Author: Ruth Halbert

Visual artist using textiles to research and respond to contemporary life.

30 Works 30 Days week 2

Day 8 I am not a racist but

Image description: Two postcards blutacked to an old tea towel with the text ‘I am not a racist b’ stitched into the cloth between the postcards.

The upper postcard is a reproduction of a painting by Bella Kelly, Noongar elder and founder of the Carrolup school of painting. Her painting depicts the Stirling Ranges, which were the centre of the land in the SW of Western Australia stolen from her people by the English invaders.

The lower postcard is a photo of metal security mesh, with a red rectangle drawn onto the image to highlight a bullet hole in the mesh. The photo was taken clandestinely by one of the refugees imprisoned in the former Lombrun detention centre on Manus Island, PNG. It was taken after the Good Friday 2017 shooting when drunk navy and security officers fired more than 100 bullets into the compound where more than 1000 men were kept locked up by Australia.

Day 9 not ever finished

A sheaf of papers lies on a wooden desk. The top sheet has personal writing about grief and memory found on Instagram and an academic reflection on a book titled ‘Vibrant Matter’. Lying on the papers is a piece of partially completed crochet, with the wooden hook attached. Also attached is the rest of the ball of yarn which is made of many shorter lengths of hand spun yarn that had been worked and presented as part of the graduation exhibition of the maker, seven and a half years ago.

Day 10 rebound

Yesterday’s piece of handspun handcrocheted cloth was unraveled and remade, using up the whole ball of ‘calendar’ spinning. October 2011 recurs in April 2019.

Image description: Lying on a crumpled piece of white paper is a crumpled piece of woolly handmade cloth bound roughly with red thread.

Day 11 touch

Image description: close up of pieces of lace, torn paper and frayed pink blanket which are layered on each other to have their edges parallel and offset. A pink thread from the blanket extends and penetrates one of the small orifices in a woody seed head from a casuarina. Shadows from the frayed edge and the seed head are cast on the background paper.

Stitch, pierce, repair

I have been using stitch for lines and for texture and have been thinking about how the stabbing of the needle into the cloth brings something extra – it expresses a kind of violence, perhaps a kind of necessary pain which simultaneously pierces and repairs. Stitching, as in mending, strengthens. But it also perforates and weakens. A piece which has no functional purpose except to be displayed on a wall can be very fragile, unlike a garment or serviceable cloth which must withstand handling and use. As I stitch, I damage, I restore.

Closeup snow walk

Stitched handkerchief from Instagram image. Work in progress for ‘Liminal’ exhibition, March 2016.

Stitch as touch

View from the studio, Rud AIR, Sweden

Work-in-progress, Liminal, 2015

While stitching these ‘photo hankies’ I started to question why. Why remake a digital image into a laboriously stitched piece where the process of drawing and stitching removes and alters some or most of the image’s content? The question started out of the hard-to-shake-off received (imposed?) reputation of hand-stitching as domestic and inconsequential (and even more so when labelled ’embroidery’, or ‘fancy work’). But I can just as readily frame the act of painting as archaic and ridiculous – why smear and daub oil and ground up rocks across a piece of cloth? Slow. Pointless. Unproductive. My answer (which may satisfy only a few, and they would then be the audience…) is in connection, and in touch:

“Whoever wants life must go softly towards life, softly as one would go towards a deer and a fawn that was nestling under a tree. One gesture of violence, one violent assertion of self-will, and life is gone. You must seek again. And softly, gently, with infinitely sensitive hands and feet, and a heart that is full and free from self-will, you must approach life again, and come at last into touch. Snatch even at a flower, and you have lost it for ever out of your life. Come with greed and the will-to-self towards another human being, and you clutch a thorny demon that will leave poisonous stings.

But with quietness, with an abandon of self-assertion and a fulness of  the deep, true self one can approach another human being, and know the delicate best of life, the touch. The touch of the feet on the earth, the touch of the fingers on a tree, on a creature, the touch of hands and breasts, the touch of the whole body to body, and the interpenetration of passionate love: it is life itself, and in the touch, we are all alive.”

DH Lawrence

 

Liminal hanky 2. Lace fragment, birch tree, early spring, Sweden.

Work-in-progress, Liminal, 2015.

Recurrence

I keep coming back to fragments of knit lace retrieved from Herbert Niebling charts. Or they keep coming back to me.

In silk fabric strips:

Lace fragment, silk fabric

 

In hand spun silk and flax, suspended in a web:

Making Time (detail)

 

Revisited later, in fine merino, in a hand made bobbin lace cage:

Ruth Halbert Alight 2013

Alight, 2013. Photo Josh Wells

 

And left in a birch tree at Rud Artist-in-Residence, Dalsland, Sweden:

Fragment, Rud AIR, Sweden, 2014

 

 

Lately, reconsidered in crochet cotton, with mulberry paper.

Paper lace bowl

 

Residency – art in the making not in the made

I had intended, months ago, to write about the process of making the Beverley map, to summarise my residency experience and then show the work in Perth as a conclusion to the experience.

I stalled.

After a long hibernation I have become aware of how my intense experience as artist-in-residence was just the start of what will be an evolving project. I took to Beverley questions about what and how to observe in a new environment, and how to use art-making to explore those questions. In my previous post I describe  collecting information by walking, photographing, collecting and drawing. That research focus changed when my hosts invited me to show my work on the last weekend. I switched from gathering information, ideas and samples for future works, to producing work (or work-in-progress) to hang in the gallery. I also wanted to be part of the established tradition of donating a work I’d made there for the gallery’s collection. With one week of the stay remaining I took the samples I’d dyed from local plants,

Map cloth dyed

and, perhaps influenced by the gliders circling overhead, decided to take an aerial perspective and piece a fabric map of the town site.

Map of town

Sensations that arose while making the pieced map extended beyond cutting and stitching the fabric to my experience of the physicality of moving across the land. I felt the rounded curves of the rolling hills as I shaped the pieces to curve into each other.

Map in progress

Faint odour of plant-dyed fabric recalled walks under gum trees, bark crunching underfoot.

I joined the pieces with vertical black stitches so that the seams stood up like fence lines. The last stitches went in on the final morning. In the gallery I noticed that the Beverley locals who looked at my work saw their familiar town with fresh eyes.

Exhibition view

Back in Perth, I felt unable to call the Beverley map ‘finished’. There was more to it than representing a town map in dyed fabric. In Ground Truthing Paul Carter writes about what a map reveals and conceals, how language, memory and being on-the-ground both enrich and contradict the impression from the air. Being on the ground to collect sensations and materials gave me a means of responding to the particularities of Beverley (physical, historic, cultural) through the process of making. Studying the plan of Beverley and remaking it into a pieced map made clear how the layout of streets and railway had been decided in response to the river Avon. And as the Avon flows into the Swan so the thread of the river leads to Perth where the streets, boundaries and buildings of the city are oriented and shaped by its position on the Swan. Making the Beverley map was not a culmination but a plan for thinking about the city of Perth, and beyond, for a mud map of how to approach any place I choose to observe and remake.