Archive for the 'exhibitions' Category


Today I saw the Menagerie Exhibition at the Australian Museum.

The impact of lighting and shadows has been a recurring interest in my OCA work (for example 17-Feb-2013). There were some wonderful examples in Menagerie – all the more impressive because it’s in the Vernon wing (built 1896-1910), a huge room with tremendously high ceilings and lots of high windows. Photography was permitted (no flash).

Taking this photo I was concentrating on the shadow of Emu (2007) by Laurie Nilsen. Unfortunately I didn’t note the name of the artist of the piece at the bottom left, although I remember it was made of bull kelp and referenced the Devil Facial Tumor Disease that is threatening the Tasmanian Devil (more information on that at

Lena Yarinkura Camp Dogs, 2008

Garth Lena Echidna, 2006

Frewa Bardaluna Stingrays, 2008

Exhibition: Alexander The Great

20130208_alexander_01Today I went with my mother to the Alexander The Great: 2000 Years of Treasures exhibition at the Australian Museum in Sydney. Mum brought us to this museum pretty much every school holiday when we were young. We’d be set up with a clipboard and fact sheet to fill in, then mum would go off to do her research (something geological presumably) while we explored. There was a beautiful minerals collection and dinosaur skeletons and a mummy in a sarcophagus and lots more wonders, plus high ceilings, tiled floors, polished wood and a huge staircase – I loved it. After a few hours of fun and interest we’d go up to the cafeteria to meet mum for lunch. It was only in the last few years I learned mum’s “research” involved going straight to the cafeteria, a cup of tea, a good book, feet up and some peace from the five of us!

20130208_alexander_02This part of the complex didn’t exist in those days. Stonework from various phases of building from the 1840s to 1910 is seen here next to a 1980s addition (the sections from 1963 and 2008 aren’t in shot).

The Alexander exhibition is from the State Hermitage Museum of St Petersburg – around 350 items dating from before 500 BCE to the 1840s. To be honest I was overwhelmed. I don’t have a mental frame of reference to understand what I was looking at, I’m not familiar with the sweep of history. I tried to read everything, watch the videos, concentrate on the lines of each piece – and I got lost. After maybe 90 minutes we stopped for lunch (the cafeteria has moved in the last 30 to 40 years 🙂 ).

sketch20130208aAfter lunch I took a different approach. I dug out a little sketchbook and a biro, then wandered through the exhibition just looking. If something took my eye I’d try a quick sketch, take a couple of notes. Some were things I thought could be translated into motifs in a textile. I was also attracted to lines of drapery (lots to choose from in that category).

sketch20130208bPaintings on vases, amphora etc were interesting. Most of the large statues seemed to be warriors, philosophers or gods in idealised, heroic poses. It was refreshing to find on a vase a woman, resplendent in jewels, leaning languidly on a pillar.

sketch20130208cThere were a number of textiles, quite a few small woven tapestries in linen and wool from the 4th and 5th centuries AD. There was also a massive tapestry from the late 1600s, Alexander the Great and the family of Darius, which was one of three interpretations in the exhibition of the same painting – the others being an engraving and an enamelled wine goblet. A major irritation was caused by the labelling of a woven panel that was block printed. The accompanying sign called it a tapestry (many exclamation marks of horror!) (note: just checked the catalogue and it’s OK).

sketch20130208dI’m planning to take Understanding Art 1: Western Art as my next OCA course, and today’s experience has made me even more keen to complete my current project. Alexander is on until late April and I would love to see it again with a bit more knowledge and understanding.

Sketchbook, theme book and Francis Bacon exhibition

I’m getting things ready to post Assignment 4 off to Pat (my tutor) and want to record a couple of things before I forget. This post gets rather heavy towards the end, but I’m sure everyone knows how to click delete or back or whatever if it makes you uncomfortable.

In the OCA course we’re encouraged to spend at least 10 minutes a day working in our sketchbook. That turns out to be very challenging! Finding ten minutes of time, energy and an idea to work on is harder than you think – especially after a work day, or when absorbed in project work.

Early September I came up with a new strategy – each night plan sketchbook work for the next day, then each morning get up 30 minutes early to do the work. This is working pretty well (except when project work takes over), and that period of focus and purpose sets me up well for the day – a friend has likened it to her morning meditation ritual. Deciding what to work on remained a problem, then a couple of weeks ago I came up with the idea of combining it with my reading.

The essential encyclopaedic guide to modern art: styles, schools & movements by Amy Dempsey was recommended to me by Pat in her feedback to my last assignment. It has over a hundred entries, each just a few pages including illustrations, going from Impressionism, Arts and Crafts and Chicago School to Destination Art, DesignArt and Art Photography. For a few weeks now I’ve been reading an entry each evening (I’m such a creature of habit!).

I’ve found before that making notes and quick sketches helps me take a bit more time and absorb a bit more information while reading. Under the new regime I read an art history entry, then either choose one of the book illustrations or search around on the internet for a related image. In the morning my sketchbook work is based on that. I’m not trying to reproduce anything, just focus and think a bit better. The first photo above was after reading about Expressionism and is based on Emile Nolde’s Candle Dancers. The one on the left is from a work in the Ashcan school – Cafferty by Robert Henri. Really nothing like the original!

