Mum used to knit like a madwoman. Everyone in the family had hand knitted jumpers that must have taken her forever to make. Just a normal part of life really. Then she stopped knitting, probably because we didn’t want hand knitted jumpers anymore, and started crocheting rugs. She crocheted so many she began making them expressly to donate to charities.
Eventually she stopped. Her arthritis slowed her down. She lost the motivation. About three years back she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
She was an introvert but loved to be included in social things. She’d never invite herself anywhere though, and was mostly content with her own company, but her lack of social contact and stimulation worried me. She needed more activities to occupy her mind and feel she was making a contribution.
While she was still living independently in her retirement unit I sourced some job lot wool (she’d only use 100% wool) in colours she liked and presented it to her with some new knitting needles. She said she’d forgotten how to knit.
Undeterred I started knitting with her and then for a while we’d have knitting sessions together. She hadn’t forgotten at all. That memory was still there.
I suggested she just knit whatever sizes she wanted, of squares and rectangles, and then I’d piece them together to make a blanket. She thought I was nuts but was happy to oblige for a while. I was just happy she was making again. I didn’t care what she knitted – I’d sort it all out later.
Then she stopped.
She had a few health emergencies that saw several bouts of hospital admissions followed by convalescent care. Things were going a bit south.
She never did take it up again. She had to move into an aged care facility and managed a bit of colouring in and the odd puzzle but really just began to fade away.
When she died in the latter half of last year, on cleaning out her room I found piles of knitted rectangles in bags. Much more than I’d thought she’d made. They were duly stashed in my studio to be dealt with sometime whenever.
Then lockdown hit. Perfect time to haul out the woolly shapes and block them. After laying the pieces out to get a feel for what might need to be filled in, my teenaged daughter wanted to be involved in what has become ‘the 3-gen blanket’ idea.
While I’ve no idea how big this blanket will eventually wind up to be (due mostly to amateurish knitting by mother and daughter) I’m pretty sure it will be sizeable. I’ve sourced more wool in harmonious colours to complete the piece.
While there’s still a way to go we’re hopeful we’re making an heirloom of sorts (rather than a Thneed). And of course we’ll always feel a bit closer to her when we’re working on and using it.
You don’t need me to reiterate the dangers we face as a community, as well as globally right now. But, what I can do is give you some suggestions for how to cope while you’re socially isolating home. Focusing on being calm, creative and productive during Covid-19 lockdown will go a long way to making the time pass as positively as possible.
So here we all are, cooped up at home, adjusting to our new realities. At least we’re all in it together, I hear you say, but the anxiety can still get to us. To keep that anxiety under control it often helps to focus on the small, ordinary things. Things that can give us a bit of respite from the upheavals swirling around us. So why not indulge in an experiment? Make calm your project for the next little while.
I’ve found the past few days pretty therapeutic because I’ve done some savage cupboard reorganising (kitchen, bathrooms, laundry). The chemist got two full shopping bags of outdated medicines, I threw out old junk and recycled loads of unwanted packaging. But if Marie Kondo-ing is an alien concept, you have a ship-shape household already, or if cancelling 2020 altogether isn’t an option for you, here are some suggestions:
Image courtesy Ed Robertson
Curl up and chill out with some good, thought provoking reads
Consider scrolling through the offerings on The School of Life website. On Confinement (The Book of Life / Chapter 3. Self-Knowledge: Behaviours) and The Importance of Staring Out the Window (The Book of Life / Chapter 5. Calm: Perspective) are perfectly appropriate for our time. Make use of this time to discover and appreciate the rewards of self-reflection.
Then there’s always that pile of unread books on your bedside table…
Image courtesy The Vintage Note (thevintagenote.com)
Indulge in some introspection and reflective writing
You could put all that reading to good use by writing your thoughts and observations in a beautiful journal (aided by an equally beautiful pen). Have a look at the websites of LarryPOST or Milligram for some ideas. Everything will be delivered to your door. Milligram even have jigsaw puzzles designed by female artists to while away those pensive hours.
But if all that introspection is driving you crazy you might like to mix it up with some more active, tactile strategies.
Image courtesy Parkers Art Supplies (parkersartsupplies.com)
Make some art and see where it leads…
Why not use your time to play with some new materials and discover a talent you didn’t know you had? Parkers Art Supplies stock an enormous array of premier, quality art materials. They even offer home delivery and a click-and-collect service. Enjoy browsing their website for inspiration.
Image courtesy Habu Textiles (habutextiles.com)
Busy yourself with tactile textile activities
Knitting, weaving, basket-making and general textile bliss is at your fingertips when you browse the heavenly Habu Textiles website. This site is so dreamy-beautiful it is an inspiration in itself. Also consider the Australian site String Harvest for inspiring, beautiful fibre and tools.
