Archive for the 'Out and about' Category

Modernist Season at Sydney Living Museums

The Moderns: European Designers in Sydney at Museum of Sydney shows the work of a large, inter-connected group of émigrés working in Sydney in the 1930s to 1960s. Architects, interior designers, furniture makers, photographers, commentators, they brought European modernism, fresh ideas, vitality and some controversy (that last they didn’t necessarily bring).

From the museum website: Discover the vitality of this community, their stories of achievement, loss, adaptation and ingenuity in this celebration of both the richness that migration brings and the diverse history of our city – a timely reminder as history cycles. Writing this I reflect back on Godwin Yidana’s words on circles, connectedness and how all both give and receive (31-Jul-2017).

George Reves
Schwartz House

The exhibition includes plans, photographs and drawing, plus a series of vignettes set up so you can appreciate the whole design in context – furniture, rugs, artwork etc. Often the furniture was designed as an integral part of the architecture.

Rose Seidler House
Photo: NewFormula

Architect Harry Seidler must be one of the best know today of this group. A week ago I went on the SLM Donna & Brian Seidler House tour & talk.

Rose Seidler House
Photo: Marcel Seidler

The talk was in the lounge room of Rose Seidler House, another SLM property. The house is actually one of three built here, all intended for different members of Seidler’s family. The talk was given by Brian Seidler (Harry’s cousin) and focused on the recent (ongoing) restoration of Julian Rose House (originally intended for Harry’s uncle Marcel, who took the photo of Rose Seidler House shown to the right).

The care, attention and challenging choices of the renovation / restoration are amazing. The house had been extended and remodeled by owners over the years, not always sensitively or even soundly in engineering terms. Inappropriate additions, such as thick concrete pad and quarry tiles, have been removed. Damaged structure has as far as possible been repaired. “As far as possible” – there’s the rub. This isn’t a museum, it needs to function as a home. Some of the “modern” materials are no longer available, or aren’t safe, or … For example light plates. Authentic ones from the period may be sourced, but do they meet modern standards? If not, can or should the internal wiring be replaced but the old plate used?

Robert MacPherson
White/black (Arago)

Yesterday I wrote about White/black (Arago) by Robert MacPherson, the theory than can underpin four quadrilaterals in different mixes of white and black. In the small bathroom of Julian Rose House, five different tiles are used. One for the floor, then one on each wall – black, white, grey, ivory. It’s all about light – white tiles on the wall facing the window, to bounce light around. Black on the wall under the window, etc. And tiles of the right size and colours had to be sourced. And each tile needed matching grout… The level of passion and commitment was awe-inspiring.

Harry Seidler
Brian & Donna Seidler House

After the talk Brian led us on a walk – first through the nearly-finished work of Julian Rose House, and then on to what was Marcus Seidler House, and is now the home of Brian Seidler, his wife and their children.

Here again the passion and commitment comes through. It’s not easy living in a 1950s Modern house when you are determined to maintain its heritage. These houses are small. This one has been extended twice, with the involvement of Harry Seidler and later his company, but is still not large by modern standards (you can see some info on the last extension on the website of Harry Seidler & Associates). The main bedroom opens directly from the lounge area. The fridge is limited in size by the fitout of the original kitchen. The colour scheme, walls, curtains, everything, is determined by the architects. It is beautiful. It is a gem. Only very rare and amazing people would be prepared to do it. And on top of this they give talks and occasionally allow strangers to traipse through their home. It was a real privilege to visit.

MCA

What a difference a day makes! Yesterday at the Art Gallery of NSW I was entranced by a series of galleries filled by Mikala Dwyer. Today I was at the Museum of Contemporary Art, saw an installation by the same artist, and was left bemused, un-engaged. I was visiting with my mother and we spent a lot of time on this Untitled 1992-1994 – there seemed to be lots of recognisable bits, things that should be a hook. But in the end, beige. Just some stuff.

Mikala Dwyer
Untitled 1992-1994 (detail)

That’s mum in the distance, working hard at it. The artist certainly “made us look”, if that was the point.

Blue Peter Rabbits, so maybe a child’s room, domestic, personal, protective. A minor play with architecture – a column leaning on a trestle, another made of a stack of dinner plates (domestic??).

