Tag Archives: Melbourne

Craft in Parallels

Click to see full image

Click to see full image

After the Parallels conference at the National Gallery of Victoria, I was left thinking about the broader context for crafts in Australia. The conference was initially set up as part of the National Craft Initiative,  a strategy put in place after the de-funding of Craft Australia to review what is needed by the craft sector in Australia. But naturally the event took on the interests of the host, which by charter seeks to grow its collection of unique and valuable art works.

Parallels seemed to be focused on the opportunities afforded for craft by collaborations with designers, who sell their work at international design fairs, such as Design Miami and Milan Furniture Fair. Figures like Wava Carpenter offered entre into these worlds through diverse forms of curation. The suggested strategy was to nurture these ‘facilitators’ who would help develop those international connections.

There’s no doubt that such markets help stimulate some extraordinary works, as was evident in the presentations by allied designers. Craft naturally benefits from patronage, whether it’s from monarchs, government or rich collectors. But the focus on this 1% of the 1% as direction for the Australian craft sector did seem rather narrow.

This came out in the Craft – The Australian Story symposium held the following Saturday. We heard then particularly about the other end of the spectrum – makers. Marcus Westbury, host of the ABC series Bespoke, talked about a continuum between the maker movement and studio crafts. Ramona Barry, soon to launch Craft Companion with co-author Rebecca Jobson, showed page shots that juxtaposed craft exhibition works with domestic production.

This led me to think about the different contexts in which studio craft finds itself. So I had a go at a mind map, which you can see above. I’m sure there are elements missing, don’t you think?

Studio craft is an art form that emerged post-war, along with art photography, to join the pantheon of visual arts. From the 1970s, it stood as an equal in the original Australia Council alongside visual arts, literature, music and dance. But from the 1990s it has gradually been subsumed into visual arts. Is this inevitable, or a failure of political nous?

It’s common now to hear the statement that craft is no longer a meaningful term. ‘What matters is whether it looks good!’ ‘Aren’t we over the old art/craft debate?’

Is that it? As a rusty Marxist, I tend to see this as a symptom of a consumerist society, which has lost touch with how goods are produced. For me, craft opens up the bigger picture. We don’t just as, as we would an art object, ‘What does it mean?’ We also ask, ‘How was it made, and by whom?’ We engage with an appreciation of skill, tradition and understanding of material.

But it was clear by the end of the Saturday symposium, led by the rousing Susan Cohn, that many thought craft in Australia needed to find its voice again. While our craft organisations work tirelessly for the sector, the voice of the grass-roots needs to be heard. This is a voice that asks for respect – respect for the special contribution that craftspersons make to our broader culture.

Thanks to the NGV for allowing us to hold the symposium and listing it as part of the Parallels program. Let’s hope it’s a sign of willingness to consider craft in its broader context – not just as an exotic back story, but also as a space for popular empowerment in a post-industrial world.


Speaking up for voicelessness – new works by Olivia Pintos Lopez

The Prosopopoeias (Counihan Gallery, 23 January – 15 February, 2015) by Olivia Pintos-Lopez is an intriguing installation of enigmatic figures made from a combination of cast resin, metal armature, cotton, kid leather, linen, muslin, antique  lace, wool embroidery, brocade, buttons, beads, coral, teeth, bone, feather, metal,  seeds, shell, stick, gold leaf, cloves, lavender, photographs, thread.  The text is from the opening speech by Sarah Tomasetti and images of works are below.

Let’s start with the question on everyone’s lips, What is a prosopopoeia?

Wikipedia informs us thus

A prosopopoeia is a rhetorical device in which a speaker or writer communicates to the audience by speaking as another person or object.

Prosopopoeiae can also be used to take some of the load off the communicator by placing an unfavorable point of view on the shoulders of an imaginary stereotype. The audience’s reactions are predisposed to go towards this figment rather than the communicator himself.

(I think I would like one of those with me all the time to take the rap for my own unfavourable points of view.)

It is interesting that we are speaking of communication here because most of the figurines don’t have faces, let alone mouths. They seem to express a somewhat incoherent state of voicelessness, yet further on we read…

Quintilian writes of the power of this figure of speech to ‘bring down the gods from heaven, evoke the dead, and give voices to cities and states.’

