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  

My full PhD Confirmation Report

As promised here is my full PhD Confirmation Report, submitted in April 2015
as a PDF document:
Confirmation-Report-Tal-Fitzpatrick-2015

Alternatively, below is the Title/Research Question/Abstract for all those of you who “aint got time fo’dat!”

Research Title:                 Craftivism and the Political Moment

Research Question:         Can craftivism create Political Moments?

Sub Questions:

  • How is craftivism different from other forms of activism?
  • Can a material, craft based practice such as craftivism be understood as a socially engaged art?
  • In light of a post-political critique of participation is it possible to initiate political moments through socially engaged artistic practices?
  • How do feminist new materialist and post-humanist conceptions of agency and matter reshape our understanding of power and the potential of art to enact social change?

Abstract:

This practice-led research project is shaped by an artistic practice that plays in the spaces between craft, socially engaged art, activism, community development and autoethnography. It looks to explore how a particular style of figurative appliqué quilting might be used to initiate what philosopher Jacques Rancière describes as ‘political moments’ in a post-political environment. Through a series of creative case studies delivered in and with different community groups and organisations, this project will test the material-discursive potential of appliqué quilting to act as a socially engaged strategy for activism.

Importantly, this project doesn’t aim to develop a set of tools for leading revolutions or even to create a methodology where outcomes can be reliably repeated. Instead it looks to develop a practice based methodology for becoming more mindful of the patterns of consequential differences and of the overlapping ideas between: art, craft, activism, socially engaged practice, feminist new materialisms, post-political critique, post-humanism and community development theory.

However, if anyone actually does read my full report – I would love to hear your thoughts, feedback, reading suggestions, artists I should know about and constructive criticism. As always you can get in touch with me via email: tal.fitzpatrick@gmail.com

Finally – just for fun, below are some of my powerpoint slides from my PhD Confirmation presentation.

Cheers

Tal

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Momentary Vanishing

Okay – So, I took a month off after my confirmation presentation and went to the Gold Coast to spend some time with my partner and my family… and now there is a bit of a backlog of things to fill you in on, including:

  • How the exhibition at Emerald Community House’s PAVE art festival went
  • The final PhD confirmation report in full
  • A sneak peak of some of my most recent artworks
  • Upcoming projects with Igniting Change and Emerald Community House
  • Updates on artists and crafters who are inspiring me at the moment
  • Upcoming projects
  • Plus a bunch of thoughts about books I’ve been reading

In the coming weeks I will get to all the above, but for now let’s just focus on a bit of a show-and-tell about the opening of my exhibition at the Emerald PAVE Art Festival.

ECH-Echibition-OpeningAbove is a photo from the opening, you can see Mary Farrow pictured as she introduces our project. I would like to say a big thank you Mary Farrow and Noelene Blair from ECH – for all their generous support and encouragement during the development of this project and of course for having me at ECH. I’m really excited that we will be continuing the work we have started later in the year (more information on this will soon be anonouced).

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Bruce Esplin (below) and his wonderful partner Roz for coming to officially open the exhibition and for your ongoing support of my artistic practice and my community resilience building work. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience with us through your unique and engaging brand of story telling at the opening. Your support is invaluable to me.

bruce esplin speaks

Finally I would like to thank Katherine and Lisa who participated in the 8 week long workshops which I facilitated in Emerald and who made their own quilted hangings to exhibit as part of this exhibition. Ladies, it was a pleasure to get to know you and a real treat to see your textile works take shape week by week, keep it up! Here is a photo of what the full exhibition looked like in the space including the two works by Lisa (far left) and Katherine (third from the right).

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Below is the finished quilt I made as part of my 2 week residency at Emerald, titled “Resilience, Resistance and Responsibility” (made of new and recycled material, 2m x 2m, 2015). I officially gifted this artwork to Emerald Community House and the Emerald community at the opening of the exhibition, this way it will always hang in Emerald where it belongs and where it can function as a story telling device for passing on local knowledge about the people and events which inspired me to make it.

