A few weeks ago it was my pleasure to visit an interesting fibre art exhibition, Tragedy, Treasure and Trade in Fremantle, Western Australia.; and if you are reading this before it closes on 19 August 2008, I recommend you try to get along to see it:
M-F10am – 4.30pm, Sat 1 – 5pm,
Sun 10.30am – 4.30pm
Community Access Gallery, West Australian Museum – Fremantle History, 1 Finnerty Street, Fremantle (in Fremantle Arts Centre complex, entrance opposite gift shop) Cost: gold coin donation Contact details: Suzanne Coleman firstname.lastname@example.org
The group of experimental stitchers from the Embroiderers’ Guild of Western Australia presented their interpretations and impressions in various textile techniques resulting from group and individual visits to and studies of historic collections relating to early european maritime activity on the Western Australian coast. There is particular reference to the wreck in the Abrohlos archipelago of the Dutch ship Batavia in 1629, a subsequent mutiny and dramatic rescue. Ship, cargo and personal relics plus written records of the events and people involved were studied by members of this group, inspiring interpretation through a wide variety of techniques, some of which the group also learned together. This learning was recorded in individual artist journals which most participants also put out on display. Clearly a great deal of technical virtuosity resides in this group, covering the use of paint and print, felting, dyeing, hand and machine stitch techniques, quilting, plus needleweaving and lace constructions and assemblies. In some cases, the journals were more lively than the resulting finished works.
But overall the individual interpretations are the most fascinating part of this exhibition. I was particulary taken with Linda Stokes’ printed silk scarf (UR) in beautiful water and reef colours, using a motif from a salvaged fragment of lace from the Batavia wreck. Glen Hall also took the inspiration of lace and produced a lace scarf, “SOS”, on tulle (LL) using paint and recycled lace in a rich combination of dirty brown colours with a little coppery metallic here and there suggesting faded glory or tarnished riches – in the C17th only very wealthy people owned lace. Jennie Abbott found inspiration in written accounts of seagulls flocking overhead ( UL) indicating land was not far away with “Sails in the Wind”. This beautiful idea was well executed, but unfortunately hanging this contemporary lace piece against a cream wall reduced it’s impact – how wonderful this could have been possibly larger and instead of hanging from a stick, suspended like a cloud from several corners of this small gallery -that’s if it had not been possible to paint a wall blue for the duration of this show – I wonder if anyone asked? The remaining picture I have collaged is of a lovely piece of work, “Miserere Domine”, (LL) by Hannah Katarski, a sensitive compilation of wool felt, silk, free machine embroidery and mixed media. Such a shame it is behind glass, in a frame that does not echo the reliquary or iconic shape of the design within the work itself.
Several forms encrusted with shells, braids and stitch suggested items recovered from the deep – seachests, rocks, old bells, bowls and other artefacts – these were interesting within the context of adding to the thematic tone of the display.
In such exhibitions I personally retreat from literal representations such as maps and stitch compilations that attempt to portray what could be and probably has been, photographed beautifully. For this reason I felt the large panel just inside the door, see below, was a low point in the show. It’s presence was not needed to prove the incredible impact this project had on the individuals involved, and some of the lovely little embroideries attached and worked on it could better have been used in other stand alone works by the individuals who made them.