And so via the transformative power of the prosopopoeia we move from this state of voicelessness to bringing down cities and states! (To interpret the idea loosely.)  And we do indeed encounter something utterly powerful and compelling in the way these figurines of humble size seem to give form to our own countless unexpressed longings and objections and passing moments of humour.

My first entry to this exhibition was via two of these figurines bought from Olivia’s last Melbourne exhibition and followed by an exchange of materials in which I gave her some gloves and hankies and other things from my grandmother’s collection to be repurposed.

Encountering this new body of work I am struck once again by a sense of connection, an obsessive feeling of needing to own certain pieces.  I see a lot of art and collect very little, – in fact sometimes as an artist I can wish not to have too many other voices around me – so to what can I put this down?  I think it is the uncanny way that the prosopopoeias seem to give expression to interior states, to literally bring them into being in some way that seems essential to ones inner life.  (I did notice a number of people prowling about as I was, mourning ones that were gone, and trying to make the next cathexis quickly before it too was snatched away.)

There is a sense that the gesture or feeling or unconscious state is literally found through making, and as Olivia has described it, at the point that it is fully realised, she stops, sometimes quite abruptly.  The last gesture or stitch or wrapped thread has been made, sometimes quite violently, and there is no need to go on.  Something has been made coherent, exists more solidly than before.  I would posit that the primary essentialness of the process is echoed in the strong response that is going on in the prowling viewers.

They are not primarily about making a thing of beauty.  They are more direct than this, more necessary.

Looking through the blind spot

My interdisciplinary arts practice aims to investigate the ‘blind spot’ between nature and existence. Exploring the tension between perception and visibility, my work brings into focus the unseen, overlooked and unforeseeable.

My latest installation project, Blind Spot, Linden Innovators 1: +16 May – +22 June 2014, has been a daring attempt to map out a large three dimensional hole in space. A complex and multifaceted anti-form that is as optically impossible to describe as the space inside an atom. Blind Spot describes one of the most significant environmental discoveries of our age- the Ozone Hole. Like an iceberg looming in space, it is a dark wonder of the natural world, a landmark that cannot be found on any atlas or world map. Its appearance in our atmosphere every spring is a haunting reminder of how we close we come to pushing our environment beyond the point of regeneration. Finding a means to visually and conceptually fathom otherwise unperceivable aspects of nature, the work aims to delineate the blind spot in perception that fails to make the connection between existence and the systems within nature that support it.

Within my arts practice I reinterpret traditional craft based materials and techniques, working with new technologies to find innovative ways to respond to the themes the work addresses. Observing nature filtered through imagery from NASA’s Earth Observing Satellite Data Centre, Earth’s life support systems become visible. This expanded perspective offers a techno-romantic glimpse into the ‘blind spot’ between nature and existence.

Blind Spot is a continuation of my ongoing research. Its trajectory can be seen from my previous series, Life Support Systems, funded by the City of Melbourne Arts Project Grants. Life Support Systems uses NASA’s space suit helmet glass to create a series of three atmospheric weather maps charting shifting weather conditions in the atmosphere over Antarctica that have global implications. The maps are hung sequentially and read from left to right. The unfolding narrative of shifting weather is described in short texts below each work that evolve from history of monitoring Earth’s atmosphere to +today’s attitudes towards Climate Change: the forecast for +tomorrow. The aim of the series was to examine how the forecast for +tomorrow’s weather is reliant on our perception of our environment +today. The work does this by being fabricated from a material that was originally used as a part of the life support system of a space suit and drawing a parallel with its natural counterpart, the Ozone Layer.

Visually we first became aware of the role the Ozone Layer plays in sustaining our environment in the 1950’s Space Race’s iconographic images of the Earth. In these dazzling images Astronauts floated above the Earth tethered to spaceships, the only thing keeping them alive was the fragile life support system of their space suit. One of the most prominent features of the space suit was the luminescent dichroic glass visor that aesthetically resembled a giant mirror or ‘all seeing eye’. This lens reflected thefirst view of the Earth as a tiny fragment in an ecosystem of universal proportions from which no part is immune from the changes of its counterparts. This ignited global research to strive for an expanded awareness of our environment. From this research the Ozone Hole was discovered and +today’s current ecological conundrum revealed.

