation – and from the photos it’s hard to tell what transformation the weave ha provided.

Collage: Not mine. Some wonderful examples of digital collage with a surreal edge at

Finally I went to the opening of another exhibition today, Tracey Deep’s Shadow Poem at Sturt Gallery. A wonderful exhibition and experience which needs its own post.


Collage. The very word makes me nervously check my fingers for stickiness.

Some initial reading and investigation has broadened my understanding of the widely varying ends supported by collage and assemblage.

A whole range of materials, real world elements – fabric, paper, bits of ephemera – all arranged and glued on a surface. The potential for invention. Transforming. Tension of previous and changed states.

Mary Delany Poinciana Pulcherrima (Decandria Monogynia) © Trustees of the British Museum

Mary Delany
Poinciana Pulcherrima (Decandria Monogynia)
© Trustees of the British Museum

Examples known from 12th century Japan, crafts and folk arts, the garden of Mary Delaney (see 28-Aug-2016).

  • Used by cubists to emphasise the flatness of the surface. Incongruity – serious art using folk art technique. Breaking boundaries.
  • Picasso, Braque, Juan Gris.
    Eric Wilson.
    What would it be like to play with a non-flat supporting surface – corrugated cardboard or an apple tray?

  • Dada – absurd, satirical
  • Kurt Schwitters
    Raoul Hausmann

  • Surrealists – a strange new reality. Chance, juxtaposition, unfamiliar
  • Max Ernst, Roland Penrose
    James Gleeson
    Sidney Nolan, quilted engravings

  • Pop art – exploring imagery of popular culture, parody
  • Eduardo Paolozzi, Richard Hamilton (note later digital work)

  • nouveau réalisme – torn poster technique. Layers. Compositional unity. Capturing a place and time. Typography. Of the street. Spontaneous. Link to readymades. Anonymous public expression (in tearing of posters). Implicitly political.
  • Jacques Mahé de la Villeglé, Raymond Hains, François Dufrêne, Arman, Yves Klein, Jean Tinguely

  • Contemporary. Approaches include altering to challenge assumptions of viewer; a formal exploration; political.
  • Formal exploration:
    David Aspden. Colour and shape arrangements. Use of torn edge – three dimensional quality.
    Rosalie Gascoigne (assemblages). Imaginative associations, evocative.

    Spiritual realm:
    Rose Nolan, Eugene Carchesio

    Political themes:
    Katherine Hattam (autobiographical, feminist), Tony Albert

    Layla Curtis

    Barry Martin Movement Collage (1965) Representations of movement – selection of images, orientation and placement circling the centre, torn edges, angles all build speed and motion, sculptural potential of the surface. links to pop art and nouveau réalisme.

    Nigel Henderson Really drawn to this work, and to the explanation of the artist’s process and ideas in the full catalogue entry. Scrutinising or looking into something that has caught his attention, disturbed him. Building up fields of interesting visual data from which you may assemble later. Enlarging, stacking, linking up lines in oil paint… Fits with my intention of creating base materials with printing, but with additional depth of relationship.

    Robert Klippel. Sculpture and collage symbiotic.

    I’m definitely drawn to the more abstract formal explorations. Nigel Henderson’s work and that of Elwyn Lewis which I saw at AGNSW last night particularly excite.

    To break the ice I decided to use known source material and focus on pattern. A plain background with textured but flat collage materials.
    * Base: a large buff yellow envelope, opened out.
    * Collage materials: mono-printed brushmarks on newspaper. Painted lines based on previous nude sketches. Lines cut out with a scalpel (I briefly tried tearing them out, but with all the texture of the newsprint and the brushmarks a crisper line looked better).

    collage 20160922

    collage 20160922

    I like the flat texture. Much time was spent trying out arrangements and there was some unintended shifting during the pasting process. Overall it’s quite lively and some interesting shapes created. There’s some flow and movement. I tried an overall arrangement but marginally preferred leaving that area on the left so I could move up to the right. Not entirely successful.

