Collecting And Connecting

 It  seemed like an obvious progression  to make  prints from and inspired by the plants I found in my ancestral lands. The journal entry below demonstrates this practical and personal research strategy embraced whilst in the Netherlands.

Every morning I go for a walk and collect leaves to take back to my makeshift art studio, a 100 year old mansion that has a great cellar which is a perfect makeshift studio and darkroom. Here’s a feeling I get when I’m walking amongst the maples, which is one of the most common trees found in the Netherlands. Like a Dutch equivalent to the gum (eucalyptus).The Dutch Maple leaves I gather are quite different to the gum leaves I find at home. Every day I feel more at home, like the maples are my welcoming friend. (Journal entry, Renkum, the Netherlands, 2010)

Hundreds of  little prints on paper, canvas and silk,  such as   the one pictured, resulted from   experimentation  with making plant and cyanotype prints with the maple leaves gathered in the Netherlands as an artist in residence in 2010. 

Upon my return to Australia, I continued to experiment with these samples, stitching them together into new works. I experimented with  dyeing these prints using plant dye baths from common Northern Territory plants. I also  produced a large  series of prints using Australian plants, with  my three favourites plants grevilleas an  eucalyptusand mangrove. 

My earliest childhood memory is playing on my Omas (grandmothers)  property on the outskirts of Perth, where my favourite past time was picking the many flowers growing in her productive garden. I would stuff large amounts of these flowers in jars to make potions and ‘perfumes’. In the  Eco-dyeing: Capturing the colours of country with Kay Lee Williams, the artist gives insight into how   plant dyeing connects her to her  Aboriginal heritage through the gathering process as it allowed her to reconnect with her cultural traditions where  her  people are traditionally hunters and gatherers(Williams, 2015). Like Williams, I consider extracting prints from plants, combined with traditional plant dying process I have learned  in this way as an essential creative and personal tool. Wherever I go, I can gather the leaves and make ‘memories’ of places and their fauna. Making connection in this way, collecting and harvesting materials from place , is a way to become emotionally associated with a place.

I also utilised an alternative photographic technique known as cyanotype invented by John Herschel in the early 1800s. I was particularly influenced by his niece, English artist and botanist Anna Atkins, is regarded as one of the first female photographers. Her photographic explorations and discoveries contributed significantly to the evolution of photography practice as well as my own creative practice (Fabbri, 2006). 

Botanists had noted the usefulness of such techniques for recording the details of plant structure, and for capturing fragile dried specimens. Atkins was able to make her significant contribution because she already had an extensive botanical collection, and had experience of botanical publication. Thus, she recorded and published many of her own specimens in her book- Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions which included more than 400 photographs.  Atkins’ stunning botanical prints were the botanist’s means of understanding and settling a curiosity with her direct surrounds, thus creating a relationship and understanding with the natural world. I too engaged the use of cyanotpe processes to document and understand the unfamiliar natural surrounds I encountered in the Netherlands.

Anna Atkins, Impressions of British Algae

Wanting to ‘stitch’ together the metaphorical and literal pieces of my ancestral puzzle I draw on the ideology of American textile artist and Author , Elaine Lipson, who coined the term ‘Slow Cloth’ as an approach to working with textiles to demonstrates we can connect to our inner and outer worlds with meaning and power through the   textile methodologies, such as sewing and hand-stitch. (Lipson, 2012).Textile traditions such as American quilting and patchwork and piecing together stitching and fabrics to build up textures, inspired me to experiment with these  plant and cyanotype samples  to create works that portray the narrative of my thoughts and feelings from time spent in the Netherlands. 

Perhaps it is a primal mechanism within us, an inherent desire to sit and stitch and listen and learn through the repetition of the under over, the stitching and the creation from the circular and ever expanding. I became aware of the conflict within myself that arose between expectations of outcome and the importance of process to create connection and meaning in work.

Slow Cloth has an emotional and even spiritual or soul dimension. That is the opportunity in working with textiles to experience joy, to create an island of contemplation, to express oneself, and to add beauty to the world. Now, as I say this I don’t want to sound too precious about it. Not every moment of making, especially when you’re in business, is all serene and blissful. But over time, over a lifetime, you find that there is, reliably, a way to access these experiences through textiles and textile related skills (Lipson, 2012)

Lipson’s slow cloth philosophy reminded me of the importance of my chosen methodology in regards to slowing down and connecting. Basketry in general reflects these ideals engaging us and inspiring us to slow down and connect with our surrounds and each other. Because of the pressures and attachment to outcome, to produce work and evidence from research, I had forgotten about the importance of this collecting and connecting which was the original reason why I was first drawn to basketry in 1994. Stitching and piecing together the samples made in the Netherlands gave me time to gather and collect my thoughts. I allowed myself some time to let go of this attachment to outcome and experiment. This trialling and testing  became a part of my research methodology. Several works did eventually arise from this play, but what unexpectedly arose from the residency was a shift in expectations of outcome, which I believe eventually led to an entire shift in my process and practice into larger, more permanent works.

I searched for belonging in my ancestral lands, and was able to appreciate Australia as my home upon my from the Netherlands. These creative explorations led to several new artworks, which were very different to my past work. The resulting artwork involved an interweaving of the histories of the two contrasting places, which are connected, by history and name. The differences and similarities between these places became the foundation of my creative research whilst in the Netherlands. The outcome from these practical and theoretical explorations manifested in several finished artworks. These artworks marked the beginning of an exploration into the use of fibre-based practice to encapsulate stories, explore identity and process experiences. 



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