Today there is a tenuous relationship between the fragility of our environment and its ability to regenerate. The success or failure of this lies in learning how to make the concerns of these invisible aspects of our life support system on Earth visible so that the unforeseeable consequences never eventuate.

Blind spot has been funded by the Australia Council for the Arts and will be exhibited in Melbourne 2014 and Sydney 2015. It is at Linden Gallery until 22 June 2014. See jasminetargett.blogspot.com.

Ruth Hadlow textile journey on 18 November

Unpacking my Library: Textile tales from West Timor

an illustrated lecture about textiles & culture in West Timor
by artist, writer & educator Dr Ruth Hadlow

The University of Melbourne
Harold White Theatre

757 Swanston St (near Gratton Street) – Rm:224 – Flr:2 (1st Floor) Enter via the external stairs next to the School of Graduate Studies or up the internal stairs at the back of the foyer. Theatre is on the right.
Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning
Monday 18 November, 6.00pm

Dr Ruth Hadlow went to West Timor, Indonesia, in 1999 to study innovations in the traditions of hand-woven textiles. She discovered an extraordinary wealth and variety of cloth, all woven on back-strap looms. In 2001 Ruth moved to Kupang, and has lived there for the last 11 years, doing research on textiles and bringing up a family with her Timorese husband Willy Kadati.

With a mixture of narrative storytelling and information Ruth will explore the beautiful textiles and fascinating culture of West Timor. The talk will be accompanied by a sale of hand-woven West Timorese textiles.  (NB. cash sales only)

Gold coin donation in support of YTP Training Young Weavers Program in West Timor
Presented by World Craft Council Asia Pacific Region

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.

Seeding the Cloud workshops

Roseanne Bartley is presenting a series of three Seeding the Cloud workshops.

Join the artist jeweller Roseanne Bartley as she threads her way in and around the streets and parklands of Melbourne CBD. Over a two-hour process led experience, Roseanne will share the ‘how to’ behind her roving work Seeding the Cloud: A Walking Work in Process. Take part in jewellery based process that addresses the mass of residual plastic within the environment and contribute to the creation of a collectively inspired Civic Necklace.

Come prepared with sensible walking shoes and a weatherproof coat.

Cost: $50 / $25 Craft Victoria Members. Includes a copy of the Seeding the Cloud Instruction Booklet.

Thursday 11 August, 10am-12pm
Saturday 13 August, 1.30-3.30pm
Saturday 20 August, 1.30–3.30pm
Bookings: click here

Melbourne Charm School: Luck at the bottom of the world

What really is a ‘lucky country’? And how can we nurture that luck for the future?

Local inspiration has long been a focus of craft practice, and now increasingly design. The default source in many cases is landscape: often a prominent natural feature such as mountain or a unique material like mineral or flora. But landscape does not exist in itself. It is charged with the hopes and fears of the people that dwell in it.

Southern Charms looks for local inspiration in the hazards that define the aspirations and fears particular to communities across the South. It aims to demonstrate how the practice of jewellery design can assist in navigating through uncertain futures.

In Chile, the predominant concern was the recurrent earthquake, which has the potential not only to destroy homes but also to break the social fabric. How to look confidently to the future when it could all collapse at any moment?



In Australia, there are alternative issues. The Melbourne Charm School was run as part of the State of Design Festival and was situated in Social Studio, where recent African migrants come to learn skills in dress-making, hospitality and management. During the festival the studio demonstrated some of its re-made clothes at a fashion parade.

In the workshop, we explored the anatomy of a charm – how to design for luck. Each participant nominated a particular situation where they thought luck was badly needed.



Unsurprisingly, the bushfire turned out to be a popular choice. Like the earthquake in Chile, it is a shared collective threat particular to place. While both represent inexorable forces of nature, social cohesion is vital to survival. Everyone needs to help each other to be mindful of the threat. But there are contrasts. With weather reports, we have greater warning of a potential bushfire and it affects people in the countryside more than the city, while an earthquake can happen at any time and is of greater danger to those living in crowded neighbourhoods. Still, in both cases, the local threats are as much what binds people together as local landscape, such as wattle or lapis lazuli – perhaps even more so.

