Tuesday, 16 January 2007

Fodder. nalda searles response.

Thank you Kevin, Close to my mind immediately is the photograph you choose to open our dialogue. Kalgoorlie, the place of my birth and where I have visited many times in the past 15 years has a major problem with domestic lawns. Flocks of pink and grey galahs delight in snipping off the succulent base of the green grass leaf. Kalgoorlie Boulder sports playing fields are another of their favourite picnic spots. Along with a sprinkling of corellas the galahs are amazing to watch as they play while nibbling, turning somersaults etc. In another country the birds may be seen as sacred visitors and even encouraged but lawn rules in Australian towns and cockies are a curse. The ngaatjatjarra word for pink and grey galahs is kinturrka, for corellas its kakalala and for grass, tjanpi. I am hoping this writing exchange will be an opportunity to be able to see ideas which more or less develop hand in hand with the making and yet can finish up silent as the crafted object then tends to stand alone. No voice to support it and it slips into the realm of being static. If I would choose a few words to explain why the things I make lean towards a reading of the peculiarity of being here it would be that space and time are also my major tools. Even though I have traveled extensively in my life I now find myself retracing over and over the lines of my early years, now thinking with a different sort of mind, I can roll around all sorts of mental inventions as a way of understanding. And even more as a maker I am driven to solving the problem of how will I make that idea. Then my mind roams around what my environment has to hand. Sometimes I find the answer right on the side of the road. For instance a doona, lying of the road between Kalgoorlie and Southern Cross very early in the morning. A snow-white clean doona. When I stitched hundreds of blades of grass onto its white surface it became an amazing pelt. Long yellow grass, Guildford grass. A grass doona, an introduced grass in this case. So out of that simple act come many meanings both for myself and for others. Sometimes with objects I make there is a real effort to contribute to an Australian myth or at least a West Australian myth. To me it seems an important path to follow. It is a very serious path. I have the luxury of my life to keep churning up as fodder with all its vagaries and offer it for contemplation. Grass, fibre, twigs, and many other found and recycled objects kind of move around me when I am thinking, and there is this joining of the idea and that certain material that fit together, sometimes fleeting, at other times it hits the mark. But always the vocabulary I have developed is built around trying to make sense of life.
Using fibre, specifically grass, to make objects is such a basic act. It does require skill, as much in using a needle and thread as anything,if it is to be stitched. There is an irony in our culture, grass is fodder, grass is weeds, grass grows to be clipped down one way or another. To see a patch of nice long grass suitable for stitching is a joy, to recognise it as such is a skill. Basketry which includes eveything from thatching to hats to shoes, capes, and of course baskets keeps us aware of its uses but how to do it tends to be a mystery.A maze literally. The eye finds it hard to follow. It was several years before I attempted making baskets from grass. Once started I never returned to commercial materials.
In the mid 80s I met a seed collector from Tom Price, his task was to seed the mine dumps with cimbopogon ambiguous, one of the heavenly lemon scented grasses. Each year he harvested the stalks and seed heads, hung them to dry and collected the seed , then discarded the stalks. I purchased a wool bale full of the stalks and leaves he discarded and that set me up and still some remains. Having such an abundance I was able to use it as a foundation for baskets. Mixed with native shrubs, leaves,barks and flowers each basket became a kind of mandala for what it contained. It was doing these that gave me the ability to read grasses and plants. For many years I would never include a single leaf of anything not native except cloth or hair and the linen stitching threads. Anything else I felt would contaminate, take away the spirit of the vessel.
So many journeys in the bush to certain places, even that would be part of the spirit that went into the stitching.
However as an awareness of meanings developed so I spread my range of materials. However I never let go of a certain vocabularly which the native plants came to represent. For instance, the 'Whiteboy Blazer' (collection Wollongong City Art gallery) where xanthorrheoa spathes are stitched onto a West Australian schoolboys blazer remains true to it.
So one could say that those first years of making fibre objects was my training ground as much for developing a way of thinking as it was learning skills.
This fodder that we are talking about is a relatively new material for me, not only did I have to let go of the notion of spirit contained within the native plants but also using a material which is very basic and roughly treated. A major shift but it has given me a freedom that basketry with native plants cannot. A playfulness and directness, more like drawing than painting.


annadee said...

Hi Kevin and Nalda,
I found this blog only recently so I have been spending time reading through from the very beginning. There is much fodder for thought but I was particularly interested in Nalda's comment: "Sometimes with objects I make there is a real effort to contribute to an Australian myth" This quote really struck a cord with me as I feel that perhaps this is sometimes how I work too. But I wonder what is "The Australian Myth" and is the concept of this Myth changing in the 21st Century? You both may have explored this further and I just haven't got to it yet but if you haven't, I would love to read more dialogue from you about this.

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