Mikala Dwyer

A series of tables (baby change tables?) the soft foam inside encased in sheets of perspex, the supports bandaged. A reversal of softness, protection, warm enfolding? Above some perspex containers of coloured liquid or gell. Some plastic ziplock bags of similar stuff was stapled to a column. Blank.

Mikala Dwyer

A bit more detail of the posts wrapped with sheets, electric blanket etc. Plates (?) and bed pans wrapped on the wall. One package had me thinking of Christo’s dead trees at AGNSW, which to me just accentuates the long past demise of the trees. Otherwise nothing.

Reading more at home, the gallery write up talks about child’s bedroom, the vulnerable body, comfort and healing. So we got some of it, we just didn’t feel it.

Perhaps partly because it wasn’t immersive, we weren’t entering its environment. The work is stretched along one side of gallery. Along the wall opposite are some strong works including Sally Smart’s The craftiest of eyes (borrowed dress) (last mentioned 26-Nov-2016). Dwyer’s work is “untitled”, unlike those I saw yesterday. The cheap quip is “perhaps the artist didn’t feel too involved in the end either, not even discovering a name”.

(Later edit – perhaps it was that the suggestions from Dwyer were too strong, but to me unclear. I wasn’t free to think my own thoughts, as in the AGNSW works, but I couldn’t enter her’s.)

Robert MacPherson
White/black (Arago)

Further along the same long wall was White/black (Arago) by Robert MacPherson. Austere, exploring what a painting is. Various mixes and finishes of black and white, each canvas apparently the dimensions that MacPherson could reach with hand and paintbrush. Pure minimalist aesthetic.

I find it satisfying – the considered experimentation, clarity of thought and means, theoretical concerns about the nature of art, yet the physical person of the artist so present. I’ll be referring back to this work too, when I finally get to writing about the Seidler houses.

Gordon Bennett
Number Nine

Gordon Bennett
detail

It’s not surprising Gordon Bennett’s work Number Nine caught my eye, given a longstanding interest in stripes (see research posts and paper written for college).

In this instance Bennett was claiming his place as an artist, no adjectives necessary, art about art, not boxed in by our preconceptions based on his Indigenous heritage – though I think it shows as integral to the man, in his choice of colour and possibly a shield-like motif. The paint is controlled, textured, tactile, on the surface of the canvas.

A day at AGNSW

Today I let my body and mind roam around the Art Gallery of NSW for a few hours. Going to what caught my attention, following my own train of thought rather than an artist’s intention, joyous and refreshing.

Loribelle Spirovski
John Bell at home

First the Archibald, and Loribelle Spirovski’s John Bell at home

I love the wonderful and free lines of the chair, and in contrast the heavy, thick, colourful paint of the flesh.

Loribelle Spirovski (detail)

There is such a strong sense of the person, the physical man. Such confidence, sense of self, commanding the large canvas. And a strong sense of light and space, the beautiful colour of the arm and hand in what may be window-light. Sitting in his space, this painting reminded me of The sock knitter by Grace Cossington Smith.

William Mackinnon
Landscape as self-portrait

In the Wynne, Landscape as self-portrait by William Mackinnon caught my eye. This was partly due to last weekend’s visit to houses by Harry Seidler (yet to be blogged), plus beautiful, beautiful colour, wonderful textures and pattern, a little glitter, and a sense of familiarity – of recognition and truth. For the artist it may be his emotional states, for me it triggered the senses – I could smell the salt, my hair sticky from a swim, the bitumen road hot under my bare feet, a cooling breeze… Home, arrival, anticipation.

Alexandra Standen
Relics from romantic attachments

Also in the Wynne, Alexandra Standen’s Relics from romantic attachments seemed quirky and fragile and almost like a little clique, clustered together in a corner. The artist writes of the meanings of collecting objects, nostalgia, “turning memories into delicate things”. Brittle but defiant, standing tall but delicately inclined, related but carefully individual.

Gregory Hodge
Mime

Mime by Gregory Hodge is in the Sulman exhibition. Lightness and movement – that thin vertical up from the bottom that everything dances around. It’s apparently based on a suspended construction – from life and photographs. What a great way for me to explore and extend my explorations with mobiles. Look at those flickering “shadows” that Hodge has created!

