With (another) new Prime Minister in office and a federal election less than 12 months away now seems like as good a time as any to reach out and tell our political leaders what’s important to us… and what better way to do that then by hand stitching messages onto a quilted portrait of our Prime Minister!?
In early October I successfully pritched my “PM Please” project to HillsceneLIVE art festival, which was held on the 31st of October in Monbulk, Victoria. My pitch was this: I want to make Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull a gift – a quilt made out of suit swatches and ties embroided with messages from people which I will collect both at the festival and via social media.
After being accepted I sent a call out via my social media for people to send me their short messages for the prime minister that start with the words ‘PM Please’ for me to stitch and on the day of HillsceneLIVE festival goers had the opportunity to stitch their own messages. Importantly, at the very start of the project I pledged to include all the messages I was given by people in the quilt without any exceptions, alterations or censorship.
The following documents the progress of this project so far, including: a list of all 121 messages I was sent from people both at HillsceneLIVE and via social media, images from HillsceneLIVE art festival where people were invited to stitch their own messages for the PM by hand, and detailed shots of many of the embroidered messages on the quilt. The first photo below is of the quilt top which is now ready to be quilted and bound. After that is done all that needs to happen is to find a way to get it to Malcolm Turnbull….
Images from HillsceneLIVE festival, Monbulk VIC.
Detailed images of the embroidered messages on the quilt:
The full list of messges I collected via social media and as part of the HillsceneLIVE art festival in Monbulk, Victoria
1. #PMPLZ put the environment first.
2. #PMPLZ stop coal mining ruining our future.
3. #PMPLZ end mandatory offshore detention.
4. #PMPLZ prioritise preventative healthcare.
5. #PMPLZ save the Syrian refugees
6. #PMPLZ legalise same sex marriage.
7. #PMPLZ decriminalise abortion.
8. #PMPLZ address the human rights abuses of our country, particularly with regard to asylum seekers.
9. #PMPLZ improve mental health services in Australia. Particularly in rural areas.
10. #PMPLZ invest in renewable energy.
11. #PMPLZ let your actions speak louder than campaign promises
12. #PMPLZ decriminalise sex work.
13. #PMPLZ ban live animal exports
14. #PMPLZ accept my conditional thanks. Now repair Abbott’s actions.
15. #PMPLZ don’t disappoint us.
16. #PMPLZ govern for people not corporations.
17. #PMPLZ ban plastic bags now.
18. #PMPLZ restore the arts funding
19. #PMPLZ take care of our refugees and asylum seekers
20. #PMPLZ don’t deprive refugee children of a normal life
21. #PMPLZ listen to us
22. #PMPLZ take global warming seriously
23. #PLZPLZ keep children out of detention.
24. #PMPLZ put a price on carbon
25. #PMPLZ stop so many women being murdered by their partners
26. #PMPLZ put food before mines
27. #PMPLZ no nanny state
28. #PMpPLZ value our indigenous peoples’ ways of knowing.
29. #PMPLZ legalise medicinal marijuana
30. #PMPLZ protect sacred sites
31. #PMPLZ end welfare quarantining
32. #PMPLZ acknowledge Indigenous sovereignty
33. #PMPLZ tax the wealthy not the poor
34. #PMPLZ protect the Great Barrier Reef
35. #PMPLZ protect our oceans from overfishing
36. #PMPLZ respect the CSIRO
37. #PMPLZ support the state education system
38. #PMPLZ please keep our penalty rates
39. #PMPLZ keep our privacy private
40. #PMPLZ end mandatory data retention
41. #PMPLZ stop taxing our periods
42. #PMPLZ make us proud
43. #PMPLZ ensure the national roll out of the disability insurance scheme
44. #PMPLZ stop modelling Australia after America, or we will end up with the same kind of homelessness
45. #PMPLZ increase the money we spend on international aid
46. #PMPLZ set serious targets for reducing carbon emissions
47. #PMPLZ legislate marriage equality.
48. #PMPLZ make same-sex marriage legal.
49. #PMPLZ allow people in love to get married.
50. #PMPLZ support full adoption rights for same-sex couples.
51. #PMPLZ don’t waste money on a plebiscite
52. #PMLZ abandon the unnecessary and damaging changes to arts sector funding.
53. #PMPLZ restore arts funding.
54. #PMPLZ understand artists need funding and encouragement
55. #PMPLZ stop animal factory farming
56. #PMPLZ end live animal export
57. #PMPLZ care for our water
58. #PMPLZ re-instate the carbon tax
59. #PMPLZ roll out a national container deposit scheme.
60. #PMPLZ establish the Great Forest National Park
61. #PMPLZ consider green energies and a blue economy
62. PMPLZ ban CSG mining
63. #PMPLZ legislate voluntary euthanasia
64. #PMPLZ celebrate Australian multiculturalism.
65. #PMPLZ I want a humanitarian government.
66. #PMPLZ have a greater consciousness than any before.