This is a collage using an adjusted photo of a kettle designed by Peter Behrens (Deutscher Werkbund movement). I’ve been trying to vary my approach each day. It’s only been a week or two so far, but it feels that I’m getter better value from both my reading and sketching. All very pleasant and ordered and effective, until Friday when I came face to face with art that felt raw and shocking and visceral and demanding and thumped me about the head until my ears were ringing.


The exhibition is Francis Bacon: Five Decades at the NSW Art Gallery. This link takes you to a slide show – the first image (when I just checked) is A study for a figure at the base of a crucifixion 1943-44, and is one … well, it’s actually a totally personal and individual response, because in every screaming face I saw Nancy, the subject or at least focus of my Ageing theme book.

So this is my sketchbook for Friday and Saturday:

Nancy is around 86. A few years ago, after years of pain that medical professionals have been unable to relieve, Nancy attempted suicide. She was put in a psychiatric ward, and has spent the last two and a half years in a high level care nursing home. Her pain has never been relieved. Any mental distress or disturbance she has been experiencing has not been addressed. She used to watch TV, and had a window through which she could see trees and the occasional bird. A few weeks ago Nancy had a medical incident – the family thinks perhaps another stroke, but Nancy is clear that she doesn’t want medical intervention. The last few times I’ve visited the television has been off and Nancy has been lying on her side, her back to the window. She is now totally bedridden and has bedsores on her back and her arms. I asked her what she thought about while she was lying there, hoping perhaps for some lovely memory or moment of redemption or meaning. “How sore my hand is” was the response. We used to chat about my family and hers – she was always interested in the kids. Now after a sentence or two Nancy just shuts her eyes. I feel like an intruder.

How can I express such pain in textiles? How can I shout to the world that this is wrong, that we have taken everything, all meaning, from this woman and condemned her to years of torment – all in the name of other people’s beliefs (not Nancy’s) and for fear of harming the vulnerable. Yes, Nancy is vulnerable – and anyone who could look at her and not acknowledge the harm being done to her right now, every moment we force her to continue, is … unspeakable. There is no redemption, there is no meaning, there is no dignity or respect for this individual, there is no hope except for an end.

Such a long and dreadful death should not define or dominate Nancy’s life, but neither should we look away and focus on the good and meaningful and loving parts and ignore what is going on. I think there could be another trap, thinking that somehow I could make Nancy’s experience meaningful by trying to use it in some way to promote change.

I can’t help Nancy. She is alone and abandoned and I can’t reach her. I’ll visit her this afternoon, as I do each Sunday – and I’ll try to chat or listen or leave early, whatever she wants. I’ll also keep working on my Ageing theme book. I know I won’t be able to express all I’d like to, but I hope I can find a way to express some part of it.

Research Point: Textile Artist Julie Ryder

Throughout Assignment 4 I have been working on an investigation into the work of the textile artist. Previous posts have been around the question “what is a textile artist?” – see discussion on Craft (18-Aug-2012 and 20-Aug-2012), textiles in Art as distinct from Textile Art (27-Aug-2012), a side-excursion on Art / Textile Art / Documentary (22-Oct-2012) and Designers and Designer/Makers (1-Nov-2012). The final requirement is to write about two internationally known textile artists. It was important to me to write about artists based in Australia whose work I have seen in life, not just photos. My first selection is Julie Ryder, seen in the photo at her artist talk during her recent exhibition Second Nature at Barometer Gallery.

All of these photos were taken at the exhibition, with Julie’s permission. I love the sunlight and shadows adding even more to the complexity of the marks on the cloth. Julie trained in science earlier in her life and the knowledge and disciplines gained in that time have remained a thread in her textile works. The fabric in the exhibition is mainly antique Japanese kimono silk dyed using a fruit fermentation process that Julie developed. In simple terms, cut unpeeled fruit in half (lemons work well), arrange pieces cut side down on fabric, leave for 6 months or so to ferment, scrub off the putrid black mess and you have your dyed cloth.
The complexities include measures to minimise risk with the massive volumes of mold spores created. Julie had access to special facilities, had to go through a lengthy process to determine risks and get approval for her work, and she wore appropriate safety gear when working. In fact all of the material in this exhibition was dyed by Julie fifteen or so years ago. A curator was particularly keen to exhibit work in this series, Julie no longer has access to suitable facilities (and I think was reluctant to return to a quite toxic process), so she worked with the pieces of dyed cloth still available to her.
The pieces range from button size to the hangings you can see in the photo, but all are human in scale. In some Julie presents the dyed cloth hanging simply, allowing the beauty of the marks on the woven texture of the silk space to speak. In other works she has combined fragments of cloth with hand stitching. Occasionally there is more stitching on the cloth, responding to the marks that have been made.
There is a gentleness and serenity in the results. Julie has said that her design philosophy fits in the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi. She also references the break down of matter, the phases and numerology in alchemy. Seams shown on the outside reflect the inner beauty of people and things. (1)
In the time between her original work with fruit fermentation and the recent exhibition Julie has extended her range of techniques as she continues to investigate her particular interests. The photo on the left is to give just a taste of that. On the left is a cover of Textile Fibre Forum magazine, showing work from the 2005 artandthebryophyte exhibition(2) (I didn’t see this exhibition myself). On the right are leaflets I picked up at generate, an exhibition at the Australian National Botanic Gardens in 2008 inspired by Charles Darwin (3).

