Girls just want to have FUNdamental human rights!

This is just a bit of an update about what I’ve been up to lately and what projects are coming up just over the horizon… in no particular order. 

Firstly, I was extremely honoured to have recently visited “Knit Your Revolt” superstar Shannon Morton in Brisbane to talk all things Craftivism. She said that my figurative quilting has inspiered her to create a story quilt about the “Knit Your Revolt” gang. So we met up so I could show her some techniques and talk more broadly about the power of craftivism. We made this little prototype portrait of one of the gang members: 
 
After which Shannon made gave me a “Knit Your Revolt Tricycle Gang” patch and made me a member of the gang (even though I can’t knit!). I’m so stoked about it – watch this space for future Craftivism actions taken as part of this inspiring group of dissenters.     

After this exciting trip to sunny Queensland it was time to head back to Melbourne and get started on the next two projects:  

The ‘Great Stash Swap’ and ‘fGeneration: Feminism, Art, Progression’ 

I was very excited to be invited to take part in these two totally separate really awesome projects. The Great Statsh Swap was a week long event organised by fellow Craftivist and Crafiti artist Sayraphim Lothian. The project involved getting a bunch of crafty people to get there fabric stacks together at Gallery 314 in Richmond, Melbourne and then to basically swap it for other people’s stash. Over the week this was happening Sayraphim held a sort of pop-up artist in residence, where she invited one artist/crafter to sit and make in the space with her every day. I was one of those lucky artists invited to raid the loot and make something out of it. This was super timely because I had just been invited by artist and curator Caroline Phillips to contribute to an upcoming exhibition at the George Paton Gallery, Melbourne titled: fGeneration: feminism, art, progression. So I ended up making a mini-appliqué quilted hanging titled “Girls just want to have FUNdamental human rights” as my contribution to the exhibition while at The Great Stash Swap. 

This is me making at The Great Stash Swap…    

I’m also going to show another little mini-embroided quilted hanging at fGeneration, this one is titled “Feminist KillJoy”. I made just for fun not long ago and luckily for me it fits right in with the exhibition theme!

 

Venus Court

Another really exciting art-making project which I’m happy to finally be able to share is my first ever commission. Venus Court is a Melbourne based band made up of two talented brothers Jake and Sam O’Brien, I’ve known them forever and my partner George Carpenter produced their upcoming EP at his Gold Coast studio ‘Little Pink’. They have both been big supporters of my work and at the start of the year they asked me to make them a quilted banner for their band that they can use on stage. I made them this hanging below (2m x2m)  and they were so stoked with it that they’ve decided to use it as the cover of their upcoming EP! 

  

This is them standing in front of the hanging during the photo shoot for the cover – as you can see it’s a portrait of them.  
 

Below is a super close up to give you a sense of what the work looks like up close and in 3D.

  

In between these bigger projects I’ve been playing around with some smaller crafty ideas. I’ve started hand making patches using felt and embroidery and I’ve also started a very ambitious cross-stitching piece as my response/contribution to Peter Drew’s “Real Australian’s Say Welcome” campaign. 

   
  
As you can see this cross stitch is nowhere near finished – I can’t believe how long it takes! Luckily I was in bed for three weeks with pneumonia recently otherwise I would never of got as much as I have done. I guess its going to be one of those ongoing labour of love type pieces.

Upcoming Projects:  

Finally, I have three really exciting projects coming up in the next 6 months that will make up the primary case-studies for my practice-led PhD research. They are all socially engaged craftivism projects that involve a partnership with different non-profit organisations. 

The first is a non-traditional residency with Igniting Change, a charity that works to support some really outstanding organisations including the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. I will be spending about 4 weeks over Oct/Nov this year in their office space making a story-quilt that celebrates the values of the organisation and shares some of the impacts they’ve had. I’ll be donating this work to Igniting Change so they can use it as a story telling device to help with communicating their complex work going forward. 