67. #PMPLZ seek justice, love and mercy.
68. #PMPLZ increase the supply of suitable affordable housing
69. #PMPLZ end homelessness
70. #PMPLZ remember that whistleblowers should be protected not prosecuted
71. #PMPLZ treat refugees as people too
72. #PMPLZ ensure better planning for infrastructure in remote indigenous communities.
73. #PMPLZ have zero tolerance for all forms of discrimination
74. #PMPLZ respect traditional owners land rights, beliefs and values.
75. #PMPLZ resign
76. #PMPLZ let love in
77. #PMPLZ let us have a conversation.
78. #PMPLZ fight for the workplace rights of our medical professional.
79. #PMPLZ roll back ‘security’ measures that infringe on our civil rights
80. #PMPLZ keep your hands off our metadata
81. #PMPLZ visit Emerald for a cuppa and chat
82. #PMPLZ adopt an Australian bill of rights
83. #PMPLZ print more money so we can all be better off
84. #PMPLZ support our seafarers
85. #PMPLZ invest in a shipbuilding industry
86. #PMPLZ help end poverty worldwide
87. #PMPLZ lift alcohol restrictions in rural communities and allow them to regulate their own consumption
88. #PMPLZ update the animal welfare act in all states
89. #PMPLZ let the boats in, everyone is human
90. #PMPLZ help close the gap
91. #PMPLZ help preserve aboriginal sacred sites
92. #PMPLZ put an end to domestic violence
93. #PMPLZ put people before the economy
94. #PMPLZ keep university accessible to all
95. #PMPLZ what tragedy happened to you that you can hear the voice of money but are deaf to to humanity and the cries of mother earth
96. #PMPLZ don’t be afraid to risk your political career in order to make a difference
97. #PMPLZ address gender inequality
98. #PMPLZ care for our environment
99. #PMPLZ lead the world in compassion
100. #PMPLZ Stay out of my business
101. #PMPLZ create an equal society for all
102. #PMPLZ learn compassion
103. #PMPLZ don’t be shit
104. #PMPLZ end animal cruelty
105. #PMPLZ remember the bees
106. #PMPLZ tax Gina
107. #PMPLZ wage peace
108. #PMPLZ be honest
109. #PMPLZ speak respectfully of your opposition
110. #PMPLZ ban cage eggs
111. #PMPLZ ban horse racing
112. #PMPLZ treat refugees with respect
113. #PMPLZ abolish uni fees
114. #PMPLZ ban factory farming
115. #PMPLZ empty the tanks
116. #PMPLZ support the arts
117. #PMPLZ share your wealth
118. #PMPLZ tax the wealthy not the poor
119. #PMPLZ help us are with dignity, increase aged care funding
120. #PMPLZ respect us, represent us, good luck
121. #PMPLZ just stop eroding common law
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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?
- 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?
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: email@example.com
Finally – just for fun, below are some of my powerpoint slides from my PhD Confirmation presentation.
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.
Above 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.
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).
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.
Briefly, 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.
This 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 🙂
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.
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:
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.
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:
I just got home after day one of my Emerald Community House (ECH) residency in the Dandenong ranges.
The hall is a beautiful old church that has been lovingly restored by the community, its bright with white walls, high ceilings and wooden floors. A marvellous space to work out of. Especially on such a beautiful day.
In the week leading up to this project I was growing nervous about going into the space without a pre-conceived idea of what I was going to make. However, that was a conscious decision because I wanted to create a piece that responds to the site and to my experience in it. As well as to create something that links thematically to the community workshop/research project I will be leading at ECH in the 8 weeks following my residency. Happily, this all came together today quite naturally…
As I was setting up Mary Farrow (ECH co-ordinator) and another community member who came along to see the project and get involved both brought me the same book to look at – “Baked Apples on the Tree” edited by Icia Molloy is a collection of first hand accounts, stories, poems, photos and artwork from the local community put together following Ash Wednesday. As well as this book Mary also had a folder for me to look through. It was the application ECH put forward to have the Cockatoo kindergarden listed as a site of significance (and in doing so spared demolition). The story goes that during the Ash Wednesday fire over 300 people sheltered in the kindergarden and were saved. Thankfully the application was successful and in a few months the kindergarden, long neglected, will be re-opening as a memorial to Ash Wednesday. Of course, this is an amazing and important story to commit to cloth and so I am going to spend the next two weeks making a cloth-art piece about this story. It will feature both the kindergarden and ECH on it in acknowledgment that ECH helped to save the kindergarden which saved so many lives. Mary suggested it could even end up in the new Cockatoo kindergarden – that would be something wouldn’t it?
The community member who joined me this morning (I won’t name her) was a local. She had built her house with her own two hands after purchasing the block at the age of 19. She said that she was there during Ash Wednesday – still living in a shed at the time and spoke a little of how frightening the event was. A few years ago she was in a terrible traffic incident and now lives with an acquired brain injury. We spoke a lot about how miraculous her recovery was and about how she is still struggling and unable to find suitable work. A reminder that fires are not the only thing we need to have resilience for and only one of the many hardships that we overcome.