It reminded me of some recent reading – an exhibition review by Susan Noble of John Piper: The Fabric of Modernism, published in Textile, Volume 15, Issue 3. The show included preliminary collages and paintings, not reproduced but informing tapestry design. “The move from drawing, painting and collage to print, and weave in particular, means every instinctive response is reevaluated and reconsidered as the design process develops and transforms the original source… Textiles transform gesture to object, gesture to entity; accident and serendipity become deliberateness and consideration.” I love, love, love this idea of opening up to chance, the unexpected, and then distilling that, maybe a blast furnace of intellect and experience and all those qualities of the individual who is the artist. Moving back and forward between those states…

Mikala Dwyer: a shape of thought
The main event of the day. Four large spaces given over to the artist to transform. Five really, given the hovering silver balloons over the escalators.

Square cloud compound was filled with sewn cubes of fabric, lashed to the gallery itself with pantyhose, coloured posts holding nick-nacks, suspending reflectors and shapes. To me it was a wonderful playground, walking right into the installation, surrounded by colour and textile. The signage mentioned time spent by the artist on Cockatoo Island, which had me thinking of Erin Manning’s suspended fabrics in 2012, the 18th Biennale of Sydney (some detail 29-Jun-2015).

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I looked carefully at the lamp posts, thinking there could be a mobile, but no … until the next gallery with A weight of space. Apparently Dwyer calls these mobiles “earrings for ceilings” which raised a smile. Look at the way the suspended plastic almost, so very nearly, touches the floor, distorting light, weightless space.

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Next the great circle of Divisions and subtractions. Standing within the circle felt wonderful, right – a participant, in conversation with the work. My scrawled notes:
weight & gravity. balance. internal/external. see-through, reflection. geometric shapes and organic. correspondence. repetition. transformation or raw state of material.
I was entranced, totally engaged in the experience, breathing, listening, finding fresh and exciting links and contrasts, again the play with gravity and weightlessness, work gently hovering or suspended…

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Finally in to a gallery with a series of works under the grouped name The letterbox Marys. More colour, textile – the whole series of rooms were linked by repeated materials, use of colour, play of ideas around gravity. (I know it’s different and there’s a lot more in the artist’s intent, but after briefly reading on-line I’ve decided that this day was about the impact of art on me, my experience, my little nuggets of joy).

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To finish, and also in that final gallery, Backdrop for Saint Jude. A final link for me – given my name, my brothers liked to remind me St Jude was patron saint of hopeless cases. I prefer the description I just found, Patron Saint of Hope and impossible causes. I’ve been known to tilt at some windmills in my time.

Mikala Dwyer
Backdrop For Saint Jude

Rebecca Baumann
Mixed feelings

And onward still, turning corners on a whim to see what I would see. In Out of the ordinary there was Mixed feelings by Rebecca Baumann. It’s the work on the ground in the photo to the right. On the wall behind can be seen Torpedo by Sara Hughes. At first I thought the idea might be around the different impact of a work on the floor rather than the wall. Then I realised it was loose pieces of paper and wondered it referred to waste. Then I read the signage and discovered there is a printer suspended from the ceiling, every 3 minutes feeding out two pieces of paper that float to the ground, generally landing on the raised platform.

Rebecca Baumann
action shot

The action shot may give an impression of movement, if no detail 🙂

Does that make it more interesting? I obediently experienced mixed emotions. If you’re going to have a printer, I really want it to print. Imagine that with bits of text, disjointed. A story or random? Something intriguing, teasing, revealed and concealed…

One piece of paper fluttered down and missed the platform. It sat there. I looked at it. Then turned my back and wandered to look at other works. Later it had moved … well, more properly I suspect I should write it had been moved.

Ambivalent, I moved on.

Rashid Johnson
Colour men

I came to Something living, in particular Colour men by Rashid Johnson. Materials include ceramic tile, black soap, wax (and enamel paint? my photo of the wall sign is blurry).

The detail on the left may show the lumpy texture on the surface.

