Sunday, 28 January 2007

sitting down in the bush.


First the word ret: that is an interesting northern hemisphere word. Probably in South Africa .South America, the Pacific Islands and certainly in much of Australia materials are not soaked. That would destroy them .
Various introduced plants are now soaked but traditionally native plants were either slightly dampened or used dry.
The exception would pandanus leaves that are boiled to free the single strand of fibre in each half leaf.
There is always the question"Shall I soak them". But it comes from non indigenous workshop participants.
It is the memory of cane, willow and rushes used traditionally in the northern hemisphere.
Some years ago I used pure spinnifex, (triodia,) I was in the Pilbara near Karratha and there was a finer Triodia there. Still very hard on the hands. So I did soak it, lo and behold the basket went green and started to grow.Such an opportunist is Triodia.
Basketry was used for so many utilities for centuries in the Northern hemisphere. Even in the first world war they were weaving huge baskets to drop supplies in from planes. Hot air balloons still prefer willow baskets.That is because they can move within their woven structure and stay intact when the big landing comes.
So there is a whole tradition of words associated with the manufacture of basketry objects and ret is one of them.

Fibre in plein air

These photographs show a group of ECU students at a textile camp sewing, the other is the recent workshop in Kings Park were we used fodder, also in the outdoors.
Right from the beggining I chose to for the most part to work outdoors. .Perhaps not being entangled in a group situation, also having a girlfriend who was a painter, so we encouraged each other to "go bush"
It was a matter of shaping weaving to fit a lifestyle, whereas often people have to shape their lifestyle around their practice.
At least in the beggining when structure was being laid down it set limitless boundaries in a strange way and continues to do so when I need it.
By the very nature of space, material, design in Australia to use the open air, the "bush" as a studio at least some of the time is important. It is liberating.
It means quite efficient organising but the rewards are great.
I would suggest that it must be one of lifes great pleasures freely available in this country.
That is to settle into a space where there is just the right amount of all one needs and to be able to pursue a creative desire.

Your question about making outside, in the bush, however one likes to describe it, at least being away from a domestic studio situation sent me back to when I did actually start working like that..

Coiling my way through colonialism.

Almost as soon as I became competent and excited with these basketry skills then as I have always been in my life, eager for the next stage, then I went "bush" , not to wild nature. Rather to colonial nature, old mine sites, deserted campsites where miners had lived. Of course I was walking in my fathers footsteps, that had been his stories, it was a map I knew.

Along with Linda my life long friend who is a painter, we set off in my small new yellow mini van. Off to the Goldfields picking up all sorts of old metal, boots, mining belts, Linda wanted still life objects, she was teaching Art at Midland Technical college at that time.
So here were two women roaming aound Navoria, Marvel Loch,Bullfinch , Southern Cross. It was lull time in goldmining so the places where largely deserted or occupied by eccentrics scratching for their payload. We ventured down into old open cuts, up poppet heads, into tunnels and inspected amunition mounds.
Now the sites are all major mining operations and there is no access for the likes of artists.