We’re going to go through a lot of it so why not make your own! Have a look at All Australian Candle Supplies and Kits. They have comprehensive resources and supplies for both soap and candle making. You can even get the kids involved if you can stand the mess.
Please check my website shortly for upcoming online art and textile workshop events you can participate in at home. All you’ll need is a computer and a few materials you might have on hand or can order online.
In the meantime please look after yourselves, your loved ones and the wider community by staying home unless it is absolutely necessary to go out. And please follow all government safety instructions until this crisis lifts. It will, and we’ll be the stronger for it.
Take care, stay occupied, and take this opportunity to enjoy some reflection time. Stay calm, stay creative and be productive during Covid-19 lockdown. And don’t forget…even the darkest cloud is lined with silver (somewhere).
Imagine walking into a room where masses of cloth that appear to be stained with something like soot or even dirt are arranged over almost the entire floor. Huge paper panels hang from the walls, smeared with dull-coloured stains. Are these marks made by nature or the human hand? Are the surfaces weathered? Accidental? Angry? This was my response on entering the work of Carmen Argote, a Mexican artist living in the US, whose practice focuses strongly on her immediate environment, and her personal responses to it.
This exhibition, As Above, So Below, curated by Margot Norton at New York’s New Museum, is the result of two artist residencies the artist has undertaken in Guadalajara where she delved deeply into the rural and agricultural environments she encountered.
Responding to her surroundings through observation, bodily awareness, local architecture and agricultural activity, she has used materials from those environments directly in the works themselves. Organic substances like coffee, pine needles, avocado and cochineal are embedded into cloth and smudged onto paper through a process of dyeing, or applied to a support like paint. Reflecting an amalgamation of the corporeal and the spiritual in Argote’s practice, her exhibition’s title speaks to a belief in sacred geometry that sees Earth as a reflection of the heavens.
The scale of the installation seems to suck you in to taste the atmosphere she herself experienced. Argote’s work is a deeply felt response to her culture, new environments, and the political and economic relationship we all have with the land.
It was one of the memorable textile-based exhibitions I encountered on my recent trip to the US.
Born in Dillingen, Germany, in 1926, Baron and her family fled to New York in 1941 to escape the escalating Nazi hold over Europe. Sadly the trauma inflicted on her led to mental breakdowns and claustrophobia as an adult and she lived out her troubled life in an insular and solitary way.
Her work embodies a deep sadness, interwoven with the fragile specialness of life and the uncertainties inherent in the human condition. It’s as though she has caught fragments of things while they were falling around her and cobbled them together in a way that both reveals and conceals her personal experiences and her inner turmoil of depression, claustrophobia and life-long breakdowns.
Beautiful little works in every way.
While in San Francisco it was a treat to accidentally stumble upon a beautiful, intimately scaled exhibition of lovingly mended central Asian storage bags at the de Young Museum. The Turkmen Storage Bag exhibition highlighted not only the different designs of cultural groups but the amazing mending evident on most of the pieces. I’m always drawn to mending for a variety of reasons so I was a sucker for this one. These pieces were lush and richly coloured. So important, so useful, and so laden with meaning, that the wear and tear, as well as the repair stitching, was simply and artfully magic.
Small and thoughtfully put together, this was another textile highlight of the trip.
I love the feeling of excitement that goes with chance discovery. Seeing how others respond to life experience is always an education in itself. What better way to do this than through engaging with art?
I’ve been doing some research in the studio. Mind-wandering. Taking time. Considering how things will move forward.
Although I mostly work with textiles and photography, I think my creative practice reflects my painting background in many ways. I find both these media useful and evocative tools to work with, that invite interpretation of memory, feeling and sense of place.
I love the process of creation. I love the sense of wonder at what might happen, in spite of the fact there are roadblocks along the way. You have an idea you want to explore and at times it just seems to go nowhere, until one little thing looks promising. Pursuing that one little thing can lead to another promising lead – or nothing worthwhile at all. That’s the territory. Still, curiosity tends to win out.
I’m inclined to spend lots of time tinkering, thinking and accumulating, before taking concrete action. Internal worlds have always occupied my interest.
These works are in-progress pieces that I hope illustrate a little of my present process. I’ve been looking at pinhole photography, printed onto cloth, in combination with stitching. Still investigating memory responses, the stitching is a nod to the human element in the images – not literal, but evocative of human presence.
Over the next few months these pieces will evolve into a direction for an upcoming solo exhibition early next year.