The mark making is energetic, exciting, revealing colour. I was fascinated by the way the line changed colour as it crossed from tile to tile. Still, I don’t think you can get away from the idea of it looking like excrement smeared over the walls of a public toilet block. Scratching through to find the person. Graffiti. Urban decay. So I see unhappy men, grimacing, perhaps trapped and constrained in their actions by a hostile society. I expected it to smell. It was colourful, but not joyful.

I wandered upstairs. Quickly into Victorian watercolours for a photo (for another post that’s been part-written for a while. I’ve decided to keep up with the new and catch up on exhibitions seen over recent months when I can). And then to a fairly recent acquisition of work by Inge King – Captive.

My notes again: we carry our prisons with us. tapering shapes, ribs, fingers. block for head. What little we need to perceive the figure, the space around (here enclosing, containing).

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I looked at the welding, then scurried down for a final photo of Mikala Dwyer’s work.

It really isn’t the point, but I feel much happier about my welding. I need to get back to that – there is a Plan, but more medium term.

A really refreshing, inspiring, happy day. So lucky.

Technology detour

This blog has been quiet a few weeks while I changed up my use of technology. I’ll give a brief outline in case any is of use to others, and so I can compare to actual outcomes later.

Issues:

  • My existing smart phone was a few generations old. I rarely used the phone functionality and found the screen too small to be comfortable for reading or internet browsing on the go. The battery life was getting shorter and shorter.
  • I’ve been doing heaps of textile-related reading, but with no specific college assignment in mind. Interesting and I will remember major concepts, but my notes were scattered in various notebooks and pieces of paper. I’d never be able to find things again.
  • A minor point that tipped me over the balance point – I have a new wrist fitness tracker (www.fitbit.com/), and my mobile phone was too old to talk to it via bluetooth.
  • Wish list:

  • Ability to take notes on the go – say when reading on the bus.
  • All notes stored in one place.
  • Search facilities for all my notes.
  • Screen large enough to read comfortably – saved pdfs, internet browsing, …
  • Still a phone, with my existing phone number – as a secondary requirement.
  • Stylus.
  • Able to snip internet text and photos, annotate, highlight parts, and include search info for use with other notes.
  • GIMP or other image manipulation software.
  • Camera, possibly with ability to connect to my big camera.
  • Earpiece to listen to podcasts, recorded lectures etc.
  • Ability to sync with fitbit.
  • samsung_noteResult:

  • Samsung Note 10.1″ 4G (2014 Edition) (www.samsung.com/au/
    consumer/mobile-phone/tablet/tablet/SM-P6050ZKAXSA
    ). This includes a styles that fits neatly in the tablet, and software that integrates its use.
  • BlueAnt bluetooth earpiece (www.myblueant.com/products/headsets/q3/).
  • Evernote (https://evernote.com/) on both my PC and the new tablet. All my notes end in the same place. There are good search facilities. There are download/export options so I can make my own backups without relying on the cloud, or the ongoing availability of the software.
  • GIMP Inkscape (play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.gimp.inkscape&hl=en). The basic layout and facilities are familiar, but I’m still getting used to the smaller tablet screen and slightly different implementation.
  • It took some effort, being referred to more and more technical helpdesks, but I was able to transfer my existing phone number to the tablet with a suitable sim only plan.
  • A minor point which rounds it out. Not only will it sync with my fitbit, so I can immediately watch my wiggly heartbeat line, but the fitbit has caller id. It vibrates and displays the name of the incoming caller.
  • After only a few days I’m still learning, but loving it. I’m still experimenting with the mix of apps, but the data input is great – there’s a keyboard form that intelligently suggests words etc, but also handwriting recognition that can cope with my lousy running writing on a bumpy bus. I can sit on the bus, reading Textile (www.bloomsbury.com/au/journal/textile/) (paper version), search on the internet for more information about an exhibition or artist mentioned, make notes, snip quotes and photos – all with ease and knowing it will be available on the desktop when I get home. Walking along I have the tablet in my backpack, the earpiece safely in a pouch hanging from the shoulder strap. If a call comes in I get a discreet buzz on the wristband, and can have the earpiece in and call answered faster than I could ever fish out the old phone.

    The next question – is this still the honeymoon period, the rush of new technology toys? I’m hoping it’s the start of much more effective work methods that will support my ongoing studies as a part of general life.