The digitally printed silk organza on the magazine cover, colourful and crisp, seems a world away from the natural dyeing of the fruit fermentation. For Julie it was a logical progression. Faced with restrictions on bacteria she could use in dyeing, she used a scanning election microscope to examine the structures of micro-organisms. The photomicrographs became the inspiration for digital printing, although she retained an element of hand work and connection to the cloth in the post-printing finishing. The works also reflect the research Julie undertook on the history of botanical science, systems of naming and more. As well as the printed silks Julie printed on paper and used collage and assemblage, using the drawers of a large cabinet of drawers to create a contemporary cabinet of curiosities.

Generate explored the life and theories of Charles Darwin. As well as lengths of digitally printed silk, Julie went through a painstaking process of hand-cutting circles from leave then arranging the dots on tapa cloth to create images based on Charles, his wife Emma, and grandfather Josiah Wedgwood. These ‘portraits’ use symbols from historical textiles to represent their subjects. From memory, the actual leaves with all their holes were arranged in a drift along the base of the display cabinets. There was also a glass ‘tree of life’ – glass branches and glass medallions incised with fantastic creatures. There are multiple depths of meaning – for example she used both native and exotic species of leaves “to show how cultures like introduced species react” (4).

Overall it seems to me that Julie’s work is heavily ideas and research driven with a disciplined, scientific approach. She is interested in what lies underneath, not obvious – often at the micro level. Frequently her subject matter is botanical or biological in nature. In most cases her work involves creating colour on cloth. Julie uses a mix of traditional and modern techniques and materials. However leaving those generalisations she seems to engage afresh with each new area that interest or opportunity leads her to. Julie brings all her past knowledge and experience and skills to her present work, but she doesn’t force them onto or into it. She researches and responds to what she learns, developing new themes, new symbolic imagery, new techniques and processes each time.

I’ve listed some links to more information on Julie and her work below.

(1) Koumis, M. (ed) (2007) Art Textiles of the World: Australia volume 2, Brighton: Telos Art Publishing
(2) (2005) Julie Ryder. Textile Fibre Forum, 80(4), Front and inside cover and page 10
(3) (2008) Generate: Julie Ryder. Exhibition leaflet. Australian National Botanic Gardens; ACT Government.
(4) Maher, L. (28 January, 2009) Darwin inspires art accessed 26-oct-2012

Further information accessed 26-oct-2012 accessed 26-oct-2012 accessed 26-oct-2012

Exhibition: Double Take at the White Rabbit Gallery

Yesterday I visited the White Rabbit Gallery in Sydney. I’ve mentioned it a couple of times before – one of the largest privately owned collections of contemporary Chinese art in the world, the entire four floors of exhibition space is rehung twice a year with a mixture of new acquisitions and other works from the collection.
Above is Level 1/2, Unit 8, Building 5, Hua Jiadi, North Village (2010) by Gao Rong. This is an extremely detailed re-creation of the entrance to the basement flat Gao Rong lived in as a student in Beijing.
Check the detail photo on the left – that’s just one of the rusty/flaky spots on the downpipe, all executed in hand embroidery. The entire scene is fabric and stitch. The attention to detail is stunning and the result very convincing. Meticulous and obsessive.
I believe this was Gao Rong’s exhibition piece as a student. The Gallery is also showing Station, a re-creation of the signs at the bus-stop she used. Earlier this year (blog post 27-Aug-2012) I saw a much more ambitious work based on her grandmother’s home which I found disappointingly incomplete. The subjects she has chosen are very personal, a record of places she has spent a lot of time. To me the original basement work is the most satisfying – complete and convincing. I wonder where she goes from here – larger meant that even with assistance it was impossible to achieve, certainly more realistic doesn’t seem possible.

Dust (2008) by Cong Lingqi is another example of epic detail. There are 210 tiny models of everyday items, each carefully handmade by the artist, suspended in a beam of light (although not the intended strong, focused beam just now – that light is under repair). The shadows are as important as the actual items, a dreamy memory. I haven’t included a distance shot showing the entire work, but the overall effect is light motes of dust moving hazily in a sunbeam. The whole effect is magical.
More and more I’m drawn to works which use shadows and light. Possibly not a safe choice for an artist – even in a very well setup gallery like White Rabbit there can be glitches in special requirements. Another aspect of particular interest to me is the way this work has coherence and meaning as a whole, and also richly rewards close inspection. That’s a recurring challenge for textile work.