Check in occasionally to see how it all progresses…
Yes, apologies are in order for yet another late blog post (a significantly late one at that). I’m still guilty of letting life get in the way, and sometimes run off with itself entirely. Life, family, discouragement, health – so many roadblocks on the highway to creative outcomes.
I’ve been struggling lately to put into words what I’ve been experiencing and feeling, and how it’s affecting my work. A lot of self-reflection, drilling down, streamlining, has been happening. I can see new perspectives on the horizon, new methods of working, and more clarity in vision.
My own natural introversion has been overtaking. I’m in a hibernating, ruminating, self-examining, wintry kind of space. Long range studio experimentation is on the agenda. A desire for simplification, quiet, and depth of meaning is humming away in the background.
Fortunately for me the The School of Lifeblog landed in my inbox recently with a beautifully worded piece that perfectly explains my present mindset. The Hard Work of Being ‘Lazy’examines, and indeed justifies, the need for withdrawal into the self in order to reflect and process experience so that productive progress can be achieved. I encourage you to read the entire thing (click on the link above and you’ll see what I mean in a couple of minutes).
Here is a passage worth noting:
“Our minds are in general a great deal readier to execute than to reflect. They can be rendered deeply uncomfortable by so-called large questions: What am I really trying to do? What do I actually enjoy and who am I trying to please? How would I feel if what I’m currently doing comes right? What will I regret in a decade’s time? By contrast, the easy bit can be the running around, the never pausing to ask why, the repeatedly ensuring that there isn’t a moment to have doubts or feel sad or searching. Business can mask a vicious form of laziness.”
“The point of ‘doing nothing’ is to clean up our inner lives. There is so much that happens to us every day, so many excitements, regrets, suggestions and emotions that we should – if we are living consciously – spend at least an hour a day processing events. Most of us manage – at best – a few minutes – and thereby let the marrow of life escape us. We do so not because we are forgetful or bad, but because our societies protect us from our responsibilities to ourselves through their cult of activity. We are granted every excuse not to undertake the truly difficult labour of leading more conscious, more searching and more intensely felt lives.”
I’m tempted to recommend this as a useful passage for artists of any persuasion, but really it’s a permission note for human beings to recalibrate without feeling guilt at not producing tangible outcomes 24/7. How do you feel about this deep-thinking kind of readjustment in your own life? Do you allow yourself the time for this kind of examination?
Being unfamiliar with Chris Capper’s paintings I was impressed by their charming simplicity. I say charming because at first glance they appear a little naive but on closer inspection they reveal texture and a layering of colour that is both subtle and somehow poignant in their softness. A beautiful combination of still life and abstraction, their buttery paint strokes and soft edges are just quietly, intimately dreamy.
Chris Capper paintings, Sheffer Gallery, 2019
Mongolian artist Enkhbold Togmidshiirev’s work at this year’s Asia Pacific Triennial struck me with its beauty and strength (and apparent simplicity) amidst a lot of detail in a beautifully put together collection of work from the Asia Pacific region. His embedding of memory into his work is achieved through incorporating animal dung, mushroom dust, ash, rust and various cloths – elements of the land and culture where he was raised. Locally dyed blue silk panels, known as khadag, representing benevolence (in this case inherited from his parents), cover a canvas in abstract, ethereal gradations of blue. Likewise, the adjacent piece reveals its own abstract shapes beneath the clouds of rust. Quiet, strong and beautiful.
Enkhbold Togmidshiirev’s large scale work, Benevolence, 2013, silk, cotton thread, rust and gel medium on canvas.
Enkhbold Togmidshiirev, Without Form, 2014, horse dung, mushroom dust, gel medium, cotton and wax on canvas, and Coming Season, 2015, horse dung, gel medium, cotton, wax and hessian sack on canvas
Shilpa Gupta’s mesmerising sound installation piece For, in Your Tongue, I Can Not Fit, situated in a dark, cavernous space lit with a few light bulbs, poignantly reveals politically silenced readings from various activists, politicians and influencers through history – in multiple languages – from 100 suspended microphones. The written texts are impaled onto metal rods beneath the microphones. A compelling installation with intense human feeling and truth at its core.
Shilpa Gupta’s For, in Your Tongue, I Can Not Fit, 2017-18, 100 speakers, microphones, printed text, metal stands.
Indigenous artists Margaret Rarru and Helen Ganalmirriwuy’s black baskets (bathi mul) are extraordinary. Using strands of pandanus leaf that has been steeped in a rare black (and secretly processed) dye, the baskets are woven in such a way that, on close inspection, the surfaces gradate between black and charcoal, matte and metallic. Beautiful simple shapes, beautiful surfaces, they are objects infused with cultural meaning and earthiness.