    Exhibition: Pop to Popism

    This huge exhibition is currently on at the Art Gallery of New South Wales – http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/exhibitions/pop-to-popism/. I’m going to focus on some works with textile elements in this post.

    Robert Rauschenberg Dylaby 1962
    http://www.rauschenbergfoundation.org/art/artwork/dylaby
    This is one of Rauschenberg’s “combines”, with elements from painting and sculpture. According to Wayne Tunnicliffe in the AGNSW catalogue “Rauschenberg often said that he aimed to bridge the gap between art and life” (p. 20). This isn’t slick and consumerist, yet it incorporates found items of consumer culture including a battered coke sign. The flat surface was a focus in abstract expressionism. Here the canvas has escaped to fall away from the underlying frame and to drape down to the floor. Also in the AGNSW catalogue, Chris McAuliffe writes that instead of an expression of the personal, inner life of the artist seen in abstract expressionism, “Rauschenberg proposed … an art premised on engagement with the world, in which ‘the imagery and the material and the meanings of the painting would not be an illustration of my will but more like an unbiased documentation of my observations’. This suggested that what American art required was not wild acts of assertion but a kind of realism that registered the artist’s responses to the everyday world of affluence and consumerism, media and technology. Rauschenberg charted these responses in layered arrays of found media imagery” (p.62)

    The idea of “combines”, including both painting and sculpture, seems very close to some of the ideas in Fiber: Sculpture 1960 – present (see 26-Dec-2014), particularly in the use here of the canvas.

    Tony Tuckson Pyjamas and Herald 1963
    http://cs.nga.gov.au/Detail.cfm?IRN=63776
    This works seems to contain narrative, the signs of an individual life. The newspaper placard gives a specific place and date – Sydney, March 1963. From a recorded interview with Tuckson’s wife on the NGA website I learnt that the pyjamas were her’s, discarded in a waste bin, and the hessian sacking was some of that roughly sewn by Tuckson to make studio curtains.

    There seems to be the gestures and dramatic sweeps of paint of abstract expressism combined with these found domestic objects. Denise Mimmocchi notes in the catalogue that this work “has clear affinities with Robert Rauschenberg’s combines, the hybrid form of painting and sculpture” and “Tuckson may also have intended a personal narrative through his collaged objects, yet of greater significance was his use of the canvas as an experimental ground for investing the painted gestures of abstract expressionism with the impact of real-life objects” (p. 152)

    As well as occupying an interesting place in art historical movements, this work has an impact, it holds the viewer’s gaze. For me the textile elements are particularly effective in evoking the domestic, the personal, the story, as well as in helping the artist break away from the flat surface.

    Enrico Baj General 1961 http://artsearch.nga.gov.au/Detail.cfm?IRN=107603 and Le Baron Robert Olive de Plassey, Gouverneur de Bengale 1966 (I couldn’t find an online image)
    In the AGNSW catalogue Anneke Jaspers writes “Baj noted that his creative agenda was not explicitly political, but had long been engaged in debunking ‘official stupidity'” (p. 128). Both the works in the exhibition are collages or assemblages of found items, including a lot of textiles (fabric, braids, tassels…). The General is posed like a child jumping from behind a door and shouting “boo”. His body is made of ineffective “camouflage” fabric, a visually noisy mix of cream, red and green, his chest is covered in sash and medals, his hair a mess of twisted fibres. The General is overtly masculine, apparently powerful, and yet quite ridiculous.

    The Governor of Bengal is happy in his bubble of power, also clearly masculine, with the trappings of power in medals and braids, backed by fabrics that are everything traditional, and apparently dazzled by the modern and hip with eyes of Beatles badges. A ridiculous figure, a puppet – and to me quite sinister, a potential petty dictator blind or indifferent to his misuse of power.

    In both works the textiles used are more than random found objects. They bring layers of history and meaning, showing the pomp and military/political power of these dangerous, stupid, limited men who fill the frame with their self-importance.

    Colin Lanceley Love me stripper 1963
    http://cs.nga.gov.au/Detail.cfm?IRN=45148
    The textile elements of this work are small in area, but very effective in the information they give. Lacy stockings and holed undergarments leave no doubt about the profession of the women shown.