The second will be a project delivered when I’m a guest-in-residence at the Billilla Historic Mansion in Brighton thanks to artist and craftivist Kate Just who has kindly given me her studio there while she is overseas. The project will involve raising funds and awareness for the International Woman’s Development Agency through me making and giving away a appliqué quilted portrait of the first 50 people who donate $50 to the organisation as part of this campaign. I’ll be launching this project in December so keep an eye out for that. 

The final project is a series of Crafternoons which I will facilitate at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka in Ballarat. These workshops will hapen around March 2016 and focus around the issue of getting young people engaged and excited about voting. Again I’ll have more information to share about this project later in the year.   

  
Oh yeah, and I nearly forgot – I am also going to be contributing a quilted/appliqué hanging to an exhibition that the Ballarat Quilters Association is holding at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka in Ballarat. Contributors to this exhibition were asked to create works in response to the lyrics from a selection of songs about freedom and democracy. My contribution will be called “this old freedom train is such a long time in a comin'” and above is a work-in-progress shot of the piece.  

That’s all for now, thanks for stopping by and keep an eye out for more updates in the coming weeks. 

x  

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PhD Confirmation Presentation – 16 April 2015, TF

As promised, here is my full PhD Confirmation speech which I presented at VCA on April the 16th, 2015. If you read it I would love to hear your thoughts, so please don’t be shy!

Full presentation with slides: Confirmation-speech-TF

Here is an outline of what I covered in this 40min presentation:  Slide02Once again thanks to everyone who was there, and for those who wanted to come but couldn’t be there. I am really excited by the fact that other people are interested in my research.

My panel meeting with my supervisors and assessors is on Wednesday so wish me luck!

🙂

Dinner with Ilka White

ilka white5

On the 14/05/2014 I wrote a blog entry about the work of Melbourne artist Ilka White. Her website describes several Socially Engaged Art (SEA henceforth) projects which I was really interested in as they use textiles as the mode of engagement in a similar way to how I hope to engage people in my own practice. I really wanted to find out more about these project and Ilka’s work so, as promised, I made contact with her and she kindly agreed to share a meal with me and to discuss her work (the perks of living in Australia’s most creative city!). In this post I will share a bit of what Ilka and I talked about, including how she got into working with community and her insights into the sometimes challenging world of SEA.

Please note: I have italicised the parts where I am paraphrasing Ilka’s own words, and I had Ilka herself look over this text before posting it.

Ilka-Mahnah

Firstly however, lets recap:
As it says on her website: Ilka White is a visual artist who works in textiles and sculpture. She is also a socially engaged practitioner, who works with community groups and other artists to create work. Direct engagement with the natural world (and the forces at work therein) is central to Ilka’s making process. Her current work explores relationships between the mind, body, time and place, and questions the separation of these elements.

Ilka holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Monash University and an Associate Diploma in Studio Textiles from Melbourne Institute of Textiles (now RMIT). She taught Contemporary Art and Design, Weaving and Textile History at RMIT University for 12 years (1999-2011), and was teaching artist in residence at the ANU School of Art in 2012. She has exhibited internationally and her work is represented in the public collections of the National Gallery of Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria, RMIT University and private collections in Australia, U.K. and U.S.A.

Ilka’s work appears in a variety of publications including Textiles: The Art of Mankind (Thames & Hudson, London. 2012), Art Textiles of the World – Australia Vol. 2 (Telos Art Publishing, U.K. 2007), The Melbourne Design Guide (Lab.3000, 2006) and Handmade in Melbourne (GSP Books, Melbourne 2006).

ilka white BoiteBannerSo how did it all start?
Ilka White talks about coming from a creative and musical family and growing up in a close-knit community where as a young person she regularly attended the Turramurra Music Camp. She spoke fondly of her time at these camps where her own creativity and creative aspirations were nurtured alongside a strong sense of community. After graduating from Monash and RMIT, Ilka’s first professional job was to create a banner for The Boite’s world music café concerts, not a SEA project but a piece made in consultation with/ for a specific community. She shared with me the old adage that ‘its all about who you know’ when you are looking to get work as an aritst, particularly when working in community. Reflecting on the fact that the networks and relationships she has build over time have really been the key to her SEA practice.