Margaret Rarru and Helen Ganalmirriwuy, Mindirr, 2012, pandanus palm and natural dyes.
The Powerhouse Museum’s Akira Isogawa exhibition, while undeniably expressing exquisite embellishment, the underlying shapes are simple, pared back, and economical. His approach, while honoring the cultural significance of the kimono and Japanese cultural practice generally, utilises all of the fabric, either into the garment itself or in accessories. How’s that for virtuosic sustainability! And incredibly striking, inventive clothing that pays no heed to prevailing trends of commercial fashion.
These are works that have left an imprint on me in multiple ways that are augmenting my approach to my own practice.
Alas, my intention for regular blogging has been thwarted yet again this year, with distractions aplenty eating into my schedule and my concentration. While I endeavour to keep regular I hope you’ll forgive my sporadic bursts of activity. I suppose that’s the nature of the creative life (albeit one that needs more discipline with time).
As 2018 draws to a close I’d like to thank you for your support, encouragement and participation of/with my work this year.
2019 will bring some exciting things I’ll be telling you about in the new year but right now I’m sure you’re as keen as I am to wind down, breathe deeply and enjoy a bit of reflection time.
I hope you spend the Christmas break doing something you love.
My exhibition Stories We Tell Ourselves is in the middle of its run at 541 Art Space (Level 1, 541 Kent Street, Sydney, www.541artspace.com.au). If you haven’t yet seen it, you’ll need to get a move on. It closes on Saturday September 22.
I’m running one more textile workshop on the final day. If you’re interested in coming along please contact the gallery: firstname.lastname@example.org (closing drinks are included!).
In the meantime here are some images from the opening night.
Much gratitude goes to Alison Clark, Team Leader Arts and Culture North Sydney Council, for her thoughtful and eloquent opening speech.
Below are a couple of images from the first workshop. Mounds of linen, textile scraps and yarn – a lovely way to spend a spring afternoon!
I hope you get to see the exhibition. I’d love to know what you think.
Only a few days to go until my exhibition Stories We Tell Ourselves opens at 541 Art Space. I hope you can come.
To complement the exhibition I’ll be running two three-hour stitch workshops on Saturday 8th and Saturday 22nd September.
541 Art Space is very generously offering my subscribers a 20% discount on the price of these sessions. All you need to do is click on this link to book. When purchasing your ticket click “enter promotional code” and enter the promotion code “RHONDA” to claim your 20% discount.
Spend an afternoon stitching an abstract artwork that reflects your own unique story. You are encouraged to bring along any personal or used fabric or garments that are meaningful to you in some way (that you won’t mind cutting up). We’ll explore shape, colour, composition and memory to make a special piece of art or an experimental piece that will expand your creativity that little bit more.
All equipment and materials will be provided, including a selection of fabrics if you forget to bring some of your own.
Bookings are essential. Cost $25 + booking fee.
For more information please email email@example.com
I hope to see you at this Friday’s opening (or at one of the workshops)!
All the best,
I want to tell you about my upcoming solo exhibition Stories we tell ourselves. With the crazy-busy lives we all lead these days I thought I’d give you time to schedule it into your diaries if you can.
This body of work examines the relationship between worn and discarded cloth, their poignant associations with memory, and the narratives they generate. Each piece represents a unique story, imperfectly remembered, translated into ‘pictures’ of moments in time, and readings of relationships.
Here are the details:
And here are a few images of work in progress. I hope they pique your curiosity!
I’ll be running a couple of textile art making workshops during the exhibition too. I’ll post more details closer to the opening (August 31).
Sometimes it’s good to revisit favourite or resonant quotes when in contemplative mode or in the thick of studio work. You can get lost in your own world when busy in the studio but it’s good to remind yourself why you work there in the first place.
Searching for your voice, the tweak that will give the work its edge, the reality of what you’re trying to say: these are the things you dig for, work for, explore for.
You might already be familiar with these but it never hurts to read them again:
Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing. Making your unknown known is the important thing.
Hmm… thanks Georgia.
Art is a way of recognizing oneself.
Art is restoration: the idea is to repair the damages that are inflicted in life, to make something that is fragmented – which is what fear and anxiety do to a person – into something whole.
Yes. I like this.
Art is the concrete representation of our most subtle feelings.
Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.
Thank God for escape routes.
There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.
I just love this one Martha.
And here are a few images of works in progress. More old stuff, memories, trying to make sense of things…
These are some of the works I’m getting ready for my solo show in September. I’ll let you know the details in a later post.