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.
I loved the cluster of beautiful little textile collages I found by German artist Hannelore Baron at the Guggenheim‘s Artistic License: Six Takes on the Guggenheim Collectionexhibition. Small, thoughtful and quite pained, they are exquisite little assemblages of life experience.
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…
All the best,
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 Life blog 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.”
(Owned by, and reproduced from, The Book of Life under Creative Commons License)
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?
Exhibitions that have left an impression me, and that have fed into this thinking include Chris Capper’s work at Sheffer Gallery (part of Damien Minton’s 583 Elizabeth St Projects) in Sydney earlier this year, the Asia Pacific Triennial at QAGOMA in Brisbane, and Akira Isogawa’s show at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
All the best,
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.
Be kind and curious.
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: email@example.com (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.
Here are the workshop details:
Stories We Tell Ourselves stitch workshops
Saturday 8th September, 12-3 pm (includes afternoon tea)
Saturday 22nd September,12-3 pm (includes exhibition closing drinks)
At 541 ART SPACE, Level 1, 541 Kent Street Sydney
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 541artspace_programs@
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).