    There is some lifting in a couple of places creating shadow lines which detract from the flatness. Some of the combinations where different pieces of paper overlap are clumsy. That piece of coloured newsprint centre right was unintended. I quite like it – just wish it was intentional.

    collage 20160922 detail

    collage 20160922 detail

    The nude sketching lines and monoprinting process produces very attractive texture. I’ll use this idea again.

    Having an initial overview of the terrain, I’ll start researching artists whose work particularly attracts me. I’d like to devise a brief based on each, making my own explorations.

    Helen Campbell (2016 a) “Stuck on you” In Look Art Gallery Society of New South Wales 0916
    Helen Campbell (2016 b) Art of parts: collage and assemblage from the collection Art Gallery NSW [online]
    Tate Collage

    Weekly roundup 18 September 2016

    Setting a new course (15-Sep-2016) has been a major preoccupation this week. [I typed “course” thinking of direction, but nice that it’s also a program of study]. It’s early days and I’m still feeling my way. Managing time and a sense of progress will need ongoing attention. In the structure of a formal college course I could see what was coming, tick off an exercise as “good enough”, choose to deviate from requirements… I could wrap up something with a comment about maybe coming back to it later. Now I need to take a breath, focus not only on the journey but the way in which I journey, work meaningfully at what seems right to me. Hold my nerve.

    Lecture Jane Clark Mona: Art, experiment, advocacy. (part of the AGNSW Collectors & Collections series).
    Mona is the Museum of Old and New Art. What an amazing place. A group of us have been vaguely talking about a visit, but now it’s Must Go Soon.

    Jane Clark, Senior Research Curator, has been involved from the early days and gave us an overview without too many spoilers (her term). The collection is fluid, exciting, personal. David Walsh, the owner, works with what he’s excited by, he wants to keep learning. He aims to change peoples’ minds – not what to think, but to think. To visit is to experience sensory shock, disequilibrium, art that is visceral, intellectual, playful.

    Opening soon is On the origin of art, and it sounds like a must-experience event.

    Catherine Speck (ed.) (2011) Selected letters of Hans Heysen and Nora Heysen Canberra: National Library of Australia
    My mother and I are sharing this book prior to a visit to Adelaide (home of Hans Heysen) next month. Lots about the Australian art scene from the 1930s to 1960s – the exhibitions, personalities, associations, the traditionalists and the abstract painters, the challenges of making a living and finding time to paint as a woman with domestic responsibilities (more letters have survived from Nora to her parents than vice versa). An interesting, gentle insight on the family life of artists.

    No major insights for my own work, other than to maintain confidence and to continue questioning and challenging oneself, to keep working, to keep finding time.

    Laura Breede “Spiderwomen: Bourgeois-Trockel-Hatoum-Amer” In Brüderlin, M (ed) (2013) Art & Textiles: Fabric as material and concept in modern art from Klimt to the present Stuttgart: Hatje Cantz Verlag.

    20160915This short essay touched on negative associations around textiles and femininity. Women’s work. And the ways in which this has been challenged, subverted, by artists including those mentioned in the title.

    Some interesting ideas around duality, contrasts, clashes. Break || Repair – with fear behind both. Absence || Presence – simultaneously. That last led to ideas around layering and hiding, the angles of view of a sculpture. How can one surprise, with first impressions deceiving?

    Stepping back to think about working methods: I like many aspects of this book. The section I am currently reading has a series of short essays, each followed by pages of photographs of related works. Being primed by the reading material really changes the viewing experience. I also tried to slow down, make associations, note ideas – a number of which could be relevant when I get on to practical collage work.

    Markus Brüderlin “Fabrics between material and spirit: The preserving, healing, and maltreated canvas” In Brüderlin, M (ed) (2013) Art & Textiles: Fabric as material and concept in modern art from Klimt to the present Stuttgart: Hatje Cantz Verlag.

    20160915-2More dualities – Destruction || Transcendency. Material || Immaterial. Banality || Transcendency. Injury || Healing. Exposing || Concealing (noting the difference a word makes – expose or reveal).