Another banner project followed the Boite commission. This time created with Cultivating Community, a not-for-profit organisation that promotes and supports the development of community garden projects. This banner, produced with community members at the Hoodle St Neighbourhood House, proved a formative experience and taught Ilka a great deal about trust in group process and informal skills exchange.

Ilka’s next SEA project came several years later and was a Cane and paper sculpture project called the ‘Turra Mahal’ which she facilitated at the very same Turramurra Music Camp Community which she attended as a teenager. As a long time member of the community the camp organisers were keen to get Ilka involved and share her skills with the community so they invited her to deliver a workshop as part of the two day camp. Often one of the challenges of being a SEA practitioner is that it takes time to build connections within a community, gain trust and come up with ideas that are sensitive and appropriate for that community. However when working within your own community these issues can be almost totally avoided and Ilka found that taking her practice into the context of the camp was a seamless progression outward from her personal practice. The sculpture project went really well and she has gone back to deliver workshops at the camp several times since that first project, doing something a little different each time and progressively collaborating more with the camp’s participants.

Since then she has worked on several SEA project including a “Ghostnets” shadow puppet performance on Moa Island in the Torres Strait with the local indigenous community, a community arts project called “The Four Seasons Wall Hanging” with multicultural ‘Loving Threads Sewing Circle’ who work together in the Factory, Belgium Avenue Neighbourhood House, a collaborative “Suzani “ embroidery project with the Fitzroy and Collingwood Afghani Women’s Group. Most recently she returned to the Loving Threads Sewing Circle to create a culturally sensitive burial shroud to be used by the local funeral home that services a population with a high number of culturally diverse people.

Ilka White3

Talk to me about Textiles:
Ilka needs no further promoting to talk about her love of textiles: “Working with community using textiles is absolutely fantastic!” Textiles as a medium isn’t caught up in the traditional art hierarchy but rather are seen as a vernacular craft. While this is a “bummer” in art world, it is really useful when working in a community context because it means textiles are more accessible. People don’t feel they need to be an ‘artist’ to work with textiles as they are familiar and all this means that you don’t need to build up people’s courage like you would if say you were using the mediums of painting or sculpture. Textiles have a long history in many different cultures which involve the process of people meeting and making together and many people already have excellent technical skills which they learnt from their parents, grandparents or someone within their community.

As a SEA practitioner I see my most important role is being a good facilitator and drawing out of people the skills and talent within them, providing them with an opportunity to shine. Depending on the project, the community you are working with and your agenda, it is then possible to really push people a little, move them out of their comfort zone and into the learning zone. However, I believe that pleasure and enjoyment are the most important outcomes of a SEA process and again I see that textiles lend themselves beautifully to this aim. Where people shy away from seemingly simple creative tasks like drawing when working in textiles there seems to be less hesitation and fear.

Ilka White2

What is it like to lead SEA projects?
Ilka’s SEA work blurs the lines between art, teaching and facilitation and she said that this balancing act can sometimes be very tricky. While she feels it is critical to focus on the facilitation of SEA projects in order to ensure they are successful and that people have a positive experience, Ilka is always conscious of her position and influence as the ‘artist’. While most often the focus of community art projects is that participants have a good experience and learn something or connect with others as a result of their involvement, with SEA project there is still the expectation of the project achieving artistically accomplished outcomes in the form of physical art objects. This fact can sometimes lead to conflicting agendas and ideas between stakeholders.

