Wednesday 20 September 2006

Tamworth opening

Sue Mader Working the Fallow, 2004/05, hessian bags, hand stitched with jute, coated with lime, Photo: Jon Green

The Tamworth Biennial is arguably the most important textile exhibition in Australia. The latest is curated by Vivonne Thwaites and has just opened. Below is the opening address by Kay Lawrence.

In the World: head, hand, heart

17th Tamworth Textile Biennial 2006

The title of this 17th Tamworth Textile Biennial In the World: head, hand, heart talks about the integration of the self in the world, rather than the Cartesian separating out of mind and body, that has been so prevalent in Western thought. And it gives equal weight to emotion.

As any artist knows, creating an artwork is an emotional business. It’s often a journey into the unknown, you don’t quite know where you’re going, but you’re driven by the desire to find something out. It’s a journey that is undertaken physically, mentally and emotionally. You make your way working with your body, your hands, shaping materials to try and express some half conscious thought. If you didn’t have some emotional investment in the journey you’d be easily put off, as the way can take you up frustrating dead-ends requiring you to re-think your destination, back-track and try another route.

Of course when things go well there’s a wonderful synergy between the idea and its expression, and a sense of exhilaration, a moment when head, hand and heart are truly one.

Although memory and imagination enable us to cast our minds into the past and the future, our bodies remind us (as Deborah Bird rose once noted) that we live our lives in the present, in the here and now. And the body is present everywhere in this exhibition, from textiles that show evidence of bodily use, to processes that remind us of the body’s rhythms.

Almost all of the works involve repetition, in the structure of the work or in the making processes; the rhythmic repetition of line across line in cross hatching, stitch after tiny stitch in embroidery, loop upon loop in knitting, pricking hole after hole to make a pattern, pushing rags through the spaces in a grid.

These repetitive movements are deeply aligned with the body’s rhythms, the pulse of blood, the inhalation and exhalation of breath. Perhaps the experience of seeing these works and unconsciously recognising their relation to our own somatic selves, grounds us in the present moment. If it does, it also grounds us in the everyday.

While this is a textile biennial, the materials used by the artists range further than cloth and fibre to include paint, paper, plastics, shell, buttons, feathers, salt. But what they have in common with textiles is they are generally materials found near at hand; collected on walks in the country, on the beach, found in the kitchen or the shed, discovered in the button box, the linen cupboard, or rag-bag. They are ordinary, familiar materials that have been transformed through imaginative making, to help us see the world anew.

And what are these works telling us, about ourselves and the world?

  • That many of us feel a deep connection to place. Whether it’s connection to country renewed through the making of images and objects, or connection through memory to the places of childhood. Or perhaps its attraction to liminal spaces, like the coast, that that heighten our awareness of being part of the flux and movement of life.
  • I think they’re also telling us that we must recognise the complexities of our history: the losses that accompany immigration, the damaging effects of white settlement in unsettling the lives of Indigenous Australians as well as unsettling the delicate ecological balance of the country.
  • On a more personal level, these works affirm the importance of connection between people while recognising the loss that inevitably shadows all our relationships.
  • And finally, as curator Vivonne Thwaites says in her introduction, the works in the exhibition speak of the wonderful ‘unruliness of everyday life’ and the importance of recognising our common humanity, our interrelatedness in the present moment, in the world.

Kay Lawrence
South Australian School of Art
University of South Australia
Sept 2006

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