    Lucio Fontana slashed the canvas, “painting’s sacred surface”. The act questions value, sacredness. A link made between the stretched canvas and crucifixion seems a little extreme. But I wonder – many weavers find it difficult to cut into their cloth. I’ve carefully kept small offcuts. What would it be like to sacrifice that, to paint over it?


    The intention this weekend was to finish the small printed mulberry paper vessel I began last week (11-Sep-2016). Progress has been made, work continues. I will distract attention from this by pointing out my new/revived working method of having paper and pencils by me as I work. Some notes about the work in hand such as slowly varying strength of colour by manipulating which side of the print is showing. Some ideas for future projects, such as painting a gradation on the paper before cutting and coiling. And finally notes trying to be aware of the world around, such as the seeds in my apple.

    Exhibition: Suzanne Archer the alchemy of the studio
    Thursday was the opening of this exhibition at the Macquarie University Art Gallery.

    Suzanne Archer Coalesce (not quite full view)

    Suzanne Archer
    Coalesce (not quite full view)

    I found it hard to take in – many of the works are large, there is so much detail and patterning and colour, it’s often dark (in many senses, including emotion). I found it repellent and fascinating. I felt rather immature and shallow before the weight of emotion. The opening speeches didn’t help me towards understanding – they seemed somewhat marginal to Archer (who didn’t speak), and more about how much one might remember of the sixties and speculation on an uncertain future.

    Suzanne Archer Coalesce (detail)

    Suzanne Archer
    Coalesce (detail)

    Basically I can’t comment on the work because I can’t see it as a whole. I can’t comprehend it. But even without understanding I’m convinced there is a huge amount I can learn from. I walked around looking at details and kept finding more and more.

    Suzanne Archer Derangement (detail)

    Suzanne Archer
    Derangement (detail)

    There’s a great video of Archer talking about her drawing process here. The layering and revision – ink wash, compressed charcoal, white pastel, acrylic (not in the work in the video), the changing, dropping and adding of elements – the works show a journey, sometimes battle, a process of discovery.

    Suzanne Archer Guardians (detail)

    Suzanne Archer
    Guardians (detail)

    Archer has developed an arsenal of motifs and marks that she uses again and again. Animal skulls, her own face, that pattern of crosses which isn’t cross-hatching but might work similarly. Many of them are loaded with meaning – Archer’s own, the objects she has collected, but also the viewer’s.

    Suzanne Archer

    Suzanne Archer

    As well as the hung paintings and drawings there were two vitrines holding concertina books. These showed most clearly the collage elements which are so relevant to my current investigation. Archer’s early work used a lot of collaged text from newspapers and posters. The collage is less apparent in Radiating Memories which appears to have hessian collaged in areas under the oil paint. The texture and slight emphasis it gave really appealed to me.

    Suzanne Archer Shelf VI - Mask (detail)

    Suzanne Archer
    Shelf VI – Mask (detail)

    What I found most fascinating were the assemblages almost hidden in one corner of the room. Quite large, in integrated perspex (?) boxes, back-wall and floor patterned, populated with wrapped figures and objects.

    Shelf VI – Mask is dramatic in red and black. At the back a bird plummeting, bound, an upside-down crucifix. A figure presents… what? Is that the mask. Another large bird seems to look out quizzically at the viewer. I was bewildered by it, but attracted by the strong patterns and colour.

    Suzanne Archer Shelf II - Angel (detail)

    Suzanne Archer
    Shelf II – Angel (detail)

    Shelf II – Angel includes newspaper, jute string, pva, acrylic paint, timber, steel, canvas, hessian. There was another plummeting bird, a figure, a fish gasping for air, all camouflaged in a grid of hessian and broken white paint. The texture was amazing, so striking as to be almost aggressive.

    Archer apparently works intuitively. Should one even look for a message? Do we each bring or find our own?

    Suzanne Archer Libretto of Lunacy (detail)

    Suzanne Archer
    Libretto of Lunacy (detail)

    The ongoing adventure

    At the beginning of May I posted my first Weekly Roundup (3-Apr-2016). Looking back over the five months since I see decent progress. It’s been a time of consciously self-directed activity, developing streams of work, noticing and following what catches my attention. Lectures, exhibitions, reading, sketching, workshops, some developing strands of investigation on folds and grids… Not rushing towards a specific goal, but being accountable to myself, not drifting, with a post most weeks to review and consolidate.

