Tag Archives: Exhibition

Suse Scholem–jewellery in other words

Mirror from Attempts at Describing Adornment

Mirror from Attempts at Describing Adornment

Relational jewellery has taken a new step forward.

Suse Scholem is at the radical edge of the Melbourne contemporary jewellery scene. A graduate of Monash University, she is steeped in feminist and psychoanalytic theories.

Her previous show at Handheld Gallery in 2011 was Abject Object. It explored a feminist aesthetics by including body remnants as jewellery. While striking, it was framed in relatively conventional terms as art jewellery, reducible to the intentions of its maker.

The recent show at Footscray’s Trocadero Gallery focused instead on the interpersonal dimension. attempts at describing adornment was aesthetically quite minimal. It consisted of a variety of jewellery pieces, each featuring a series of words on porcelain. The words were garnered from interviews Scholem conducted with people about the way they present to the world. By filling out a questionnaire, contributing your own thoughts to the mix, you could then select your own piece from a box of ‘seconds’. The one I chose said:

I like black. It makes me feel a bit like a blank canvas.

Being a creature of Melbourne, I felt I could sympathise with this statement. But at the same time, I liked that it came from someone else. I find that I enjoy wearing it especially when I go out in brown. This accentuates that the words belong to someone else. After all, my brown is defined against the Melbourne black.

Essentially, what I’m wearing is a fashion statement. And there’s something liberating about reducing fashion to a literal statement.

Another touch I really like in Scholem’s exhibition was the mirror. It is common in jewellery exhibitions to have a mirror where you can try out the look of a piece on yourself. Scholem’s mirror follows the conventional oval outline, but only contains mirror shards pointing outwards, leaving the inside empty.

There were still a few elements that I thought could be further developed. The words were unfired, which means they are rubbed off with wear. While I can understand the conceptual rationale for this, I felt that it detracted from the value of jewellery as a relatively permanent adornment, which in this case would work nicely against the casual nature of the observations. Also, the language of the exhibition title and associated statements were quite theoretical and abstract. This renders the work as quite cerebral. A discourse that was more narrative or poetic might help wearers engage on other levels. There’s also the danger with overly theoretical art that you can run out of statements.

Scholem’s exhibition builds on other experiments with relational jewellery, particularly Roseanne Bartley’s Culturing the Body (2002), which invited wearers to bear politically charged words, such a ‘Queue jumper’, and collect public responses. This is a potentially rich vein of development. Of course, t-shirts provide a canvas for circulating witticisms in public. But jewellery tends to be more personal. It expresses a more intimate meaning. In this case, the reveals the meanings of others, within which we see ourselves.

The forest comes to Ararat

Detail of the Floating Forest installation by Douglas Fuchs at Ararat Regional Art Gallery

Detail of the Floating Forest installation by Douglas Fuchs at Ararat Regional Art Gallery

I had the good fortune on Saturday to attend the Floating Forest symposium at Ararat Regional Art Gallery. Talks by curators and artists reflected a heartening story that connected not only generations of fibre artists but also indigenous and settler cultures.

The story begins in 1981, when Craft Australia had the foresight to bring out the US fibre artist Douglas Fuchs. At the time, the development of contemporary craft benefited immeasurably from these foreign visitors, bringing together the nascent communities of fibre, textile, metal, clay and glass artists.

Fuchs was a fibre artist particularly inspired by traditional basketry, such as native American traditions. He travelled widely through Australia, giving workshops and spending time in Maningrida learning the ways of traditional Yolngu fibre crafts. The tour eventuated in the exhibition titled Floating Forest, which launched at Adelaide, Festival Centre in 1981, then toured Sydney and Melbourne in 1982. The visit was quite critical for Australian craft.

Fuch’s statement in the exhibition reflects the mystery that he seeks in fibre art:

Psychologically the forest symbol represents the unknown in each person’s being — a beckoning desire to get lost, or discovering aspects of life that may be more challenging and difficult than already comprehended… My concept of a ‘Floating Forest’ environment was an attempt to construct and symbolise this state of feeling, this symbol that has become central in my imagination. Many other people have done it in different ways. I happen to be a person who makes objects in basketry techniques and materials.