The works shown above and the one on the left are identical – the only difference is the manner of display.
Paper (2010) by Li Hongbo is accurately titled – it’s paper, two very large stacks of paper that the artist has carved with an electric saw. The information plaque at the gallery describes it as “rigorously rule-based construction enabling a near-total liberation of form”.
One interesting thing is that the artist leaves it to the curator to decide how to present the work. Another issue is the fragility of the material – something I commented on briefly with another of Li Hongbo’s works that was shown on Cockatoo Island during the biennale (post 8-Sept-2012). The guide at White Rabbit was quite relaxed about it. A number of times they’ve come in of a morning and found an arm dropped off or similar. They just repair it. Simple.

In this last work I am back to full size and meticulous detail – although this time not something you could mistake for the real thing.
This is Shi Jindian’s Beijing Jeep’s Shadow (2007). It’s made in wire in a technique he describes as crochet. Apparently each individual element in the piece is made around an actual jeep part to get the exact shaping, then the part is removed leaving a steel wire lace.
All the works I photographed are large, detailed and obviously took an enormous commitment and effort to create. Sometimes working in textiles I’ve been conscious of the time taken, the repetitive process. How important is that time and input? A pleasurable activity (mostly) – but does quantity of time spent mean more than that? Should it?

Exhibition – Ruark Lewis

My friend and fellow student Claire wrote about this exhibition on her blog – I followed her link to the Hazelhurst Gallery, and to cut the story short, we met up last Sunday for an artist talk and performance in the gallery (plus bonus of wandering through the Gymea street fair together).

Photos were permitted during the performance, so on the left you get a glimpse of a small part of the exhibition. Ruark talked about the importance of process and pattern in his work. A recurring process has been making, fairly quickly, a series of marks – notations to music, positions of cities, skewed perspective lying in a hospital bed etc. He then refines the marks, meticulously working in graphite or other materials to make thickened lines or visual bars, creating a patterned surface that is not representational but still often captures the original moment or thought.

One thing that struck me was the long gestation of ideas and projects. Ruark would talk about conversations and possibilities that could swirl around for years before there was finally the opportunity to create the work – or recreate, with materials being reused and repurposed. I like the sense of awareness of the world and openness. For example the frames in the back of the photo above were used in a previous performance and installation. While dismantling the exhibition the packers stacked the frames together – and now, here they are.

Ruark’s work often has a philosophical and/or political as well as collaborative element. The second photo shows his fellow performer (unfortunately I haven’t been able to find her name), who moved around the gallery creating connections with yarn while Ruark spoke in performance – sometimes quotes from politicians or others (“I’m not a racist but…”), sometimes what I think is called glossalia – a waterfall of non-words and trills and syllables. It seemed to cover a huge range of recent political issues, and there was clearly a plan and structure in what they were doing, but although sympathetic to or sharing many of what I gleaned to be Ruark’s politics, there was just too much I didn’t understand. You probably can’t see in the photo that the performer was holding a shell in her mouth. I missed the significance and was just left bewildered.

The work that has remained in my mind was based on points and connections between cities. Thinking of my theme work on ageing and the contraction of space and choice moving from one’s house to a room in a nursing home, I wonder if it would be possible to create two maps, showing the scope of Nancy’s movements over a day pottering around her home and garden, and now virtually bed-bound in the nursing home.

This brings me back to Dion Horstmans’ work which I saw this weekend in sculpture by the sea (blog post 2-Nov-2012). That is obviously in three dimensions, and according to the catalogue “map time and space to reference the landing on earth’s moon”. I don’t know how I could take these ideas into the theme work, how to show the very different scales of movement and also how to make the textile element important.

While doing a little research for this post I discovered that some earlier work by Ruark is very relevant. In My Empty House was an installation in 2010 which followed the process of the emptying of a house, a home, due to the ageing and changing needs of the occupants. A very helpful essay by Melissa Laing comments on the importance of the home as a repository, the possessions that help to create and preserve identity. Destructive forces such as ageing can be followed by liberation – but not for Nancy, the focus of my work. Nancy has been denied choice, denied the capacity to act. Yet another line of research I need to follow up.

There’s quite a bit of information around at the moment that’s relevant to my theme. Euthanasia and the availability and cost of palliative care are both current topics in State Parliament, with a Dying with Dignity Parliament forum on 19th November (unfortunately clashing with work times). On a personal level Nancy, the initial focus and emotional centre of my work, has been very unwell and we think had another stroke (she has refused medical attention). It seems very possible that Nancy will die while I am working on this theme for the final Assignment. I rather dread the thought, but I would not delay her liberation for a moment. It’s now over three years since she was forcibly denied her right to die. I will be sad for myself, but so very happy for her when the time finally comes.

Resources Accessed 4-Nov-2012.
Dying with Dignity NSW ,

Laing, M. “In My Empty House — Ruark Lewis with Loma Bridge” In Studies in Material Thinking, Vol. 5 (December 2011), ISSN 1177-6234, AUT University. Accessed 4-Nov-2012

Paull, J. (2012) Ruark Lewis: Survey 1982 – 2012 exhibition brochure, Hazelhurst Regional Gallery & Arts Centre

sculpture by the sea: sixteenth annual exhibition Bondi 2012 Catalogue and site map. Sculpture by the Sea Incorporated.