    In my last post I mentioned that the new/revamped OCA level 2 course has been released and I am under-whelmed. It could be absolutely perfect for someone else, but not for me. I’ve spent some time reflecting on my interests, where I want to develop.

  • Textiles in contemporary art. There’s the push of the fibre arts movement. There’s a broadening of media in art. Cecilia Heffer’s discussion at the GROUP exchange symposium keeps coming to mind (22-May-2015), also Conor Wilson’s paper Sloppy Discipline (14-Aug-2016).
  • Sculpture and objects, installation, temporal and spatial exploration.
  • A long-standing interest in additive construction – felting, spinning, weaving, now basketry
  • Studio-based practice
  • Working towards becoming a self-aware practicing artist.
  • Experimental, innovative, engaged with materials and techniques – both traditional and emerging, with a textile sensibility
  • Mindful of the context of contemporary ideas and work.
  • I like structured learning, but the OCA course is not a good fit at the moment and I haven’t found an alternative.

    So time to structure my own learning. Similar to the past few months, but more so.

    Areas of investigation:

  • Art & textiles – complete reading Art & Textiles: Fabric as material and concept in modern art from Klimt to the present, then more on textile art history
  • Sculpture, particularly involving fibre. I have a small pile of books referenced in Fiber: Sculpture 1960 – present
  • Collage and assemblage. An exhibition opens soon at AGNSW, Art of parts: collage and assemblage from the collection (link). I’ve never come to grips with collage, but this really fits with the additive construction angle.
  • Ramping up the rigour of my process:

  • Follow the research guidelines of the OCA Contemporary Context course (the particular projects aren’t for me, but the approach looks strong).
  • Similarly the OCA drawing/sketchbook guidelines.
  • And their assessment criteria. Obviously no tutor or assessors, but I can use the criteria in my own reflection.
  • Supplement with strategically chosen classes:

  • Short basketry classes (previously booked)
  • Beginner drawing classes. To check/set basic skills, building towards life drawing classes next year (which I think would be really helpful in seeing form for sculpture)
  • Creative research masterclass with Ruth Hadlow (in November, previously booked). This will definitely up the rigour of my work and provide external critique.
  • Basketry summer school at Sturt (link). Foundation skills and exploration of sculptural forms.
  • Welding sculptures summer school at National Art School (link). Very excited about this.
  • Plus the regular lectures at AGNSW, exhibitions etc. This blog will remain my learning log, probably including the weekly roundup with separate specific posts as warranted.

    An ambitious program that should provide an integration of theoretical and contextual research with practical investigation. And with all of this I want to stay focused, structured, coherent, playful, lateral, pushing boundaries.

    Given the summer classes are in January, this should keep me usefully occupied for at least five months. Then I can reassess, and could always return to OCA if it seemed a good idea.

    A ridiculously ambitious program – but it excites me.

    Weekly roundup 11 September 2016

    Lecture: Jessica Priebe The artist as collector (part of the AGNSW Collectors & Collections series).

    This lecture looked at the collections and collecting habits of seven artists, from Rubens to Hirst.
    Only a couple of specific notes. Andy Warhol’s interest in the container rather than the contained – how we have to learn what catches our attention, not necessarily obvious. Edgar Degas would get a photograph if he couldn’t get the original – don’t be precious or purist, do what works for you. Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon an example of collection items incorporated in his artistic practice – reference, transform, use.

    I’ve posted separately about Sally Simpson Objects for an Unknown Future Museum (11-Sept-2016).

    The State Library of NSW has a number of garden-themed exhibitions on. Planting dreams: Grand garden designs has some wonderful photos and film, but many of the gardens were too perfect for me. We only had a short time in the Planting dreams: Shaping Australian gardens, but the cultural history lens was very interesting. I hope to return.

