Late last year I visited the exhibition of award winners in Uruguay’s Premio Nacional Artesania de 2017 / National Craft Award 2017, at the Museo Blanes in Montevideo, about which I posted at the time. It included these two non-functional vessels, made from pine needles stitched and held in place by needle and thick thread, working up spirally into basket-like forms, each topped with objects gathered from nature – on one a limestone rock, and on the other a large seed. (I’m sorry the photo is a bit contaminated by reflections on the acrylic display case they were in)
Doreen Bayley, sculptural basketry ~ 10cm<20cm, Premio Nacional Artesania de 2017.
Doreen Bayley’s constructions’ emphasise the negative space between fibres (enclosed hidden volume) and suggestions of function, both from the heritage of ‘baskets’ as containers, connecting modern basketry with ancient woven or meshed vessels. Probably all ancient peoples had some kind of hand made fibre vessels we call baskets – this article will give broad perspectives through human history, though I skimmed without seeing any reference to the basketry skills of the Australian Aborigine which are well known and continue to this day through the art and efforts of such artist-teachers as Nalda Searles , and even a gardening program on my country’s national broadcaster, hardly surprising really, as much beautiful basketry today is made from gathered vegetative fibres.
Though the Uruguayan 2017 national craft award show has finished, this award winning fibre artist, Doreen Bayley of Colonia, Uruguay, currently has some additional, mostly small, pieces of sculptural basketry on exhibition at the Dodeca Cultural Centre Carrasco, showing until May 2nd 2018. In some ways the pieces are more interesting than those she had in the award show, though I can understand why a couple of them at least she may have decided were not appropriate for entry there.
For this largest piece in the exhibition, Doreen used Salix Matsudana known variously as the corkscrew willow, the tortured willow, the curly willow … a popular subject for gardeners and raw material for interior decorators. Assembled from cuts of this tree’s weeping branches, the short pieces are held in place by plastic ties frequently used by gardeners and home handymen. Overall this piece is about 30cm x 25cm x 5cm approx – and that little space centre front in the section of the bare wood just suggests a vessel function. Actually to me, the whole thing suggests a facial tissue box tipped on its side. As my eye flips from the branches to the ties that hold them in place, so my mind flips from ‘beautiful to not-really-beautiful’….it’s an intriguing piece. In front of it on a low table are two very small pieces: now these two suggest some practical purpose but are in fact totally ‘useless’. The blue of a fine blue fibre woven in with something firm but hidden, makes me think of a small sack of something, standing up on it’s base. The other piece makes me think of either an Aladdin’s lamp or a drinking vessel, the old fashioned kind of thick glass used to feed reclining infants or invalids in the days before sippy cups or bendy straws. Each piece made mind ponder on ‘the inside’.
Doreen Bayley, vessel, grasses, base approx 15cm diam, 10cm h.
And finally, an elegant vessel that one could certainly plunk a pot of maidenhair fern into, but why would you? This lovely piece begs to be lifted up, weighed in the hand, turned over, sniffed, smoothed by the palm and fingers, looked at closely, peered into and set back down again with a satisfied smile. A thing of beauty is a joy for ever. Doreen does pre-treat her materials to protect against the ravages of decay by insects, moulds and fungi.
Doreen Bayley’s statement mentions the influence of Ed Rossbach, who spearheaded the 1970s resurgence of interest in the craft of basket making, elevating it to a sculptural art form – some would say architectural. Though he himself used a wide variety of natural and man made materials in his art, under the influence of hippy culture’s back to the earth movement many since that time have focused on gathering and using natural materials they found around them. This firmly grounds modern basketry in the heritage of an ancient craft that descends from the Stone Age. Materials, food and tradable goods had to be carried around at times, and most ancient peoples had some form of woven fibre technology to do this. Woven vessels have been found from Asia Minor and ancient Egypt from before 5000 BC, and similarly dry desert climates around the world favoured preservation of early natural fibre objects from plant materials and hides; but like all other textiles in humid conditions, basketry decays fairly rapidly from the effects of moulds and insects. (For a glimpse of the variety of materials and forms in basketry today, go to https://www.facebook.com/basketry/ and then consider the art of Lanny Bergner about whose work I posted March 26, 2016 – baskets/vessels but stainless steel and blowtorched – they’ll last indefinitely!)