A particularly moving part of the symposium was delivered by Wendy Golden, who read out Virginia Kaiser’s reflections on the experience. Kaiser had been unable to attend herself due to ill health, but the sound of her words vocalised by an equally dedicated and innovative basketmaker was quite powerful. Before Fuchs’ visit, Kaiser had been studying weaving. His workshop had the effect of connecting her with a world of twining and coiling. The exhibition itself was a revelation. The theatrical display of sculptural vessels, figurative pieces and floating structures demonstrated the expressive potential of fibre as an art form.

Installation shot of Floating Forest by Douglas Fuchs at Ararat Regional Art Gallery

Installation shot of Floating Forest by Douglas Fuchs at Ararat Regional Art Gallery

Thankfully, the exhibition as a whole was acquired by the Powerhouse Museum. And fortunately for us, Anthony Camm at the Ararat Regional Gallery had the vision to restage the exhibition 30 years later, reflecting the gallery’s specialisation in fibre arts. The installation was combined with works from the collection and new works made to honour Douglas Fuchs.

Three decades later, a symposium about Floating Forest was an opportunity not only to acknowledge the enduring influence of an exhibition, but also to recognise the revival of indigenous basketry that had occurred in the meantime. In recent years, there has been a wave of fibre exhibitions touring around Australia, such as Recoil, Woven Forms, Tayenebe, Floating Life, and Louise Hamby’s Art on a String and now touring Clever Hands. Increasingly these reflect the resilience and innovation of fibre work in Indigenous communities. More than any other material, fibre connects with the land.

The symposium featured some fascinating reflections on southeastern indigenous fibre. Museum Victoria’s Antoinette Smith gave some fascinating insights into traditional use of baskets, sometimes reaching a massive size to reflect the status of its owner. Marilyne Nicholls reflected on her monumental works using open coil technique. And Brownyn Razem reflected on a wide variety of southeastern fibre arts, such as the revival of possum skin cloaks.

Given the connection to land, there’s a temptation to think then that fibre is an exclusively indigenous art form. An very interesting text panel in the exhibition quoted from a review of the Australian basketry exhibition by Anna Griffiths in Craft Victoria (1992) which downgraded the value of non-functional and conceptual works. But a number of presentations in the symposium showed how it was a continuing form of experimentation for settler artists. As a Victorian basketmakers, Maree Brown showed some very fresh work using a wide variety of materials, from plastics to jigsaw pieces. Lucy Irvine took this further with her phenomenological abstract forms using nylon and cable ties.

Adrienne Kneebone, one of the fibre artists presenting at the symposium

Adrienne Kneebone, one of the fibre artists presenting at the symposium

So do the settler and indigenous fibre traditions meet? Adrienne Kneebone, mentored by Nalda Searles, presented a paper about her Pandanus Project, involving a dialogue around the Northern Territory town Katherine. This featured some quite haunting indigenous fibre work, including the mysterious mukuy forms. But this isn’t the only influence on Kneebone. Talking with Adrienne in the gallery, she told me how moved she was to see Floating Forest. ‘Virginia Kaiser has been such an influence on me. And here is the exhibition that so inspired her.’

Congratulations to Ararat Regional Art Gallery. Floating Forest helped remind us of the power of craft to both connect people and express deep emotions. It’s a lead that others should follow.

The Joyaviva project – ‘live’ jewellery that changes your world

Joyaviva has recently opened at RMIT Gallery, Melbourne. So begins a journey across the Pacific, to explore how the power of jewellery might be renewed for contemporary challenges.

21 jewellers from Australia, New Zealand and Chile draw from their cultures to create objects that can change our lives. Others will join from Bolivia and Mexico when Joyaviva is in Latin America, and the stories will grow as more people host the charms.

Objects in Joyaviva were created for issues relevant to the jeweller’s world, including recent earthquakes, road deaths, school exams, fertility, managerialism or sheer exuberant sociability. The exhibition combines the charms themselves with documentation of their use, including diaries, photos, videos and drawings.

To find out more, go to www.joyaviva.net, where you will find ways of tracking the journey.