ECH-quilt-finishedBriefly, this work tells several stories about the resilience of the local Emerald community and its strength in advocating and preserving the things that are important to it; that is the natural and built environments that are unique to the area and which enable the community to come together and continue growing stronger. If you want to know more about the meaning behind this work you can read my previous posts about it.

tal by bruceThis is a photo Bruce took of me at the exhibition opening in front of my work… that should help you with picturing the scale of it! In summary, it was a fantastic day and I’m really humbled by the turn out we got. Lots of people came to look at the work over the week it was installed and gave lots of kind and interesting feedback to the team at ECH. Thanks everyone!

Anyway, that’s probably about enough for now… expect to hear more from me soon 🙂

Tal

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!

🙂

ECH PROJECT – EXHIBITION OPENING

This weekend is the official opening of the exhibition of my Emerald ‘Resilience: Stories in Cloth’ project. The exhibition, which opens on the 12th of April and continues until the 17th of April, is being held as part of Emerald’s annual PAVE Arts Festival. This will be the first public exhibition of the work I am making as part of my PhD research into ‘Craftivism and the Political Moment’. I’m very proud to announce that my good friend Bruce Esplin will be opening the exhibition, it’s worth coming just to hear that man talk about resilience and the Arts!

As well as the work I made during my residency at Emerald Community House the exhibition will also include two works by local community members who took part in the workshop series I facilitated at Emerald Community House. If you are in Melbourne or somewhere in nearby Victoria please come join us, there will be cheese and biscuits, plus lots more things to do around Emerald as part of the PAVE festival’s Fun Fest!

Here is the official invite, consider yourself invited!

ECH-OPENING-INVITATION

Update: here are some lovely words about the project from Emerald Community House coordinator and powerhouse extrodinare Mary Farrow 

  

ECH Stories of Resilience Cloth Art project – part 2

Following on from my residency at Emerald Community House (ECH) and in the lead up to this years annual PAVE festival I have begun stage two of the ‘Stories of Resilience in Cloth Art’ project – a workshop series where I invite locals to make their own cloth-artwork that tells a story about resilience and what it means to them.  

As I’ve mentioned previously ECH is an innovative neighbourhood centre that is highly conscious of the fact that they are in a disaster-at-risk area of the Victorian Dandenong ranges. ECH  takes proactive action through their programming to build local community resilience, for example: they run an award winning program that entails making attending a bushfire safety training workshop mandatory for all parents who place their children with the ECH childcare servie. When I first met with Mary and Non (ECH coordinators) they identified that there is a gap in the programing which they wanted to address. They wanted to develop a creative program that targeted  younger women who are new to the area and women who don’t have children (and therefore are not involved with ECH through its childcare services) and engaged them around the subject of resilience and disaster preparedness. So, it was around this mandate that I designed my ECH residency and workshop project which I am also using as a case study for my PhD research into how art cloth-art and the strategies of craftivism can enact agency.  

The idea is that each of us will create our own cloth wall hanging to be exhibited during the PAVE festival in the Emerald Community Hall which we are working out of, which everyone will then take home and keep at the end of the exhibition. Bruce Esplin, former Emergency Services Commissioner of Victoria and a friend and mentor of mine has kindly agreed to be at the opening of the exhibition and to say a few words about art and resilience based on his own experience as a photographer and a sculpture. Three local ladies (and one of their dogs, below) have signed on to be part of the project, and over the past couple of weeks we have been meeting on Thursdays to talk about ideas and start sewing.  Already I have had a really interesting conversations and positive responses from this engagement. 

When I asked the ladies (who I won’t identify by name) what resilience means to them and why they chose to live in Emerald as both were relatively new to the area (by rural standards at least – where you have to be second generation to consider yourself a ‘true local’) they all responded with comments about the importance of the landscape and the natural environment. This led to a conversation about the risks posed by the natural environment in their area and we spoke about those and what experiences each lady had with disasters and what plans they had in place in preparation for potential future disasters. Each women will be working to depicting images of the natural environment into their cloth hangings and in her own way working to symbolise in cloth her relationship to the local community. 