While none of the participants in the groups Ilka works with are being assessed on the quality of artistic outcomes, often the success of a project as determined by funders and the public does depend on its artistic outcomes. These outcomes in turn are then understood as a reflection of the artists capacity, vision and skill which can lead to challenging questions about authorship, ownership and decision making when collaborating with groups- not all of them comfortable. While Ilka finds the most exciting part of a SEA project to be the dynamics of the group and how they are developing and growing- as opposed to how beautiful work is, the public audience of a work as well as project coordinators and funders are often concerned with the finished project and their judgment affects your reputation. “I’ve learnt that you have to decide who you are trying please at the beginning of a project and make this clear to everyone at the outset. While your reputation is being assessed – success should be judged as much on the social outcomes of a project such as group dynamics then on material outcomes.”

Ilka shared with me a sense that there is a tendency amongst community workers to “bulldoze” artists who are interested in SEA with criticism about being naive and unaware of the complexities of what they are trying to do. However, she feels that artists are generally incredibly sensitive and actively listen and respond to what is happening in community in ways that not many other professional practitioners would take the time to do. Money is also an ongoing tension when working in community, with many people expecting artists to volunteer their time and services. In some cases the fact you are being paid (even if it is way less then you should be) brings up uneasy tension between the artist and the community they are collaborating with. Despite all this Ilka feels there is an understanding that artist’s help people achieve things they wouldn’t otherwise do/make/achieve and that paying artists to facilitate SEA projects is an important way to help artists sustain their professional practice and ensure that communities have greater access to participating in creative projects.

What do you get out of it?
bWhen I asked Ilka why SEA work is so meaningful to her personally, she answered that the crux for her is the same as what her participants describe as the real value of the work: gaining a sense of community and belonging; taking part in a process which brings me into contact with people I wouldn’t meet otherwise socially; seeing how much can be achieved within a short space of time when people work together – that is really exciting! As the facilitator/artist for me one of the most moving and humbling things about the leading SEA projects is how collaborative making inevitably builds a high level of respect for one another within a group of potentially very different people. For me if a project is done well it is always enjoyable. It flows often much more easily than my individual work does, and it’s a pleasure. I feel fortunate to be paid to do this type of work, particularly as the rest of my work is largely solo. While I do collaborate with other artists, it’s a very different experience. It’s more about negotiating your individuality and authorship than co-creating something as a group.

ilka-white_billabong-lines

Summing Up:
I really enjoyed having the opportunity to talk face-to-face with Ilka, it was really insightful to hear about her personal journey and to take heed of the warnings and lessons she gave me about the challenges of working in community. While it is only a small part of her practice, for me Ilka’s SEA work is some of her most interesting, not because of the artistic outcomes per say, but because they speak with a voice greater than any one person on their own could command. They really do show what people can achieve when they work together with a common goal and exemplify how the art of textiles can bring people great joy. So thank you Ilka for taking the time to meet with me, and thank you for your words of advice.

 

What Good are the Arts?

“The assumption that the arts make people better is seldom accompanied by any serious consideration of what better people might be like.” (Carey 2005 p.103)

Really, if we are honest with ourselves it seems, the arts are simply a method of communication. A medium through which artists express ideas, emotions and experiences in the hope that others may see what they see, feel what they feel or think about what they were thinking about.

The Arts are not Holy or Devine, they do not represent a universal essence or any eternal truths; The arts are not more (or less) important than any other form of expression or communication, including those forms which elitists might consider abominable, ugly or obscene (think reality TV, footy anthems, trash magazines or porn). Decisions about what is and isn’t to be understood as art, decisions on what is valuable and aesthetic, are bound up in social, cultural, political, economic and historical contexts. There is no clearcut definable difference between ‘high’ or ‘low’ art – it is all a matter of framing and personal taste. (Carey 2005 p.29-30) and further to this having ‘good’ taste does not automatically mean you are a good person.

Art is not religion. Art is not science. Art by its very nature evades and rejects being defined and understood. Yet Art is valuable and Art is important -Why?

