The weekend that just was, was a long weekend for us. Adelaide Cup Day honours a horse race–a strange reason for a public holiday, but we welcome public holidays! 5 of us went together to see India Flint’s exhibition in Murray Bridge.
It was an hour long trip each way with Totally Gourdgeous sing-a-longs, word games, a ‘how many songs connected to Africa can you sing?’ game and I-spy. I highly recommend Totally Gourdgeous. Where else can you hear orginal Australian music on gourd instruments? And find reviews which actually are plausible when you’ve heard the band, like:
“Joni Mitchell meets James Brown in Bob Marley’s pumpkin patch via the Muppets!” There was a picnic under some river red gums, with climbing on old trains (which was the highlight of the day for one of us). And there was a fabulous almond and rice banana cake.
But… the exhibition was very much the reason for the trip.
By way of introduction… because I feel a little odd saying anything at all about this experience, but at the same time, I’d really like to share it a little… as a musician I have been fascinated to hear people speak about songs I’ve sung. Sometimes the listener has complete confidence they know what the songwriter had in mind. As the singer, sometimes I’ve been in conversation with the songwriter about interpreting that song from when it was half-written, and know that the songwriter was quite emphatically not thinking what the listener believes s/he heard. I believe that art succeeds when it moves people and makes them think. But the feelings and thoughts that result from encounters with art may be only loosely connected to what the artist offered, let alone intended!
The exhibition spans two rooms in a lovely gallery–in one of them, the lighting is bright and the dominant colours are white and– it was a subject of conversation between us–orange–red? India Flint has offered a preview on her blog for those far from Murray Bridge. The long span of fabric suspended on hooks which dominates the room is extraordinary: brilliant colours and shapes. It is a spectacular sight hanging in space looking fragile and gauzy yet vibrant and strong. In the same room hangs a work called ‘waterbag’. I just loved this work but struggled to explain why. One of my friends theorised my fascination with bags–using, giving and making–might be part of it, but even with that suggestion I’m not sure. I was drawn to its complexity–the dyeing, the form of the bag, the vivid stitching.
In the second room was a poem about New Orleans seven years after the storm painted on the wall in mud, together with an arrangement of paper and silk boats in a range of subtle colours. We spent a lot of time looking into individual boats as well as admiring the effect of the boats from a distance and reading the poetry. Then there was a selection of eco-bundles wrapped around various pieces of pipe suspended in the air–also spectacular. It made my fingers itch to unwrap them! There were a series of works on the wall… one of them a single piece of fabric in purples and greys with a spectacular repeating compound leaf eco-print on it. The others were rich and complex: pieced, stitched/embroidered and plant dyed in a multitude of different ways, using different fibres and mostly in dark colours–greys, browns, blacks and blues.
It gave rise to a series of conversations.
One was about the extraordinary source of inspiration that India Flint and her work have been. Her work has been so generative. In its showing the possibilities of eco-printing as a process. In its incitement to experiment–explicit and implicit. In its focus on local and native plants (eucalypts for us, of course–but clearly people in other parts of the world have taken up the invitation with plants local to them). In its deployment of mending and boro and patching and darning as skills, aesthetics and practices. In its use of a wide variety of materials. In its uses of stitching. In its invocation of the natural world and the potential of sustainable dyeing practices that would respect that world.
Another conversation was about the hoary old question of art and craft. Naturally we did not resolve it (or try to), but we spoke about the phenomenon of people like India Flint, who are gesturing at larger ideas, images and aesthetics in their chosen media. Who carry ideas into their works and express ideas through their works. And then, there are people, me for instance, who seldom do this and have more of their attention on the process of making and the function of the ultimate thing/s made. This is not to say that they don’t overlap or cannot coincide. They must, they clearly do… but they are not exactly identical processes or intentions and they affect what might be understood as an interesting outcome, too.
There was a lot of interest and speculation about process–how was this done? What could have produced this shape/colour/amazing thing of wonder?
There were a number of conversations about which works or parts of them drew attention viewed from close up and which were fascinating from further away.
It was a lovely adventure. Thanks to India Flint for inspiring it, and so much else besides.