    Basketry NSW catch-up:
    My first time with this group. You can see some photos of what others were doing on their facebook page.

    Printed mulberry paper

    Printed mulberry paper

    Knotless netting

    Knotless netting

    Enjoyable catching up with a couple of friends and making new ones.

    I took my mono-printed mulberry project (4-Sep-2016) to work on, but not enough of it. A couple of members showed me knotless netting, so I tried that and have since experimented with different tensions and number of knots, plus an attempt at a strip rather than circular.

    So much to learn!

    Part way through a book, so more when that is finished. However the main focus has been…

    the new/revamped OCA level 2 Textiles course has been released – Contemporary Context. I’ve been reading and re-reading the sample provided, then writing lists of where my interests lie, what the course covers, and what alternatives I might have. My preferred path is firmly in contemporary art. The course includes some of that, but also interior design and fashion textiles. I’m sure I’d learn lots relevant to me – but not necessarily core, and possibly not enough to excite and motivate me through long and difficult studies.

    Not a straight-forward decision, and not one I want to rush into.

    Exhibition: Sally Simpson – Objects for an Unknown Future Museum

    Sally Simpson Coral Reliquary with Puffer Fish

    Sally Simpson
    Coral Reliquary with Puffer Fish

    This exhibition opened at the Stanley Street Gallery during the week. Attending the opening, I had hoped to hear the artist speak about her work. Instead I was fortunate to have quite long conversations first with Merilyn Bailey, one of the Gallery directors, and then with Sally Simpson herself. We talked about the work and what it could mean, and Sally also gave me some insights on her work processes.

    A room of upright humanoid figures, some masks on the wall. Most of the figures were 70 – 120 cm high, on plinths so often taller than the viewer. Labels were placed low, prompting visitors to stoop before the figures. It took me some time to understand the “reliquary” of the titles – the figures each held encased objects in their navels, a core that was difficult to discern.

    Sally Simpson Cephalopoda Reliquary with Stingray Bones

    Sally Simpson
    Cephalopoda Reliquary with Stingray Bones

    As well as this sense of the sacred – looking up, bowing before, holy relics, mysteries – there was the positioning in an unknown future, a museum. How will we be remembered? Sally is careful to open the question without giving her own answers. The use in the work of found materials, a mix of discarded ropes and lines, of animal bones and driftwood, the relics, raises questions of how we treat the planet and what we value.

    I was very conscious of an ethnographic vibe, representing our culture to future study. This led to an interesting article on ethnographic museums today (Thomas, 2016) and ideas beyond appropriation to cultural diversity, history, creativity. Sally Simpson’s works seen as communication, encounter, dialogue with present and future feels more hopeful than judgments of our failures as custodians.

    The figures incorporate found fish, bird and animal bones as well as driftwood, which as well as giving an atavistic feel provided detail and visual complexity. Collected rope had been transformed using a wide array of techniques – unravelling, coiling, binding, stitching… – and is closely and smoothly integrated with the found objects. At first the human form seemed broadly suggested, but I started finding details – the curve of a muscled calf, defined knees ready to spring upwards, the indented line of a spine. There was energy but not movement, perhaps poised to leap upwards rather than forwards.

    Sally explained that she worked for a year or more, playing with her collected materials, sampling, grouping key objects. It took time to find the techniques and forms that were successful, then work went more quickly. Apparently having recent visitors to her studio made Sally aware of the “mess” that had accumulated, and it seems the process of clearing up and revisiting early samples both revealed the development done and suggested more possibilities. For example the works exhibited were neutral, blue and turquoise, in keeping with an ocean-side theme (I thought I could smell the sea still on some pieces). In the studio is a bag of warm colours, waiting for future possibilities.

    Sally Simpson The moment in-between (detail)

    Sally Simpson
    The moment in between (detail)

    At one end of the gallery space three kneeling figures were displayed – The moment in-between. Supplicants or worshipers? The kneeling form has been seen in earlier work, Precipice, but those seem bound in bandages while these seem naked, perhaps vulnerable, in wax. But not vulnerable, not supplicants. Their strong boney features and upright stance seemed more challenging and self-possessed. I try to find narrative – figures of the future both revering and judging their history – but don’t feel satisfied with this.