Above is a photo of the section of the cloth-artwork coming together – I started with the Cockatoo kindergarden. I will finish it tomorrow, complete with a protester standing on the roof – a nod to one of the locally famous images from the fight to save the building, (see below) and then start on the ECH hall. The theme of protest is an important one in my personal practice and once again, quite naturally I have been able to translate that to my site-specific work.
The design of the cloth artwork I’m making is based roughly on a quilt my grandmother made which is in her book “Folk Art Appliqué Quilts” (1990). I have been in conversation with her over the past month (she’s 93 years old!) and we are going to start collaborate through the process of me remaking some of her cloth artwork as well as making new cloth artworks based on drawings she is sending me. Keeping in mind that I am learning how to quilt and appliqué on the fly – by remaking my grandmothers work and by working from her book I become her pupil, her assistant. In effect I am inhereting her practice and her style just as I have inherited her genes and have been imprinted on by her aesthetics. This process of remaking and reimagining is an important part of the auto-biographical aspect of my research and is part of the heuristic development of my practice. Like my grandmother before me I am exploring this medium through trial and error, developing my own aesthetic language as I go.
Emerald, like many of the disaster affected communities which I have visited in my role as coordinator for Volunteering Qld’s Natural Disaster Resilience Leadership project is full of stories of survival, overcoming great odds and of slow but meaningful recovery. Already, Mary is talking about other nearby disaster affected communities that I could take this ‘Cloth-art Stories of Resilience’ project to. It’s funny how my work in this field is bleeding into the work and research I am doing for my PhD at VCA. I am genuinely passionate about community resilience and I find myself intrigued about how this will all unfold going forward.
Today I start my residency at Emerald Community House (ECH) in the Dandenong Ranges, VIC. I will be spending the next two weeks working at the old church which has been converted into a community hall to create a textile wall hanging that speaks of this site and of the Emerald community.
I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land upon which I will be working the Bunurong people and the Woiworung people from the Kulin nation, and pay my respects to their elders past and present.
I am leaving the doors open for anyone from the Emerald community to come in and check out what I’m doing and even get involved. If you are in the area pop in and say hi! If not, stay tuned here as I will be posting regularly with updates on my progress and on the experieance of this unique residency which I worked with ECH to design.
As you can see below, this residency will also involve an 8 week community workshop series where I will be working with local community members on a collaborative textile wall hanging project. All this is linked and a part of my PhD practice led research into Cloth-Art as a Socially Engaged Practice. So look forward to updates about that phase of the project also.
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.
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).
So 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.
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.
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.
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.
As you can see the quilt is of Aboriginal flag – only the band which is supposed to be black is actually a dark blue. What is harder to see in the photos is that stitched onto the entire quilt in thread that is the same colour as the background is the word ‘sorry’. Over and over the word ‘sorry’ is repeated in recognition of as a response to the statement stitched in black across the bottom of the piece: “Reconciliation starts with Recognition: White Australia has a Black History”. At the bottom right hand corner of the quilt there is an appliquéd crow; after reading that
“Waa (Crow) is the protector and one of the two moiety ancestors in the Eastern Kulin nation culture. We [the Wilin Centre] are very honoured to have Waa’s family watching over us at the Southbank campus, these birds symbolise our connection to the land and the Eastern Kulin nation.” – http://vca-mcm.unimelb.edu.au/reconciliation
and considering that crows are my favourite birds and that they also feature regularly in the work of my grandmother, textile artist Dawn Fitzpatrick, I felt it was significant to include a crow in this work.
The idea behind the design of this quilt – the way that it engages with its audience – is through giving people the opportunity to express their solidarity with the Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander people of this country by writing their names onto the blue band of the quilt in black marker. Importantly, once enough people sign their name onto the blue band it will become black – the colour which on the flag symbolises the Aboriginal people. I believe that the action of writing your name down as an act of solidarity is a symbolically powerfully one; The act of signing one’s names to something is certainly not something people do lightly, it is somehow official, even ceremonial, something people carefully consider. This prompting of careful consideration is exactly what I hope this quilt is able to do and in signing it I hope people are very consciously acknowledging the important role they can play in standing alongside Australia’s first peoples in their struggle for recognition, rights, autonomy and proper compensation.
The VCA Student Association has asked me if they can use it for a few more upcoming events after which we will donate the quilt to the Wilin Centre. This act of giving away my socially engaged quilts is an important part of my practice and one of my key strategies building relationships and community connectedness through my practice. In the coming months I will do a more work to documenting the quilt and the way it is used at events as well as the gifting of this piece to the Wilin centre. Hopefully this documentation will include feedback from people who participated in the work and a comment from the Wilin centre, so keep an eye on this space if you want to see more. In the meantime if you have any thoughts, comments or feedback about this work I would love to hear from you.