Alongside the importance of the natural world the women identified that their personal relationships and history are another critical factor for thier own resilience and well-being. Each woman will be in her own way incorporating figures into the landscapes of their hangings. Using old clothes and fabric given to them from their loved ones the women have started to constuct a picture of how they will represent their stories. We talked about how it is possible in this medium of cloth to tell a very personal story in a way that they feel safe having on public display because it is possible to tell it in such a subtle way, using signs that fully reveal their secrets only to the artist. For example, the artist might incorporate a piece of cloth that was once a dress that belonged to their grandmother and which they associate with a particular time, place and memory. In this way the artist will be able to read the work in a way that tells a very different story to what others might see. The hangings will therefore tell many stories – as each person who views them interprets them and projects their own thoughts, experiences and emotions onto the work.     



The conversation then  shifted to a focus on art making and craft practices. In our conversations we identified that having the time to make art is a luxury that many can not afford, and that many more do not allow themselves. The women identified a sense that this is somehow because taking the time to do something fun and creative feels selfish. This feeling of guilt for taking the time to do something for themselves is a feeling I’m sure many women experience – as women we are still expected by society and in turn we expect ourselves to focus on others, to be caretakers to be busy and selfless. Furthermore, the creative work women do is continues to be undervalued – seen as craft not art. Particularly when it comes to working in textiles. This is something that came up during my residency and during these workshops, it is something they I will continue to ponder and to research. Finally, we spoke about how the project had opened up time for them to reflect, think and make plans for the future and how valuable this is to them. This too is something I want to understand more clearly. I’ve asked everyone to keep a note of how they experience this project as it unfolds and to write a bit of a reflection about the journey at the end of the project – I’m looking forward to reading them. 

In closing, I feel that the fact that the three participants fit exactly into the target audience ECH identified is a testimony to the fact the project was designed and marketed successfully. However, In saying that it would have been nice to have more people involved and the fact the workshops are being held during the day on a Thursday has been indentified as a barrier to some who would have otherwise liked to participate. I’m considering delivering a one day master-class in order to engage more women in these conversations and hopefully get a few more involved in the making of cloth hangings for the PAVE festival. 

Oh p.s. there was a little story about the project in the local newspaper: 

Cheers 

Tal 



ECH Residency – Day 4

Today is Friday and I am not going up to Emerald. I needed to go buy a whole bunch more fabric and get a few things organised befor the weekend. Saturday and Sunday are both going to be super busy! On Saturday the community is taking over the airwaves in a localised pirate radio protest to keep the old local radio station in community hands, everyone is dressing as pirates! Plus, I’m going to be interviewed on the airwaves about this project. Sunday is the day of the monthly local markets which are held at the hall where I have been working. I am going to have a little stall and do some ‘performance sewing’ and continue my conversations with locals about what being resilient means to them.
Awesome
^_^

Yesterday, which was day 4 of the residency was a busy day. I had lots of people come in and have a yarn with me.
It started with a visit from Graeme, who is on the Cockatoo Neighbourhood Centre committee and a long-time local to the region. Mary and Non joined us and the four of us had an hour long conversation about a wide range of issues affecting them on a local, state, national and global level. Graeme is the full time carer of his adult son who lives with a disability and needs constant care. I identified strongly with the challenges that Graeme faces as a sole carer as my older brother also lives with a disability and requires full time care. Currently my brother Guy lives with my parents, our long term plan as a family is that I will take over as his carer when my parent can no longer manage. Luckily for us we don’t live in a high-fire danger area and do not have to worry too much about what we would need to do if we had to evacuate the house on a high-risk day. Graeme does, and he told us that there is nowhere he and his son can really that he can go on a high-risk day; Frustratingly for him the nearby respite centres all close on high-risk days… So he got a car that they can sleep in.