    As a student and given this is my learning log, I need to think critically about what I have learnt, what I can use from this experience.

    The value of going to an opening. Arrive early and there’s the chance to see the works before the room gets too crowded. It’s interesting to watch how others respond to the the exhibition, perhaps catch some snippets of conversations. A talk or opening address. Then if I’m lucky there’s the opportunities for being part of conversations, learning more about the works and also trying to learn to make some sensible or relevant remarks myself.

    sally_simpson_04The value of networking in all sorts of ways. I found out about Sally Simpson and her work through the learning log/blog another OCA student, How lucky to hear about an opportunity a week before the show opens, rather than a week after it closes 🙂 . It also made a great story to start a conversation.

    Reminders of the value of sketchbook work (see Sally’s website), of working in series, of sampling, exploration and experimentation.

    This work is very much in that watershed or liminal space that interests me, where a textile sensibility can speak in a fine arts world (the press release quotes Sally’s comments on the “labour-intensive, devotional process” of her grandmother’s dress-making, “that the domestic and the devotional could exist in the same space, in the same process”).

    I need to learn and think a lot more about scale, the display height of the objects, works seen from all angles and works seen in the context of other works.

    Taking the time to play with materials, sampling, moving on. Questing.

    Disparate materials combined. Found materials transformed. The common scale and complexity of mark of the materials as well as careful combinations and joining methods made coherent wholes, not a jumble.

    Artist’s website:
    Gallery and exhibition:
    Media release:

    Nicholas Thomas (2016) “We need ethnographic museums today – whatever you think of their history” In Apollo: the international art magazine [online]

    Weekly roundup 4 September 2016

    A very quiet week. Yet another cold, this time knocking me flat for a few days. So no evening lecture at AGNSW, precious little drawing, reading or thinking.

    Lecture: Chet van Duzer Sea monsters on medieval and Renaissance maps
    Fortunately I was well enough by yesterday to go to this lecture at the State Library of New South Wales, accompanying my mother (long-time map lover and collector).

    The lecture was excellent. Very well structured, many high quality illustrations, and an unexpectedly fascinating subject. Quite a few seem good starting points for exploration. The schematic nature of mappamundi, especially the T-O structure. A different way of viewing and categorizing the world. On nautical maps the run lines as an organisational mechanism, a network, connections. Some lovely line drawings and patterning. Based on the science of the time (now seen as fantasy?). These elaborately decorated maps were for wealthy men of learning, not for navigation of ships. Journeys of the imagination – and what are our monsters?

    New project: Continuing from the last paper coiled vessel.

  • A single paper. I want to focus on shaping and stitching.
  • Bringing in mono-printing, especially the brushmark (following Vivien Haley class 27-Aug-2016). I’m curious about how much if any of the mark-making will be apparent in the end result.
  • Group experiments

    Group experiments

  • Thinking about folds, dimensions. The photo shows my little collection of recent experiments. My new coiling will make two dimensions three (being casual about the depth of the paper). Or it could be seen as a line (one dimension – thread), a plane (two dimensions – paper), folded (spun) and coiled to create three dimensions. Perhaps breaks and gaps cutting through to behind.
  • Also memory. Vivien talked about the printed brushmark as a memory, a record of something gone. I see a connection with dimensions, making time more visible in the work. I also like the idea of memory as experienced today. There’s the original event, but often the memory we have of it today is quite different. Did it really happen like that, or look like this? Memories aren’t the past. They are happening today, influencing us today. The act of remembering.
  • Printed mulberry paper

    Printed mulberry paper

    Today I printed a full sheet of white mulberry paper. The overview shows an undifferentiated mass. The details below show there is some variation. The big outstanding question is just how much will be apparent when spun and coiled. At the moment I’m more curious than anything. Some colour has seeped to the reverse side, but it is mainly white. I can always play with that. Or add plain white at points if that seems a good idea.
    vessel plans 20160904

    vessel plans 20160904

    I’m also curious about whether the printing will impact on the joomchi / paper felting technique.

