Thursday, 12 April 2007

Other grass artists....
After a break wherein I visited Jigalong, a remote community and we took several bales of fodder with us to workshop the women in the use of sculptural forms, Kuka baskets using discarded meat pie tins and grass stitched with coloured wools, goannas, snakes, and a small figure to mention some were made. The picture here is of Kumpaya making a kuka basket.
To answer you’re previous posting.
The fodder is actually a mown grass, a mixture of rye, an introduced species, sometimes clover and often capeweed. The lengths vary from several centimetres up to perhaps 30 cms and it is scraggy. Impossible to pluck out a collection of smooth materials as both Joyce and Katie use.
Fodder is more like a stuffing of sorts.
When Joyce started to work with grass in 1988 she became very excited. It was several years before she planned on her meat safe, and this I think, which was followed by her arthritic arm and frilled neck lizard etc is how she arrived at the Mamurie man. He was her first figure using Guildford grass sort of rolled and crushed and built up slowly. Beyond Mamurie man her family of figures just kept on coming. Joyce would think about what she wanted to do for quite a while, planning how to construct, perhaps this happened whilst she was still working on a previous one. Stitching grass certainly gives plenty of thinking time once the form is right.
The spirit of life was in every piece of her work, because each came to life from her memory of that person as she recalled them. From our many conversations her making was cathartic and there would have been many more coming after the Didgeridoo player, her final piece, I have no doubt.
Kate Campbell Pope, the most sensitive of all fibre artists has made few baskets as such. Her use of many plant materials, grass, bark, twigs, and leaves are most often stitched into intricate sculptural forms associated with both the body and emotions. .
The hand/ mandala pieces she made for ‘recovering’ in 1997 were beautifully crafted.
A layer of grass as a base with a negative hand shape worked into it and then a positive grass hand protruding from the base. Around the edges of the complete tiny grass flames/ leaves gave a wonderful sense of life. Kate has kept making these exquisite fibre forms of the inner and outer human. She stretches grass across delicately made structures often wrapped and stitched with silk.
I have certainly learnt much from both Joyce and Kate, perhaps more conceptual rather than material wise. Kate and Cecile Williams, both close friends inspire me continuously.
My passion for mixing plant materials to give texture and the effect of land seemed so important for so many years. The use of grass alone was not appealing as such though I did do numerous pieces in the early and mid 80s.
I put my work into an Australiana context rather than a contemporary one perhaps.
Now of course, in the past 10 years grass has become the lingua franca for fibre art. In its neutrality it can be so well manipulated.

I think you are correct in saying it seems to be an Australian pursuit at present, but I doubt it will stay that way for long. I know Sandy Elverd from Adelaide taught a fibre workshop in America last year so Sisters will have found its way there. Perhaps in India there would be similar grass artworks being made, that would come closest to these here.
However here it is cheeky, surprising, sensitive and running like wildfire. The bottom line is of course when it will even out, we are all having so much fun inventing that we also need to consolidate, You may have heard that Kantjupayi has made a kids Toyota recently, its amazing, all colours and grass. After the big one, that is consolidation!

Yesterday I was shown a swan/duck? Made from grass and old chair upholstery materials, so much character and life in it as if there are swans like it just flying around everywhere, The fact that the maker could visualise that bird, have the materials at hand, and then do such a fine energetic job on making it with so much charm stuns me. What’s more it is probably the only one in the whole world, which will ever be made like it and it came from a remote desert community just to top it off.
I am trying to put my finger on it Kevin, what I think we have here is a re-enactement of the way which the western half of the country retains the inventiveness stimulated by isolation. Having visited so many areas where these circles of creative energy exist and yet each is in itself an entity but becomes part of a whole through a common islolation.
It may not be as unique as we think but it feels like it.. we behave as if it is. Each piece of grass basket or sculpture that is completed joins this pool of produce, even though one may never sit beside another it never the less belongs there through a kind of energy which most of the women seem to be aware of.
Im wondering what you think about that.
The kangaroo women picture here is of a recent piece I made for an exhibition titled Grrrr- freeing the beast. The dress is xanthorrheoa bracts and of course the head is fodder.

For those who may like to try making something with grass it requires a needle and strong thread along with a supply of grass. Slightly dampen the grass if it is brittle with a quick dunking in and out of water. Start the form in a small way, stitch it firmly and then keep adding carefully and steadily to develop your idea. Any other materials can be incorporated into the structure through the stitching process. There is no limit to the size.