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It’s stories like Graeme’s, or like the story Non shared about another young (25year old) local man who has taken on a carer role for his brother after he was in a serious accident, that really strike home how important it is for us to operate as communities that look after one-another. That is the kind of society that I want to live in at least – one where we can rely on each other for help. They also reminded us that it is not only women taking on carer roles and that men also struggle with the same challenges of isolation, inability to get work that allows them the flexibility they meet to meet their responsibilities and the worry of what will happen to their loved ones when they are no longer able to care for them.

Later in the afternoon Suzanne, the ECH cleaner came over to have a yarn. We talked about some craft projects she has done in the past and then Suzanne shared a deeply personal story about what resilience means to her and what has helped her to overcome the challenges she has faced in life. She told me that what has helped her to live with the effects of trauma was learning how to get a critical distance from what happened. Adding that ‘fear might be all you get – we have to learn to listen to our intuition more’. Whether its on a high-risk day when you have to decide whether to leave, or whether you are feeling uneasy about being alone in a dark ally or in a domestic situation, sometimes fear is a red flag that we must listen to in order to save ourselves.

While Suzanne and I were talking another lady came in, she is a local artist that works in leadlight and glass. She wanted to know a bit about my practice and my process, and whether I was getting paid and fining a way to make a living off my practice. She said that despite the fact she has been living off her own practice for over 30 years people (mostly men apparently) still treat her like she is a hobbyist – not a real artist. we talked about the unfortunate statistics around how much less women are represented by professional galleries, exhibited in solo shows and how much less money they get for their art. She told me not to listen to people’s bullshit and to keep going with my art – generous advice. She also talked about how much Emerald has changed since she when she was a child growing up here; about how lots of building that should have been heritage listed have disappeared and how the culture of the area has changed. She’s going to be there on Sunday for the markets and I look forward to talking some more and having a look at her work. Finally another lady who makes bags to sell at the markets walked through and had a quick chat – we mostly talked sewing techniques, I’ll see her again on Sunday too.

Meanwhile Lee, who visited me on Tuesday and whom I wrote about in my previous post shared this on her FB page which was nice of her.

2015/01/img_2577.png I am definitely going to make sure the possum ends up on the finished work – the leadbeater’s possum is the cutest!!

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From all the conversations I had today the two main points that stuck with are issues that I’ve been exploring in my work in community/ non-profit sector for several years:
1) How can we address the crucial difference between equal opportunity and equal outcomes – so that everyone in society, even if the are somewhat disadvantaged/margionalised (whether that is because of class, race, gender, beliefs or ability) are able to achieve the same outcomes as everyone else?
2) How do we move from the -I- to the -WE-. From an isolated collection of individuals to a globalised community without loosing our hard-won individuality and the things that make us unique at a local level?

Between all these chats I did manage to get some sewing done. I’ve based the design of this quilt off a piece my grandmother made which is in her book “Folk Art Appliqué Quilts” (pictured below). I’ve been working for like a day and a half on the patchwork border and spent the afternoon trying to do the leaf border panels she has in her quilt but I failed miserably… I’ve got a bit of work to do before I can sew so many random curves together in such a way that they lie flat. Unfortunately her book isn’t very instructive when it comes to the finer details – Dawn was self taught and I get the feeling she just made things up as she went along.

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So for now this is where I’m at,

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I’m yet to build in the panels with the local animals/birds/plants that will bring this quilt together. I have a lot of work to do in the coming week!!

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.

 

When I Grow Up

Everyday I watch the news. Choking back tears. Staying informed. My faith in humanity hangs by a very fine thread. With this thread I try, in my own small way, to stitch the world back together. To mend the holes that hatred and ignorance have torn in the fabric of our society.

Luckily I am not alone.

Artists and crafts people all over the world are taking up needle & thread as a consious political act. Each prick of the fabric a provocation. Each thread a voice heard. Each stitch a proposal for change. Each knot binding us all together. This movement has reached a tipping point, it has momentum and its called ‘Craftivism‘.

