ECH Residency day 7&8

Thursday and Friday were my last two days at Emerald Community House for the residency component of this project. They were quiet, sunny and warm and I was able to finish the quilt-top with time to spare. This is it:

2015/01/img_2644.jpg I worked in the Emerald Star Bush, the Helmeted honey eater, the orange bellied parrot and some bees into the borders of the hanging (the possum didn’t make it unfortunately – I tried a few different ways of doing him but he just looked like a giant mouse). Here are some close-up shots:
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The next step is to do the actual quilting bit, where you sandwich the quilt top and the backing with batting in the middle and sew it all together. I have finished off a quilt this size on my machine before, but I decided to pay someone with a ‘long-arm’ sewing machine to do it this time. I’m not sure if I’m going to like the results aesthetically as Kelly (the lady with the long-arm) is going to do a one colour thread ‘meandering’ pattern over the entire hanging… but its worth trying at least once and its saving me about three days of sewing at a time when I really need to focus on my upcoming confirmation. Hopefully it goes okay.

The second part of this project will begin in the first week of February when I start running an 8 week workshop series at Emerald Community House project. Hopefully around 5 people will sign up to participate, registrations are only opening now. The workshops are less me teaching how to make stuff (as I’m just learning) and more an opportunity/reason to get together and be crafty around a subject with an exhibition outcome. We will be working on individual, smaller sized wall hangings that will be exhibited as part of this year’s PAVE festival – a local art festival held in Emerald. The theme for this work will once again be resilience as that is the issue that Emerald Community House has identified as being of particular importance and it is also an area that I have some experitice in which is part of the reason I’m there in the first place.

These two different approaches (residency v. workshops) to working with a community around a specific theme are the beginnings of my practical/practice led PhD research. Essentially I am experimenting with different ways of engaging and interacting with community in order to explore what the practice of cloth-art can reveal about a specific site. What does the unique logic of this practice reveal about a community? what can be learned through this type of engagement? What is generated as a result of these experiences? How does engaging with community impact my practice? These are just some of the questions I am interested in unpacking as I go forward and do this type of work in different communities and contexts.

Thats all for now, I’ll put up a photo of the finished ECH wall hanging as soon as possible. I think I’m going to call it “Resilience, Resistance and Responsibility”…

ECH Residency – Day 3

Today was another rainy but all around lovely day at Emerald. After a long chat with Mary in the morning about the ‘bushfire lifestyle’ I started working on the panel of the Emerald Community House hall again. I’m not sure about these trees yet. I have to think about it.

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Other than Mary, I had several people come into the hall today and have a chat to me today. First was a mother and her 10 year old son. They poked around at looked through what I’ve been doing, touching everything and moving it about. She seemed interested in the making process and asked about the workshop but unfortunately she works at the times they are scheduled. She told me that her mother used to quilt, but that she is currently in hospital. Her son and I talked about the Cockatoo kindergarden and I was able to fill him in on the latest of what’s happening with the rebuilt – he knew about the building and was happy that it is being turned into a museum. He looks forward to the project being finished already – time goes so slow when you are young, a couple of months can feel like forever.

Separately, two older gentlemen meandered in over the course of the day. The first, a local, who heard about the residency thought the promotional work that Emerald Community House has been doing about the project. He was expecting some kind of exhibition and was a bit disappointed but we had a nice chat anyway. He commented that he was always surprised by how much these ‘little old ladies’ charge for the quilts they make, but recognised they involved a lot of work. He said that he would come back and say hello on Sunday during the markets where I will have a stall. He goes to the markets every month to buy flowers. The second gentleman was a tourist from the UK, he and his family were in town as a stop on their trip on the Puffin’ Billy, a century old steam train that still operates through town. He wanted know if the hall was still a chapel, I informed him that it was not but that couples do hire it out to have their wedding there. He didn’t have much more to say.

My favourite visitor today was Lee, a member of the Emerald Sustainability Committee. Lee bought in a quilt she had made to show me, telling me how she sometimes makes them to raise money at local charities. Featured on the quilt was a flower, which she proceeded to explain is known as the Emerald Star Bush. A very local, and highly endangered bush with tiny white flowers “about the size of my fingernail”. This is it:

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Lee and I spoke for about 20min about her work on the sustainability committee and about her experiences of living locally. Like Donna had yesterday Lee also talked about the struggles of trying to take on a leadership role in the community as a women. Its becoming a theme here it seems… so many talented, driven, experienced and capable ladies – so much resistance to women in leadership positions. *sigh*. I’ll have to find a way to address this somehow.

Anyway… Alongside many other projects, like helping out the local bee population and working to save two local bird species from extinction: the Helmeted Honeyeater and the Orange Bellied Parrot, the Emerald Sustainability Committee are working hard to ensure that this unassuming but precious little plant isn’t decimated. I was very inspired by our conversation about the local environmental issues and think that Lee made a really good point when she said that although the two building I have chosen to represent are important, the natural environment around them is equally important to people in the region. I promised to incorporate some of what we talked about into the piece I make during the residency.

This is the Helmeted Honeyeater:
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and this is the Helmeted Honeyeater I made today:

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This is the Orange Bellied Parrot, I made a patch of him too but I wasn’t happy with it so I’m going to try again tomorrow.

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With all these people taking time to have a conversation with me about their local community today I realised something, or rather put into words: often, communities feel like their stories aren’t told, which makes them feel unimportant and unappreciated. By simply being there, to listen and learn about the local community, I – as the artist in residence- am validating these stories. By being there to listen I am creating an opportunity to share and celebrate what it is that’s important to people locally. This act of validation may be small and simple but potentially it is very meaningful for those concerned.

I am always surprised when I go in and work with communities at how much I get out of the experience. I am not really a ‘people person’ and I don’t often talk to strangers – but through my practice (whether that is workshop facilitation or my arts practice) I am able to engage with people in a very open, honest, meaningful way. People tell me their stories, even though I am a stranger – precisely because through my practice I am positioning myself as an active listener. Its a performance. My practice acts as a catalyst that invites strangers to engaged and be vulnerable. Yet it’s not me performing… the practice – the act of making or facilitating – performs this function of creating a safe space for sharing (with me as the artist as just one part of that material and social process). That is what I want my textile work to do – not to tell a story per say, but to act as a catalyst – to prompt people into sharing a thought, an anecdote, an interpretation or a story with the person next to them.

This is what awaits me when I return tomorrow:

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Until then,