    Claes Oldenburg Giant Soft Fan—Ghost Version 1967
    http://www.mfah.org/art/detail/giant-soft-fan-ghost-version/
    This is a very large sculpture of a desk fan – made of canvas, wood and polyurethane foam. Suspended from the ceiling it droops, deflated, casting grotesque shadows. It is shaped by gravity – Oldenburg’s “favourite form creator”. From Alexandra Gregg in the AGNSW catalogue: “With its oversized scale, lumps, bumps and crevices, the sculpture takes on an anthropomorphic guise and reminds us of the not-so flattering parts of our bodies. Its droopy limpness gives it a feeling of being tired or bored”. Also “By making us pay attention to these familiar objects in such unexpected ways, Oldenburg’s art is more an acceptance of the everyday world than a critique of consumer society” (p. 106).

    I find humour and a wonderful clear-eyed observation of the world in this work. It’s also exciting to see one of the major (potential) qualities of a textile, its drape or response to gravity, used to such good effect as an integral part of the work.

    As a group these works had me thinking again about all the different qualities and associations textiles can bring to an artwork.

    Reference
    Tunnicliffe, W. and Jaspers, A. (eds) (2014) Pop to Popism Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales

    OCA textile student get-together in Sydney

    Kath, Eva, Claire, Judy

    Kath, Eva, Claire, Judy

    Today the stars aligned and four of the five Sydney based OCA students were in Sydney, and in the Art Gallery. It was great to meet up, to share stories and support, and to show each other a bit of what we’ve been doing.

    OCA_Sydney_201501_04Kath has recently done an online workshop with Dionne Swift – Developing Sketchbooks http://www.dionneswift.co.uk/store/developing-sketchbooks-online-workshop-2/.

    OCA_Sydney_201501_03Her results were really exciting. What had started life as a standard A5 spiral bound book of cartridge paper had been transformed. Pages were added, moved, larger foldouts inserted (changing dimensions and orientation), cutouts, mini-flips, plus there was development of a theme with lots of ideas to explore, extract, combine, change… There was a real sense of energy, the book now bulging with ideas.

    OCA_Sydney_201501_05Kath also showed us some stitching in progress, including a microprocessor and stitches in conductive thread. Apparently there is a light that will flash. A very interesting area to become involved in.

    Eva described some of her recent work, sketching and also stitching on her mapping theme. No photos – her kayaking on the harbour in the morning had run late, and she didn’t have time to pick up her bag of goodies. What a very Sydney problem 🙂

    OCA_Sydney_201501_02Claire brought some examples of her printing-stitching combinations. The photo on the right shows paper that has been marbled and then stitched. Other examples are in her blog here. She also gave me a goody bag of samples from our indigo dye day – a range of different fabrics, with matching swatches dyed and undyed. A great addition to the resource folder.

    Claire has recently done a two-day masterclass in printing, which has revolutionized her work. Some of the drawbacks of distance study with OCA – no demonstrations, no immediate feedback and advice from tutors, and instructions that can be rather vague and brief to keep options open for students with access to different tools and materials. Frustrating, but on the other hand we’re building self-reliance, experience in our own toolsets – and it’s said you learn a lot from your mistakes! Still, with so many short courses available, including many online, there are ways to supplement our learning as required.

    OCA_Sydney_201501_06I was wearing my show-and-tell – a light summery top from indigo dyed cotton.

    Getting together like this is another way of supplementing our learning. Fun, informative, invigorating – a real boost.

    Annette Messager: motion / emotion

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

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

    Les Gants-Grimaces The Gloves-Grimaces 1999

    Les Gants-Grimaces
    The Gloves-Grimaces

    1999

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

    Gants-Tête Gloves-Head 1999

    Gants-Tête
    Gloves-Head

    1999

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

    Les Dépouilles Skins 1997

    Les Dépouilles
    Skins

    1997


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

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

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

     Pénétration Penetration (1993–94)

    Pénétration
    Penetration

    (1993–94)

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

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

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

    Chance 2011-12

    Chance
    2011-12

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

    Désir Desire Detail 2009

    Désir
    Desire

    Detail
    2009

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

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

    Ma collection de proverbes
    My collection of proverbs

    1974-2012

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

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

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

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


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