Sculpture by the sea

Today I visited sculpture by the sea with my mother and sister. This is the 16th year of the annual exhibition – you can see some photos from last year here (15-Nov-2011).
Ghost net crocodile was the most textile-y piece I saw (there are over 100 items in the exhibition, spread over a large area, so I could easily have missed others).
The photos don’t give a good idea of the scale – that croc is over 10 metres long. I hadn’t heard of “ghost nets” before. They are part of the marine debris floating around in the the oceans, old lost or deliberately abandoned fishing nets. The nets foul the ocean and coastline, and are a danger to marine life. Ghosts Nets Australia is an alliance of indigenous communities in northern Australia who care for their country through a range of projects including retrieval of nets and recycling/reuse.
Another work that made use of discarded rubbish is Jane Gillings’ midden. There must be thousands of pieces of plastic picnic cutlery, collected over time from rubbish piles. There was wonderful texture and movement in the piece, and it’s easy to see it in stitching – like seed stitch in a way, but grouped and aligned to work as a mass.
Poom by Staccato (a group of students from Chung-Ang University, South Korea) is a steel frame filled with used clothes. Going inside you could view messages from other visitors, words of hope to refugees. I gather the plan is to reuse the clothing after the exhibition, although perhaps only as rags after their exposure to the elements.

One of the things we’re meant to do as students is relate works in exhibitions to our work. Here there’s obviously a trivial level of colour mixing and texture (french knots on a large scale?). The idea of textiles as protection and shelter is more significant, the importance of textiles to human survival throughout history. The senses of continuity and connection are important parts of the attraction of textiles for me.

I love the directness of the message in this work by Dave Mercer – although checking the catalogue I see my interpretation didn’t quite match. I was thinking of the way corporations brand and appropriate community resources. The artist statement refers to the validation and importance that branding can give. I don’t think this view needs branding to be appreciated!
Here you can see my sister Rachel enjoying the view assisted by another sculpture, came back by Hiroaki Nakayama.
The thumbnail gives an idea of the outlook. These massive pieces of black granite stand in a wonderful relationship with the landscape. The catalogue includes some detail on Nakayama’s approach, and I am particularly drawn to the respect he gives to his materials, not challenging it but conscious of retaining its essence. Those ideas fit well with my interest in craftsmanship and the thought, care and respect I value in working (see post of 1-Nov-2012, especially comments on Ann Richards’ book).
This is part of mirador, by Rachel Couper and Ivana Kuzmanovska. This large dome is timber on the outside and a reflective material (perspex??) on the interior. In my photo I’ve carefully excluded the human element and focused on the framing of that view, but from the catalogue I gather that the artists intended reflections of the viewer to act as a commentary on the complex relationship between ourselves and nature.
With my textile hat on, ideas about layering, revealing and concealing, and contrasts of scale and material come to mind. I like the regularity of the dome’s structure imposed on the more chaotic natural world.

More reflections, this time kaleidoscope cube by Alex Ritchie. This cube of polished aluminium casts shadows as well as reflecting light and its surroundings. The shapes are simple and repetitive but the result is visually complex and varied. You might need to click on the photo for a larger view to see it, but it’s a surprise to see the sandstone cliff reflected with the sea behind. It would be interesting to see this work on a stormy day – I wonder how the light would change.
It’s interesting to go through my photos – it’s only now as I write this post that I see some common threads in the works I chose to photograph. This is m . 120901 by Toshio Iezumi, a stunning column of float glass, mirror and stainless steel.
Once again there is reflection and distortion, and I would very much like to see this in different weather and lighting. (Rae, if you’re reading this it would look most wonderful at your home, and then I could come and visit lots 🙂 ). Complex simplicity. Beautiful.
Repose by R.M. (Ron) Gomboc looks like a frozen moment, balanced and at rest. It was interesting to see something so matt and non-reflecting, and the contrast between that tranquility and the ceaseless movement and pounding of the waves below.
These works by Dion Horstmans are part of a series moonfire lm, using abstract geometrics to map time and space. In my mind they relate to some work by Ruarc Lewis I saw last weekend. I need to write about that, since it started a new train of enquiry for my theme work on Ageing and the contraction of Nancy’s physical space. Hopefully that post will come later this weekend.
A couple more of the sculptures to finish off. This is spinal column by Michael Purdy, and according to the catalogue is about growth. That’s it. No great explanation, no deep and meaningful or (alternatively) humour really. “Just” a very interesting and expressive shape beautifully executed.
April, cherry blossoms by Koichi Ishino has both the granite and the reflections that attracted me today. That line between the granite and the stainless steel is wonderful. To have it reflected in the “table” section together with the clouds today – very lovely indeed. There’s a quote from a newspaper in the catalogue which seems to me entirely unrelated to the piece, so I have no idea what is meant to be going on. There are curves and repeated shapes and hard lines – and how do such hard materials give a sense of fragility and lightness?
Finally, transition by Greer Taylor. It looks as if someone has taken a ruler and a couple of pens and drawn on this photo. The colours and shapes seem so out of place in the landscape.
…Having typed that I noticed that in the catalogue the work was shown with the sea and horizon in the background, so I’ve added a thumbnail which at least shows a little horizon. That straight line makes me see the work differently. Interesting – the importance of links between elements. The artists statement includes “…the roundness of the earth becomes a horizon”, so it seems that aspect of the setting is intentionally significant.