This year writer and maker Betsy Greer published a book called “Craftivism: The Art of Craft and Activism” – an anthology that shares the work of some of the most inspiring and prolific craftivists from around the globe, in their own words. I read it in one sitting and I can finally, for the first time in my life, feel confident in answering that question adults torment us with from the time we can talk: “What are you going to be when you grow up?” Answer: A Craftivist!

Now, before have the time to say that “being a craftivist is not a responsible, realistic or viable career choice” I want to take the opportunity to share a few of the gems that really caught my eye in Greer’s book, quotes which will surely be touchstones for me going forward with my artistic practice and in my PhD research on quilting as a socially engaged practice.

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“In Activism, we convince ourselves that our voice isn’t loud enough, our words aren’t important, no one will listen, people will judge… we do ourselves and others a disservice when we convince ourselves not to create and not to speak up. By holding back, we deny ourselves the opportunity to express something personal, absurd, funny, or moving. We deny others the opportunity to understand us better, to laugh, to be moved, to be inspired.” – Kim Werker

“All over the world, activists take a stand against moral injustice and social inadequacies. The very nature of fighting for justice can lead to aggression and tense situations, and artwork can bring powerful, positive messages to the community, but when craft gets involved, it seems to soften the blow so the message is both more heartfelt and quick-witted.” – Inga hamilton

“The very essence of craftivism lies in creating something that gets people to ask questions; we invite others to join a conversation about the social and political intent of our creations. Unlike more traditional forms of activism, which can be polarising, there is a back-and-forth in craftivism. As Craftivists, we foment dialogue and thus help the world become a better place, albeit on a smaller scale…” – Betsy Greer

“Traditional forms of political activism can be overwhelming, and for many people they’re simply not feasable. The fentility and familiarity of [craft] transforms political power into something more manageable.” – Jamie ‘Mr.X Stitch’ Chalmers

“Its the easiest thing in the world to create art that shocks, but [craftivism] tries to touch your heart.” – Inga Hamilton

“The gender bias [of craft] adds to its success as a political medium; one cannot help but feel kindness towards the [work], as though they had been created by a senior matriarch. Therefore, when the [work] contains a message of anger, activism, or social commentary, the impact is much greater than expected.” – Jamie ‘Mr.X Stitch’ Chalmers

“Whether expressed in craft or words, in art or on picket signs, our voice is the most powerful tool we have to effect change in ourselves and others.” – Kim Werker

“The creation of things by hand leads to a better understanding of democracy, because it reminds us that we have power.” – Betsy Greer

“…art and creativity keeps us all sane and humane. It is the most powerful tool we have to bring about positive change and social equality in society. I learned that facilitating creativity has the power to change the course of an individual’s life and massively improve their sense of worth within their own community.” – Carrie Reichardt

“Craft has the power to take down the walls we’ve spent our lives building between each other.” – Faythe Levine

“It’s amazing how together we feel when we let our guard down and talk about the struggles we have – because everyone has creative struggles, and these kinds of struggles aren’t very dissimilar to the struggles we feel when we consider speaking up about change in any area of life, whether for ourselves or on behalf of others.” – Kim Werker

“People who craft together manage to find common ground, even when it seems at first that they have nothing in common. They may come from different religions or be different ages, but crafting creates a shared dialogue between them.” – Leanne Prain

“crafters… reflect on the message they create, allowing the slowness and meditative processes of stitching to draw them into deeper contemplation of the content,” – Jamie ‘Mr.X Stitch’ Chalmers

“You are not going to take the time to stitch a text that you don’t believe in, and by stitiching it you really take ownership of the words you are creating in fabric.” – Sarah Corbett

“The fact that I make art means that I am changing the world. All of us are world changers in every little thing we do…” – Lauren O’Farrell

IMG_1215.JPG – This little guy is the work of Lauren O’Farrell, I adore him!

You can buy your very own copy of “Craftivism: The Art of Craft and Activism” HERE

Now get crafting!