The arts play a multitude of roles in our lives, in our societies and in our institutions. To answer these question of: what good are the arts? Why they are valuable? and Why they are important? We need to better understand the many roles the arts play and in turn (somewhat ironically) find better ways to communicate this in order to attain better support and acknowldegment for the arts. John Carey sees a more hopeful answer to these questions in “evidence that active participation in artwork can engender redemptive self-respect in those who feel excluded from society” (Carey 2005 p.255). However he then goes on to claim that literature is the only art form capable of reasoning and criticising, writing that although literature does not make you a better person it “may help you to criticise what you are… it enlarges your mind, and gives you thoughts, words and rhythms that will last you for life” (Carey 2005p.260). Carey writes that “Only language can explore concepts…” and that to even “…formulate concepts requires language” (Carey 2005 p.257) and it is here where I disagree with Carey, who in trying to justify this position explained that the visual arts rely on written support material such as the artist rational, exhibition catalogues and explanatory essays to communicate concepts as art in and of itself is “incapable of replicating the function of language”. Disregarding for a moment the fact that in this argument Carey has totally ignored all other art forms outside of literature and conceptual art (including music, theatre, dance, design, craft etc.) in making this argument he also denies all other modes of knowing and communicating.

I would be the first to acknowledge that too often artists rely on written support material as a crutch to hold up their conceptual or theoretical frameworks – but this is not reflective of arts inability to communicate complex concepts and ideas. In fact, using art to explore and communicate concepts in now being taken more seriously by academic institutions than any time in the pas with the emergence of art as research/ research as art. Currently, humanity is grappling with an inexhaustible number of complex issues, ideas, systems and phenomenon’s. We are trying to discover, unpack and understand things we do not yet have the language for – that we can not explain to each other in words – and it is here in this space of communication breakdown and the unknown, where the arts show the potential to play a more conscious and critical role going forward.

Carey illustrated this clearly early on in his book, writing that:

“For example, we often feel that we cannot properly express our thoughts in words. Indeed, it is clear that we cannot. It is impossible, for example, to describe a face in words so that the person we are addressing will be sure to recognise it, however clear an image of it we may have in our minds. Showing the other person a photograph, on the other hand, will effect this instantly” (Carey 2005 p.80)

So it seems that he agrees that the arts are actually a good medium for communication, but I argue that they are more than that… the arts are not only an outcome , a product: an art object or an artwork/performance/happening etc. they are also a process. A process good for: interruption, play, deep thinking, expanding, exploring, following intuition, inverting, discovering, disarming, inventing, creating, producing, reflecting, contrasting, collaging, breaking boundaries/rules/limitations, sharing, designing, changing perspective, opening up new ground/new possibilities, actioning values,subversion, questioning, filling you with emotions: surprise, wonder, shame, joy, sadness, lust, nostalgia, disbelief, remorse, excitement etc. In other words they are not just a medium for communication but also a medium of emergence – a process that is productive and brings into the world new insights, new perspectives, new ideas, new knowledge: A methodology for research!

“There are no false answers in art, because there are no true answers, and the past matters because the present does not displace it. Since art must accommodate all personal tastes and choices… it is as illimitable as humanity, and as extensive as the imagination. The aim of science, by contrast is to find solutions that are unaffected by taste of choice, and which consequently eliminate the human element altogether. In this respect, art is infinite, whereas science [and I would argue language] is bounded. But art is infinite only because, and so long as, it does not allow truth-claims. Once truth-claims are admitted… the terrain of what can be counted as ‘real’ art shrinks, and is subjected to policing, instead of being as lawless and inventive as human intelligence.” (Carey 2005 p.254)

In saying this, the answer to the question “What good are the Arts” is not simply: The arts are a good tool for communication – useful for expressing complex ideas like a hammer is useful when one comes across a nail. No. The idea of art as research is not to illustrate pre-existing ideas, or to transform art into a utilitarian science. Nor is it to force the arts into a shape that reflects the practices of academia as we know it. For such attempts would limit, diminish and dictate what the arts are ‘good’ for rather than come to a better understanding of how art and research could extend and enhance each other reciprocally.

Carey, John (2005) What Good Are the Arts? London: Faber and Faber.