sculpture by the sea: sixteenth annual exhibition Bondi 2012 Catalogue and site map. Sculpture by the Sea Incorporated. Accessed 2-Nov-2012


Exhibitions, Research and Textiles/Art/Design

This post has been sitting in draft form for over a month. It started as part of the Assignment 4 Research Point, which is investigation into the work of the textile artist. The idea was that having discussed Craft in earlier research points (blog posts 18-Aug-2012 and 20-Aug-2012), I could consider textiles in Art as distinct from Textile Art (blog post 27-Aug-2012) and then examine the work of designers and designer/makers (that was going to be this post). This would allow me to establish my overall concept that while depending on context all these descriptors can refer to different things, a particular individual will operate in multiple modes – craft, art, textile art, design, then add in teacher, author, sales person… I don’t think this follows a linear developmental progression – start in mode 1, then learn and progress to mode 2 etc. Individuals and their work are more complex, they do what could be categorized as mode 2, and then a bit of mode 1, and sometimes both at the same time, and very often after a time one can see that what appeared to be one thing should be reassessed. Categories and labels are useful to help us organise and extend our thinking, but we shouldn’t confuse them with reality or necessity.

After all that I was going to take a deep breath, then write about two multivalent* individuals who include Textile Art in their practice.

However before progressing with The Plan, I want to write about two exhibitions I visited this weekend just past.

Eugène Atget: Old Paris is on at the Art Gallery NSW and includes over 200 original prints by Atget (1857-1927), who is considered the founder of documentary photography.

I did have two images, believing them to be from a source which allowed this use, but have removed them due to copyright concerns raised since. The first image was The Bievre, Ruelle des Gobelins, May 1900. There is beautiful textural detail, shadows and reflection of light, an incredible sense of space and depth to the image. It appears to be empty of people, or perhaps there are a couple of wraith-like images in the distance, where people were moving during the long exposure.

The second image was Rue de Seine and Rue de l’Echaude, c. 1900. The same comments apply. Being able to see Atget’s original prints up close was amazing. None are in fact black and white – the tones are sepia. Large areas of the photographs are very crisp and detailed. I don’t know photographic technique, but he used light-sensitive paper in contact with the glass negative, and never enlarged his images.

Coming back to the subject of this post, in the little brochure that is provided when you enter the exhibition there is the paragraph:

“In the 1980s Atget’s photographs at Carnavalet, which had previously been classified thematically, were given an inventory number and received special conservation treatment. In the process, these photographs, acquired as simple documents, attained the status of works of art.”(1)

Treating the photographs individually, doing conservation and inventory work – these processes can confer Art status. I find that thought confronting.

This led me to reassess an information panel in the exhibition about Atget not wanting attribution for his photos when published by Man Ray because they were “just documents”. I thought he meant that the reproduced image in a book or magazine was only a shadow of the actual print he had made. A quick internet search just now found confirmation that Atget did see his work as documents – only documents – so he chose anonymity. (2)

The second exhibition was Dani Marti, Mariposa (Butterfly), at Breenspace. I’ve written briefly about Marti, or at least my attempt to see his work (blogged 25-Nov-2011), and his work on the facade of a shopping centre in Sydney (blogged 25-Mar-2011). The photos are of the facade, since I don’t have any of his gallery work.

Mariposa (Butterfly) was a very different experience. It felt intimate and personal. The gallery is basically one large room on the third floor of a small office block in a maze of lanes in a once-seedy part of town. Marti’s work is a video – an interview of sorts – and accompanying woven wall pieces, portraits of ‘Mark’. The video was on a loop of around 16 minutes, projected on a full wall of the gallery. For most of the time I sat alone in a darkened room, my vision filled with ‘Mark’ almost naked, whirling white squares of cloth around his body in a trance-like dance. He was absorbed, ecstatic, lost in the sensuality and physicality of his dance. His eyes were closed or unfocused, except once or twice when he paused in his dance and looked directly at the camera, when he was suddenly present and conscious of himself and the viewer, and it seemed to me accepting of himself and his choices. He had made choices which allowed him to dance with joy and freedom and completely in the moment. At the same time I was aware of the cost of those choices (although perhaps I shouldn’t write “cost” – just more choices). According to the exhibition notes (3) Mark is a meth addict and drifter. The video was filmed in sessions six weeks apart, and in the later sequences Mark had one eye swollen shut, cuts and grazes across one side of his head – perhaps he had been bashed. He’d lost weight, and I was more conscious of the physical effort of his dance.

The video was filmed in New York and the dance genre is “flagging” which originated in gay clubs. Almost everything about Mark and his choices is foreign and unfamiliar to me. But I sat there in the dark and watched his dance and thought about choices – Mark’s, Marti’s in what he chose to see and present (apparently he had much more confronting and gritty material), my own choices – and I thought about living in joy with the positives, at least for some moments, and accepting the negatives. And about accepting ourselves with our choices and their consequences.