Artists:

  • Australia: Roseanne Bartley, Melissa Cameron & Jill Hermans, Caz Guiney, Jin ah Jo, Blanche Tilden, Alice Whish
  • New Zealand: Jacqui Chan, Ilse-Marie Erl, Sarah Read, Gina Ropiha, Areta Wilkinson, Matthew Wilson, Kathryn Yeats
  • Chile: Guillermina Atunez, Francisco Ceppi, Analya Cespedes, Carolina Hornauer, Massiel Mariel, Angela Cura Mendez, Valentina Rosenthal, WALKA STUDIO

The exhibition is at RMIT Gallery until 24 March. Make a wish…

Where to put baskets in an art gallery?

Announcing an upcoming panel session:

The place of collective craft in the modern museums and art galleries of the Global South

This panel session is part of the conference:

Museums and art galleries in the Global South are challenged by the existence of active traditional craft collectives.

Conventional Western approaches to art history focus on individual creativity. The individual artist is seen as the ultimate site for development of new art forms. While inspiration might be drawn from collective traditions, such as Picasso’s experience of African masks, the ultimate end of analysis is the product realised by an individual. This can be seen as part of a cultural economy that deals in a currency of genius, intellectual property and originality. The colonial process entails the extension of this economy into alternative systems where culture is more a matter of collective meaning and ancestral authority.

Such methodologies have a home in the trans-Atlantic North, where traditional cultures are rarely found outside of the modernist lens. In the Global South, however, there is sometimes a bifocal arrangement where modernity co-exists with collective systems.

Compared to visual arts, craft practice depends more on the reproduction of traditional skills than individual originality. In the North, much contemporary craft has been assimilated into modernity through the introduction of studio practice. In the South, craft is still practiced in communities where it is grounded in collective identities, such as village, tribe, caste or guild.

If art history in the Global South is to reflect the nature of its democracies, then methodologies need to be adopted that account for art that has been forged through collective agencies, where it would be inappropriate to single out an individual as the sole representative. This could be seen to apply to forms such as telephone wire-weaving in South Africa, ‘tjanpi’ sculptures in the Western Desert of Australia, tapa cloths from the Pacific, Pattamadai mat weavers in India, Relmu Witral weavers in Chile. How can these collective art forms be incorporated into a history of art in the Global South?

Some of the issues this raises include:

  • How can innovation be accounted for within a collective practice?
  • To what extent can Western institutions such as art galleries accommodate collective art forms such as village crafts?
  • Are there productive ways in which individual artists can collaborate with traditional communities?
  • How can what might be considered a traditional art form be given a diachronic reading through art history?
  • How might individuals that emerge from collective settings to be granted status as ‘living treasures’, ‘masters of their craft’, or ‘artists in their own right’?
  • How to traditional Indigenous crafts compared to hobby circles in the Global North?

This discussion is relevant to those working across the broader South, including African tribal arts, Asian programs for upliftment of traditional crafts, Oceanic models for dealing with traditional knowledge and Latin American forms of engagement with the so called ‘pre-Colombian’ cultures. This also extends to the representation of these in institutions situated in the Global North.

Issues at play here connect closely with existing forums such as Journal of Modern Craft, Craft & Design Enquiry and Southern Perspectives.

For further information about this panel, contact Kevin Murray (kevin(at)craftunbound.net)

Proposals for conference papers should be sent to the Chairperson of SAVAH, Dr Federico Freschi (federico.freschi(at)its.ac.za).

Noria Mabasa carves out a dream for herself

Bell-Roberts Gallery in Cape Town is hosting an exhibition by remarkable South African artist Noria Mabasa. More than 70 years old, Mabasa is one of several ceramicists from the northern province of Venda, bordering on Zimbabwe. For the past thirty years, she has been producing figures and pots with clay sourced from a local river.

Unlike other female artists, Mabasa also carves sculptures out of wood. She produces monumental installations drawing on traditional themes and the status of women. Like many Venda artists, she takes inspiration from personal visions and dreams.

While highly regarded within South Africa, art from Venda has little international profile. It would be wonderful if we could rustle up a touring show of Venda artists. If not, perhaps a residency would do. They are up for it.