India Flint is exhibiting at the historic Onkaparinga Woollen Mill in Lobethal (for those of you far away, this is a small town in the hills outside Adelaide). A dear friend and I made a date and went to see the exhibit last weekend and there is one weekend to go! 21 January-12 February, Building 20, 11.30-4.00 pm on weekends only. Check details here. Yes, friends, this exhibit (part of it, at least) has been on show in Texas, and now–we have it to see and admire right here (I know, lots of you are not here)!
‘Shibusa’ is a Japanese concept which is described in the exhibition documents as ‘a way of being that contrasts elegance with imperfection, spontaneity with restraint’. Clearly an extremely good fit with India’s way of working and aesthetic. ‘The seven elements of shibusa are simplicity, implicity, modesty, silence, naturalness, everydayness, and imperfection’. Here, shibusa becomes an organising principle that brings together natural fibres, the imperfections of clothing that has been well-loved and well-worn, plant dyes and an immense imagination and a huge body of technique and skill.
There is a very striking piece that felt as though it was greeting us or calling to us on our way into the space. It draws on Latvian clothing traditions and includes embroidered Latvian text. It drew our attention immediately. India Flint has written about this piece herself in a rather wonderful way right here on her blog. She has many more images of this work in her post, and explains its autobiographical references. Despite its obviously tactile, material, concrete form, this aproned figure bearing words of such significance that they have been stitched into her surface nevertheless conveys an impression of ghostliness, one that it seems was intended by the artist herself.
Like all of the works in the exhibition, the details are wonderful: dense stitching, reconstructed garments pieced together in ingenious ways, resist marks as well as leafy details. And always the generous number of pockets that a wanderer–by choice or without alternatives–might need, no matter the occasion. Hidden pockets, tiny pockets, pockets that contrast, former cuffs and sleeves transmogrified into pockets, front, back and side pockets. Pockets full of bones.
Garments dominate the space, a quiet but rather elegant crowd. It is only in getting close to them that themes emerge. Some of these dresses are rich in strips: torn pieces of silk; plackets that have become separated from their original garments and restitched, ribbons, shreds of lace. Some have pockets in even greater abundance than others. Some are gathered and pleated and feature gathers and pleats that might once have formed the front of a short or the feature on a jacket. Some bear text: they are signed, or stitched with song lyrics. It is only when you get close to them that you form the sense that their elegance has been formed from elements that are rescued, sometimes threadbare, newly transformed into new shapes, for the new purposes of new wearers.
The ingenuity with which India reshapes garments never ceases to fascinate me. You could say that transforming old garments and other textiles is something that also consumes my sewing life. But the ways in which India undertakes this kind of shape-changing is utterly different, full of whimsy and genius. And always, full of leaves.
We studied the garments in some detail, and I struggled to capture what it is I find interesting and lovely about them in images. But I was rather riveted by two other parts of the exhibition. One, a wall of trouser legs, separated from their previous partners.
Needless to say, they were also dyed in rather spectacular fashion.
Then, there was the wall of sleeves, severed from their former bodies and transformed by eucalypts and perhaps a few other plants.
The shapes and colours and details are just so wonderful.
We stepped out into the afternoon and went on to visit the India Flint made- and/or dyed-clothing and cushions available at Poet’s Ode in Hahndorf in what I understand are the last week or two the shop will be open. And to talk up our plans for dyeing and stitching, inspired and delighted. I hope some of you can also visit while the opportunity is still available!