It was also natural that, given the context, the plight of asylum seekers was nominated. This is a journey from a violent homeland, via ‘people smugglers’, on a leaky boat to an suspicious country. Would it be possible for Australians to send a charm to those waiting in detention camps to help them sustain hope? Could there be something that provided a token of the welcome that they might eventually receive – an object on which to pin hopes during the endless months waiting for bureaucracy to move?

But there are also many personal circumstances that require good fortune. Surprisingly, a number of nominations concerned the hazard of parents growing old. Would it be possible to design something to fill the ’empty nest’ – a sign from the departing children of gratitude for the care so far extended and best wishes for the freedom gained with less responsibilities?

Each participant made a charm specifically to assist with the issue nominated by someone else. Given the time limits, and variation in skill , there were some amazing neckpieces produced. There would need to be much more work done to ensure that the charm could ‘work’ properly, but it was a most auspicious beginning. Some examples:



Certainly, there are other challenges ahead. Clearly one of the challenges that defines our global identity at the moment is climate change. Can a charm be useful in galvanising action? Maybe not. It would seem that trusting in luck to help with climate change works against an active response to the problem. Nonetheless, no one knows exactly how the earth’s weather will be affected by high concentrations of carbon. The risk of catastrophe is large enough to warrant a radical response. An object that reminds of this predicament may well have a role to play. But what would that object be? And how would we use it? That challenge lies ahead for another charm school.

Upcoming Charm Schools

‘Luck is believing you’re lucky.’
Tennessee Williams



Luck is not something that sits well with a modern way of life. Modernity is largely defined against superstitious practices of the past. Magical folk remedies have been replaced by far more reliable medical science. We no longer make sacrifices to rain gods; we have more responsible water restrictions instead. The only official acknowledgement of luck lies in the growing gambling industry on which local governments have become increasingly dependent.

So does luck still have a place in modern life? Are there occasions when we can still wish someone ‘good luck’ without appearing to be nostalgic for a more mystical past? Does carrying a lucky charm that someone has given you make any real difference to your life?

How might charms demonstrate the things that really matter to us? What might be the role of jewellery as counterbalance to the quantification of friendship in online networks like Facebook?

Towards the exhibition Southern Charms is a series of workshops to explore how to reconnect with the tradition of ‘power jewellery’ such as charms, amulets and talismans. The workshops will explore the culture of fortune:

  • its role in the history of the contemporary jewellery movement
  • its ‘social design’ elements, such as gift-giving and care
  • its potential in responding to the pressing demands in personal and public life

This workshop reviews the function of charms, particularly in jewellery, and considers their potential uses today. Participants will be able to develop new designs and test them out.

Related articles

After the Missionaries events

These events relate to the ‘After the Missionaries’ issue of Artlink, which includes articles about how artists are negotiating their paths through a more reciprocal world. For more information go here.

10 June FORUM Has the world changed?

  • Has the Kyoto Protocol changed how rich and poor countries relate to each other?
  • Is Australia moving away from the Anglosphere?
  • Is the Global Financial Crisis a time to look at alternative economic models?
  • Is ethical the new black?
  • Have artists changed in how they relate to the world around them?

You are invited to join a discussion in real time with live people in the same space. These people will include contributors to the ‘After the Missionaries’ issue of Artlink. With luck, there will also be some copies, hot of the press.

TIME: 6.00 -8.00 pm Wednesday 10 June
PLACE: Domain House, Birdwood Drive, Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne
For more information, click here. To submit a question, email here. This event itself occurs in the context of Evolution – the Festival and the Amnesty of Ideas program of Southern Perspectives.

18 June OPENING World of Small Things: An exhibition of craft diplomacy
Craft Victoria, 31 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, opening 18 June 6-8, show open until 25 July
To be opened by Soumitri Varadarajan, Associate Professor of Industrial Design RMIT

20 June LAUNCH After the Missionaries issue of Artlink
The ‘After the Missionaries’ issue of Artlink will be formally launched at Craft Victoria, Saturday 20 June 4pm, by Dr Connie Zheng, senior lecturer in management at RMIT and expert in how Chinese do business. This will be preceded by a forum on working with traditional artisans (for more details, see here).

27 August THEREAFTER After ‘After the Missionaries’
There will be an opportunity to reflect on the questions raised by After the Missionaries at the Institute of Postcolonial Studies, 78-80 Curzon Street North Melbourne.

Copies of Artlink will be on sale from 15 June.