Last week a carload of us made our way to Murray Bridge to see the opening of in situ and Ngarrindjeri Expressions at the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery, where both exhibitions will be open from May 22 to July 19 2015.
The night’s events began with a series of dances and songs by Uncle Major Sumner and some young Ngarrindjeri dancers. It was a great opening for two exhibitions so powerfully about land and place. Ngarrindjeri Expressions brings together works by Damien Shen and portraits by local Ngarrindjeri people who came to community workshops to learn Damien’s drawing process. The exhibition also includes lithographs and photographs by Damien Shen and a video of Damien drawing his uncle (in both the literal and Indigenous sense) Major Sumner–25 hours of drawing condensed into 15 minutes of video, which had many people transfixed. I didn’t have permission to photograph Ngarrindjeri Expressions–but I was kindly granted permission to photograph in situ.
Behind the dancers and speakers hung two large works that drew my eye more and more as the night wore on. This is Looking Up/Looking Down by Dorothy Caldwell (Hastings, Canada). It brought to mind a landscape seen from above, in which massive features of the landscape below appear as much smaller shapes and patches of colour.
Indoor lighting doesn’t suit my skills or camera–so these pictures do not do justice to the colours of the originals. But the smaller details in this work in contrasting colours have been stitched in ways that reminded some of us of rain and others of the stalks/trunks of plants in the wind.
This patch had me in mind of a dam receding in the face of drought. You can see more of Dorothy’s work and read about her approach at her web site here.
The Story Blanket by Imbi Davidson (North East Coast, New South Wales) is indeed based on a blanket which has been embellished, patched and augmented over time. The eco-prints of leaves on the left and right panels managed to evoke footprints travelling through sand for me, despite clearly being leaf prints. The central panel had been stitched with concentric semi circles that are not obvious in this photo–these and the panels of buttons on the mid and lower right side brought to mind some of the familiar images of some styles of Indigenous art, without appropriating them. I loved the contrasts and the sense of this piece building up layer by layer, as stories often do. There is more of Imbi’s work and process at her www site here.
Roz Hawker (Bunya, Queensland) contributed Holding Close. You can follow the link to much better images and her own account of these works.
This wonderfully embellished, subtly dyed dress is an ode, or perhaps a love letter, to her grandmothers. I loved the whimsical plants sending tendrils up from the cuffs, blooming upward from the hem…
and even subtly travelling up the back of the dress. The dress hung beside a collection of smaller works in silver and silk… a little gathering of treasures which reminded me of nothing so much as the small collection of found objects (mostly from nature) that a child–or a grownup in my case–might bring home from a holiday in a special place. Conjuring points for memory and wonder.
India Flint (Mount Pleasant, South Australia) contributed sheep fold: a semicircle of bundles which look like stones… or like bundles tied around rocks: in either case, the mystery of what is inside is maintained by the outside of the stone/bundle.
These bundles are full of all the wonderful diversity that rocks have–folds, crinkles, smoothnesses, varied and sometimes mottled colours. But they did smell rather more wonderful than your average stone.
On the wall, inside what I pictured as the wall of the sheep fold, hung an empty wire box, its base pointing out toward the room. As a receptacle for feed might, perhaps.
Collecting Cards is also by Dorothy Caldwell. This really is a group of cards with images of textiles and stitching on them, for the most part.
I loved looking at these and wondering over their arrangement and their subtle colours and textures.
This exquisite, heavily stitched work is Ten Thousand Leaves, by Isobel McGarry (Adelaide, South Australia).
Leaves have been eco-printed onto the silk as well as appliqued onto it. Isobel was kind enough to answer a lot of questions about this piece–since she was there for the opening.
The back of the work was rather plainer–eco-printed silk edged with words in English and (I am guessing) Japanese.
This work is a meditation on peace, with the stitched crosses symbolising those who have died in war.
The imagery of mending is available here, but the overall effect of this stitching is quite different–or perhaps an homage to the beauty as well as the necessity of mending, its capacity to build up a whole composed of so many tiny actions and scraps and make it gloriously whole without hiding the need for repair or the fact of many pieces having been brought together to create a new, entire fabric.
365 days at Tickleberry Flats (Desiree Fitzgibbon, Dodges Ferry, Tasmania) held a year in a specific place in 356 small vessels, each with red lines traced around it. Intriguing and beautiful.
John Parkes’ Sampler (Dead Two Years Now) remembers his father in a moving sampler constructed from two of his father’s shirts.
Raw edges called to mind for me the raw emotions grief can provoke as well as the fragility of memories referenced in the stitched words themselves.
Sandra Brownlee (Dartmouth, Nova Scotia) contributed Untitled artist book, a work that made me long to pick up and touch. The stitched binding exposed at the base of the book is intricate and rather wonderful. Sandra’s workshops on tactile notebooks, clearly based in her own practice, are famous–two accounts with images here and here.
Judy Keylock (Lud Valley, New Zealand) contributed a work of layers and shadows, which was all the more lovely for the way it floated gently in the small movements of air as people passed by or looked at it.
Although this work is called ‘Dirt’, I found it rather ethereal. (I had to laugh when I found exactly this word in Judy’s artist’s statement).
Subtle colours and subtle shadows flow through it.
And perhaps there is a message here about the wonders of dirt, which is, after all, not only the place we might all eventually go–but also the place from which everything emerges. You can see more of Judy’s work (in this case, with schoolchildren) here.
At first sighting, Sandra Brownlee’s Nighdress with text seemed austere. It appears handwoven and plain.
But on closer examination, proves to be a canvas for words which can only just be made out on closer inspection, winding their way across the interior surface and any body that we might imagine wearing it.
Of course… there was so much more! I know that many readers will not be able to get to Murray bridge, but I understand that India Flint plans an online exhibition of these pieces. How glorious to have the work of artists from such far-flung places brought together locally… and to have the chance to be there and celebrate its opening! We were the last to leave, and wandered out into the night for some of us to tell stories and others to snooze as we headed back to Adelaide…