    A quick sketch today of possible forms to aim for. That joomchi question needs investigation before any decisions are made.

    Other sketching
    I tried one more day with Cafe Croquis quick sketches, in felt tip pen on cartridge paper, but started feeling very rushed. If part of the purpose is improving observation… well, it didn’t seem that was happening. Next attempt was charcoal on kraft paper, spending around 20 minutes on a single photo. Some very odd things going on, and certainly not my favourite result. Still, it was easier to make sure I was really trying to see what I was looking at. After a few absent days I eased myself back in trying out some new-to-me tinted graphite pencils and some charcoal pencils.

    Uta Ruhkamp “Soft bodies and inner textile worlds” In Brüderlin, M (ed) (2013) Art & Textiles: Fabric as material and concept in modern art from Klimt to the present Stuttgart: Hatje Cantz Verlag.
    A brief essay, this considers the closeness to the corporeal that using soft materials allows. Works made reference to art history – Dorothea Tanning’s Nue couchee linking to the classic reclining female nude, and Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Venus der Lumpen, which contrasted a classical sculpture of Venus with a pile of old clothes, symbol of affluence and waste. Ruhkamp finds fabric phalluses, protective amulets, metaphorical chains of memory, and aggregations of time and love in the textile works discussed.

    In the following pages a headcovering from the Kingdom of Cameroon, collected in 1904, is juxtaposed with a 1965 grid of spotted phallus by Yayoi Kusama, the layered textile patterns in Felix Vallotton’s Nude from behind in an interior (1902) with the sculptural textile collage of Sonia Gomes’s Tecidos Leves Atados em Forca. I have trouble connecting with or being able to visually process Gomes’s work, but with its neighbour I started to see some flow and integration. As always it would be great to see these works in person, to experience the scale and dimensionality.

    A later quote from Magdalena Abakanowicz empasises the importance of shaping directly, with her hands, revealing the unconscious. Many of the works suggest there was an unconscious or instinctive element to their making, although I suspect the artists’ eyes and hands have been honed by many years of work. This thought reminded me of the essay by Conor Wilson that I mentioned recently (14-Aug-2016). He writes about craft production “based on repetition”, the work becoming un-selfconscious, “released from the tyranny of concept”. The works connected with Ruhkamp’s essay don’t show that honed skill or freedom from concept, but I see a kind of surety, of conviction that I would like to experience.

    Laura Breede “Texture: The surface of space” In Brüderlin, M (ed) (2013) Art & Textiles: Fabric as material and concept in modern art from Klimt to the present Stuttgart: Hatje Cantz Verlag.
    This essay is subtitled “The sixties and seventies: Minimal art and postminimalism”. Some lovely language, which has had me musing (again!) about all the different things that art can be, and of course testing each to see what draws my attention – “spontaneous gestures” (art informel and abstract expressionism), “a highly reduced language of forms” (minimal art), “paint [used] exclusively in an object-describing manner to depict figurative, narrative pictorial elements”, “a means to visualize movement, space, and materiality”, “articulating spiritual content”.

    There’s also mention of the close relationship of postminimalism to “the serial-geometric structures of textiles, which are defined by the material itself.” At a near inspection that’s a simple description, but I remember what a surprise it was when I started weaving. I thought I was already textile obsessive and fairly knowledgeable, but the detail level of interlacement, tension, twist, material properties was new. How do we keep focus on the details that make a difference – which changes according to our different purposes?

    Texture as the surface of space, how to generate space from the surface, “how the thread steps beyond the texture into space” – questions of interest to artists including Lucio Fontana and Fred Sandback. What loose ends could be teased out and explored from a modern, textile-y lens?

    The repetition and seriality of processes. Contemplation. Ceremonial.

    Piero Manzoni’s Achromes look intriguing, especially given recent experiments with plaster during Mixed Media for Textiles. Another way to explore and capture folds, space. Fred Sandback and the geometric forms that structure space. Robert Morris and interplay with gravity. Strands to explore.


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