Filled with those thoughts, in fact with a new perspective on something that’s been causing some pain in my own life, it was strange to stand up and walk to the woven pieces on the walls behind me. Trap 1-3 consists of three pieces, each a deep, square frame of powder coated aluminium, the front and back enclosed with wide-set strips of leather in plain weave. Armour I is an even larger frame, woven through with nylon, polyester, polypropylene and leather, some a few centimetres in diameter, coiled around and creating a dense, defensive, spikey shield. It made me think of scar tissue or a hedge of thorns. Not at all my reading of the video – but then people are much more complex and changing than can be expressed in any static portrayal (and in this I regard the video as static, being frozen in time).

There are some images and other perspectives of the work at these links:,

Clearly this is art. It is also at some level documentary, so a strange contrast to Atget’s work – although both are carefully setup and arranged. Both also skirt or cross the line to exploitation of their subjects – Atget photographed prostitutes and ‘zoniers’ – people living in abject poverty in shanty towns outside Paris city walls; Marti’s subjects are often the vulnerable and marginalized (some of his work I would find very difficult to watch).

For this Research Point the thing that really grabbed my attention was not Marti’s work as such, but the language used in a recently published monograph. “Dani Marti’s paintings are physical distillations of human encounters” Colin Perry begins in his essay Bound and unbound desire: Dani Marti’s paintings (4). Perry contends that these woven or stitched works “clearly relate to painting as a medium and lie within its historical trajectory” (page 16). Historical influences are cited, abstraction, art as anti-art, modernism, minimalism, Pattern and Design. Perry introduces the term “materialist portraiture” to describe Marti’s woven works. What I find significant is that Perry doesn’t deny or diminish the media and techniques used – rope, threads and weaving, among rubber, barbed wire and material assemblage. Marti’s cv includes studies in tapestry technique, and he does the majority of the weaving. In my reading so far about textiles and art I haven’t seen such a bald and bold statement, asserting the place of a textile work in Art’s development.

As a weaver I’ve sometimes felt at a disadvantage in the world of textile art, working in grids and stripes, all the structural constraints. Was tapestry the only option? Yes, I’ve looked at the work of Anni Albers, Sheila Hicks and more, but I’ve never before felt such an impact from work – not just emotional, but seeing and maybe just a very little knowing more of a person and world so remote from me, and finding it so relevant to my own life. I don’t know how I can do it – create work of impact and intensity – but I’m hoping I can find my way.

On which lofty note I will end. My exploration of the work of the Designer and Designer/Maker will progress another day.

* Multivalent – adjective. “having or susceptible of many applications, interpretations, meanings, or values: visually complex and multivalent work. Definition from, accessed 21-Oct-2012

(1) Art Gallery of New South Wales (2012), Eugène Atget: Old Paris, brochure. All texts in the brochure are based on those written by Françoise Reynaud and Jean-Baptiste Woloch (intern: Emmanuelle Day)

(2) Fuller, J. “Atget and Man Ray in the Context of Surrealism” in Art Journal Vol. 36, No. 2 (Winter, 1976-1977), pp. 130-138 Published by: College Art Association Article Stable URL: Accessed 21-October-2012

(3) Katsof, A. (2012) Mariposa (Butterfly): Dani Marti, exhibition leaflet

(4) Perry, C., (2012). Bound and unbound desire: Dani Marti’s paintings. In: M. Price, ed. Dani Marti. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz Verlag, pp. 14-27.

OCA Visit

Last Friday we held another OCA get-together, again to the Manly Art Gallery & Museum but this time with a 50% increase in student numbers! Jacky, who started her OCA textile studies quite recently and generally lives in Shropshire UK, is in Sydney for a couple of months and shook off her jetlag to explore with us.

Claire and I visited the Regeneration exhibition in Manly last May (Claire’s post about it is, mine was here on 20-May-2012).
This time we were visiting QUARANTA AUSTRALIS: Gwen Harrison and Sue Anderson (this link is to current exhibitions, so you may need to do a search on the gallery site for the correct information). The exhibition is the result of a long collaboration between the artists. There are four artist books and a series of prints. The subject matter was Cockatoo Island and the former Quarantine Station, the historical treatment of Australia’s unwanted and marginalized, and parallels in current events. I felt very challenged by the material, especially following my recent visit to Wybalenna on Flinders Island (blogged 7-Oct-2012).

Also being exhibited in the centre were photographs – “light paintings” – by Peter Solness, plus part of the Manly historical swim-wear collection, which altogether gave us lots to talk about.

And talk is the main thing we did. After the exhibitions was lunch – Thai, and our pink drinks are watermelon juice. Jacky is on the left, Claire in the middle, and I’m that vacant spot. A lot was about OCA – why we each signed up, our hopes and aspirations, interpreting project requirements, assignments, assessments and the post. Jacky’s background is in painting and printmaking, so I think it’s a brave and exciting thing to enrol in a textile course.