However it was those collected objects, and there were many of them that I started to incorporate into coiling using ropes and wools, and strings, commercial threads which I could manipulate to create these quite unique "colonial vessels.'
Teaching myself as I went I was absolutely focused on development .
Then there was a point where I decided to go and actually site myself in the bush and make baskets, not thinking so much that I would use the bush as a material source but that I would take my materials with me and sit there making using the space and my familiarity of it as an adjunt to making..
Big plans… I received a grant from the Australia. Council to develop new work, (David Williams had vision and he encouraged me to apply for it).
I have found the diary I kept for the next year when I did go and "work " in the "bush'.
It took qite a lot of planning and I even took designs I had drawn for what I wanted to make.
Initially I went for 3 days to test myself, no mean feat for a woman to go camping alone with intent to practice a craft. In those three days I kept stitching as a colonialist. Using brown wools and ropes but I did make the shape reflect granite boulders which are dominate at that site. That was a major step.
Then came the big plan, 5 weeks, same site, winter time. The small mini van with a tiny trailer, the dog and myself.
This was the shift from colonialism (using bits of left over debris) to looking at "nature " and finding a way into it.
That's where mallee bark and grass coiled openly with hand made string I had purchased from a Aboriginal art gallery in Perth came in .
That act shows where I was moving.. Although the string had been quite expensive I did not see it as something static, not to be used. Nor did I see any reason why it was inappropriate to use it. Not just the colour and texture of it as such but there was such harmony between the mallee bark, grass and bush string.
Lights were coming on.
Along with the string, bark and grass I went seeking small flat stones and actually made up a kind of bush brew of silt and adhesive, then I coiled the bark directly onto the stones using that adhesive.
I remember being very troubled by what I was doing, in terms of design (the strong critical influence of Eileen Keys)
But then I justified it by saying that the very first ""baskets" in many "primitive" cultures did have a stone base, a kind of a pestle and mortar arrangment.
Of course it was a way of starting at the very beginning in the land for me. I was doing exactly what came naturally.
At the site where I was camped there was a creek, a small catchment area and a series of massive grantite rocks. Someone had told me that in the early days an old chinaman had a vegie garden at the far end of the rocks and he would take his veggies by horse and cart into town and supply the miners.
This would have been 60 or 70 years back. Sitting alone, I would think of that man,and somehow it would give me a sense of company. Mostly it was it was satisfactory, I established a routine, collect firewood early in the day, collect bark hanging from the trees while it was damp from dew , move around while it was cold and then settle into sewing when the sun was overhead
At night, I took to polishing fragments of dead wood with wet and dry sandpaper. Some of them became basketry handles. If the days and nights were fine I was in the open constantly and became very aware of the sky , the weather, reading the clouds and the wind.
If it rained , and it did sometimes for 3 days in a row I just kept my fire going and took refuge in the van, it was large enough for the dog and myself to sleep in.
And so it went on, over the next few years I did this quite often with friends and alone.
But it was always fraught with the "woman alone in the bush" idea.
I wasn't walking around looking for birds etc, I was in a very "domestic" situation, food, bed, dog, books, art, and sititng quietly sewing, the absolute opposite of being in a state of preparedness.
That's quite a thing when I look back on it.
Then I was invited to do art camps, first with high school students, (1986 -92) and ECU camps 1987-2005)
I had been through this process of initiation through camping alone, and I was confident and responsible enough to understand that it was something that could be shared.
I still had not met up with any Aboriginal women.
When I finally did we all recognized a familiarity in each other I think.
I would suggest it would be very unusual to meet an Aboriginal woman alone in the land involved in making. Collecting bush tucker means sometimes moving quite far apart but always within cooeee
I think all of this is what has given me this unique position, a kind of straddling of place, space, time.
There is such a buzz of energy when a group of Aboriginal women are working that I find it very difficult to concentrate on my own making, but I have made many begginings which others pick up and take off with. I quite like that, it's a collaboration. As Thisbe will tell you a wonderful; sharing and involvment. The image included here is a echidna, tjilkamarta, made by myself and young girl at Blackstone 2004.
Learning Ngaatjatarra language was like passing through a glass wall, the tree was still there but no longer tree, it became warta.pilpira, kulin kulinypa. walku, ngaalta and on and on. Knowing the name one recognises the tree in amongst many others. Each tree for instance has a whole body of information built around it, and this means seeing one all this information comes to mind. It becomes part of the map of country.
So not only do the meanings of plants carry their colonial information but also their original inforamtion. And somehow it is combing these libraries of knowledge which gives a double sided interpretation to much of my making..
I started to name artworks using Ngaatjatjarra language in 1996, for instance a dress covered with xanthorrheoa bracts was also kartu kultu (xanthorrheoa) warntu (warntu= skin = dress) which felt more natural, more pertinent.


1 comment:

Jane said...

I have always been fascinated by the Aboriginal perspective so thank you for this blog. It's so interesting.

I would love to do one of your workshops. When are you running your next one?