After lunch we strolled along the Manly Corso to the beach on the ocean side (Manly is on a narrow neck of land leading up to North Head, with a harbour beach on one side and the ocean beach on the other). It was school holidays and up to 35 °C in parts of Sydney (crazy this early), so there were lots of people enjoying the day. We sat on the steps, looking out at beautiful Sydney… and talked 🙂 .

It’s a great benefit of OCA, to interact with other students in forums and blogs, and now in person. It’s also fun to show-off Sydney to like-minded people. A really good day.

Biennale of Sydney wrapup

The Biennale closes soon after over two months. I blogged about some of the textile works (27-August), but want to record my impressions of some other works – not really in themselves, but in ideas I want to learn/remember from them. All the photos below were taken on my phone, so check the Biennale website above for better images.

This is Claire, fellow OCA student and member of ATASDA, interacting with Philip Beesley’s work Hylzoic Series: Sibyl in the old industrial buildings on Cockatoo Island. (Claire’s blog entries of our Biennale vists are here (Cockatoo island) and here (Museum of Contemporary Art).)

We were immersed in the experience, wandering through the huge, darkened space, surrounded by sound and light and scent, gently touching the work which responded to our presence. There was a sense of wonder and joy. Even the shadows on the old walls were fascinating.
I’ve said it before (24-June-2012), scale is important. Small can be exquisite, being big isn’t going to save bad work – it’s more that size should be a conscious choice, not just how it turns out or what’s convenient.
Light and shadow – very evocative. I want to incorporate this in my work. Lots of research to be done.
These photos show just part of Ed Pien’s work Source. It’s made of paper, mylar, rope, sound and video – the sound being throat singing by Tanya Tagaq.

In this the viewer, or participant, wanders through a labyrinth, exploring a watery world.

Scale, light and shadow, multiple senses engaged, immersion of the viewer…

Switching venue to follow the theme, this is Anything can break
by Pinaree Sanpitak, installed at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Once again large, with light, shadow and sound. I imagined it as walking just below the surface of the ocean, but have since read that the work is based on watery clouds and the female form, particularly breasts.

Some of the glass forms are lit using fibre optics. There are motion sensors in some of the grey origami “flying boxes”, which trigger speakers issuing a huge variety of sounds which meld together creating a world around the viewer/participants. The gallery is a double height space in the new part of the MCA and the lowered ceiling effect further enhances the feeling of being enclosed within the work.

The thumbnail photo gives an idea of the significant engineering required to support the work. Another common element is that a team was needed to produce and install each work.  Planning, project management and getting funding must have been huge tasks in each one.

Jumping back to Cockatoo Island, this is Gravitas Lite by Peter Robinson. The thumbnail photo is to give an idea of scale, but these shots show less than half of this amazing work in polystyrene. There’s an interesting clip of the artist speaking here.

Once again we have scale, light and shadow (I think all natural, thanks to the rows of skylights). Collaboration was an important element – around 60 crew and volunteers worked over a 5 week period to put it together. The sense of place is something I want to remember and think on. The work was conceived and created for this place, this event, and the polystyrene will be recycled afterwards. The chain motif references the convict and industrial past of the Island. The chains wrap themselves around and through the detritus of previous use.

I’m also taken by what I see as whimsey or humour – what the artist describes as the “contradiction of motif and materiality”. Some of the works in the Biennale seemed turgid, so (over)full of concept and meaning and gravitas. I like the idea of being thoughtful, meaningful and serious with a light touch.

In the video linked above Peter Robinson talks about the decisions that crew and volunteers made as the work was installed, and the sense of collaboration and ownership that each developed. Mit Jai Inn goes further his work No 112, leaving decisions about arrangement of his work to others. These abstract works use oil paint and pigment on canvas and the colour is complex and beautiful. Reading in the catalogue, there is a deep philosophical and political base to the artist’s work. I enjoyed it on a simpler level of rich colour and also rather intriguing speculation about how I would approach arranging this work.

How much can and should one let go of work – create it then send it on its way in the world? Robinson’s work will be recycled, confounding assumptions about the impact of the material he has used.

When I revisited Cockatoo Island a couple of weeks later, areas of Beesley’s touch sensitive lights no longer worked.

This beautiful gallery at the Museum of Contemporary Art has work by Liang Quan on the back wall, moon jars by Park Young-Sook on the left and Yeesookyung’s creation using ceramic shards on the right. On a return visit various sections had been roped off.

I’ve been told Li Hongbo’s bright paper Ocean of Flowers (actually based on the silhouettes of weapons) now has areas crushed and ruined where people have simply walked on them.

I’m not sure of my point here. Is it that one needs to let go, or that one should only use robust materials? Is this just the nature of such a large and long exhibition, especially one that attracts so many who don’t normally go into galleries?

That’s rather a muddled and low thought, so rather than finishing there I’ll show some shots of Air and Inner by Honore d’O, installed at Pier 2/3. You can read the artist statement here – I have absolutely no idea what it means, if there’s anything lost in translation, if it is intended as a joke or if it’s just I don’t get it. But I enjoyed experiencing the work 🙂

de Zegher, C. and McMaster, G. (ed.) (2012) all our relations: 18th biennale of Sydney 2012, Sydney: Biennale of Sydney Ltd.


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