my textile career from 1975
The recent controversy about the under-representation of African-Americans in the Academy Awards says a lot about the disposition, the lethargy inherent in American culture.
A recent airing of a comparatively trivial movie Major Payne showed an actor I had seen years ago, namely Damon Wayans in the absurd but fun cult movie Earth Girls Are Easy. His colleagues in that work were Geena Davis, Jeff Goldblum, Jim Carrey, all of whom have done well in their careers. Ok, Wayans did not acquit himself well in his surly defence of Bill Cosby’s rape allegations. Wayans is himself spectacularly good looking, which must surely induce an uncomfortable complacency.
It would be inaccurate to compare African Americans with indigenous Australians; perhaps the Chinese on the goldfields might be a closer cultural fit. However, the family my sister has married into finds itself with a strong indigenous past: one of those scenarios where people sought to escape the confinement and constriction of life in a camp by moving secretively to the nearest town and assuming a new, indistinct identity. A grandparent died, leaving documents that revealed all.
I would eagerly embrace celebrating that cultural bond, even as an in-law; though I would find it necessary to be told the indigenous perspective on being accepted. I know from my own efforts, once when I went bushwalking with my yoga class, we stopped at a water hole that had a pure source of ochre at one bank. Underwater, the powder was rust red; I was encouraged to smear it over my face and upper torso, which became bright gold as the powder dried. Suddenly, as I looked at the bush scene of gum trees around me, there was no longer a feeling of European alienation that I had always nurtured. Instead, I was enveloped in a golden glow.
I welcome the development of nationally significant rituals by indigenous groups and individuals such as the NT chookie dance, or the victory dance by Adam Goodes on the AFL field. It does us all a favour to know that indigenous people are capable of extravagant humour as well as proud gestures of cultural affirmation. After all, Irish Australians have their own heroes, as do English etc, Greek, Italian, Yugoslav and Arabic; together such narrative construction builds our multi-culturalism.
Come together, right now.
Some years ago, a Japanese textile master came to Sydney and gave a lecture about 30 intellectual properties he had asserted in the field of new wefts, including things like a weavable fibre made from steel mesh, also copper mesh.
Recently, a friend of mine, and talented student of textile master Makiko Tada, in the fields of kumihimo and temari, obtained some beautiful fibres. An antique one was a twisted bronze thread wrapped around a core of brown cotton. Three others were all alike though of different palettes; the green one for instance was a thread of mauve, pale green, darker green, bronze, 4 ply silk, each wrapped in a thin black thread. The other two were predominantly blue and brown.
My recent musings were about a row of stained glass panels at the back of my house; I decided to weave a tapestry about the way the light blends and buckles through them, at different times of the day. Therefore: Stained Glass, 20 cms H X 23 cms W, 8 pi cotton warp, wool, cotton, linen, silk, synthetic wefts.
The ATA, the American Tapestry Assocn, is holding a Tapestry Unlimited exhibition this year, as one of its many activities. As a consequence, I decided to submit the work shown below, Floating Rock, 22 cms H X 22 cms W X 2 cms D, 8pi cotton warps, wool, cotton, linen, synthetic wefts.
A colleague and fellow member of my Facebook Tapestry group remarked about it: “It certainly does have weight, but floats beautifully”. A generous critique. Modifying the title as above has given the viewer a raison d’etre for the shapes to follow and intersect about the central object, for a dialogue to spring up between central and backgrounded figures. One could argue about the overuse of language to achieve an aesthetic end, I feel however, that the jury is still out on that one. Perhaps the engagement of verbal paradox, the struggle of verbal and visual is one of the mechanisms of cultural activity; after all, as we stand in front of a visual work, there is a great deal of verbal activity going on, if only mental. Its absurd extremity is the modern overuse of the aid offered by museums whereby the viewer dials the code number of the relevant art work and is informed at length. The test that instructs us as to how difficult it is to separate verbal from visual is the one devised by a US academic whereby a series of random colour errors had to be recognised, but not verbally.
What interests me is how long in my career I have been developing the idea of motion, of shapes pursuing each other, not a concept that is perhaps in contemporary usage. In 2005, when I was teaching a class at the ANU School of Art, one of my students reluctantly made an observation to that effect.
The portrait shown below is an early version of my effort to have shape, colour and texture flow, one into the other, in my personal pantheism, yes that sounds like a philosophical circus, but it has always been important to re-connect inner and outer, especially in a world driven by so many competitive and manipulated entities.
The two people who will characterise the last half century for me, are David Bowie and Princess Diana. There are countless others who could contribute, however these two form to my mind a superb duet of talent and humanity. Princess Di somehow managed to change how we raise children; her dreaded, over-spoiled inlaws had an appalling sense of entitlement and they behaved accordingly. Consider the young family who have moved in next door, a young couple renting, with two young boys: the older is a demon of a child, the younger cries and cries. The older sidled up to me, all of four years of age, to tell me he liked my front yard, tho his mum and I had to warn him how thorny the rose bush was.
Bowie was the great cultural synthesiser; you only have to read his top 100 books which he dragged along with him on his travels. He worked the media in a very necessary way: he was an actor in one press interview; no, in another, he was a rock singer. And he generously taught his hard-learned survival skills to friends like Iggy Pop. One of his early songs contains the line that we have outstayed our welcome on the planet (words to that effect). It will take a decade for our culture to assess his worth; as an interim, we note how close to an alien life force he was.
A recent piece of fiction, BBC New Tricks, was written around the actual, mid 1980’s panic about Reagan threatening Russia with a nuclear attack; and consequently, the Queen writing a message of consolation to her surviving subjects. I wonder, given how well the Guardian sub-culture is progressing, whether WW3 is imminent. The above New Tricks quoted Einstein saying WW3 would be fought nuclear, WW4 would be sticks and stones. We survived war in Iraq and Afghanistan, can we hope for rescue from the starman waiting in the sky?
Sorting buttons this morning led to some meditations; you ponder the qualities of the materials you have at hand, and their potential. Of course colour determines, defines the subject matter and texture aids that process. But another layer is achieved with the luminous quality of the buttons, another dimension, depth. There’s a Greek derivative: -phanous, not diaphanous, wonderful etymological potential.
Adding a light-filled button to the composition ensures that the subject matter engages in a dialogue with many sections of the field. To tell the truth, I have been exploring this dynamic for some time. In 2000 in the Mardi Gras exhibition Material Boys Unzipped, I showed four works; the curator noted that all four works (woven tapestries) consisted of wefts which were simultaneously multi-lingual, as it were, bi-coloured, specifically a flat weft combined with a glowing one.
“Look up here, I’m in heaven. I’ve got scars that can’t be seen. I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen. Everybody knows me now. “
Born on Jan 8, David Bowie died last weekend, after an 18 month battle with cancer. It’s as if his birth and death created a cosmic loop. The above verse is from his album BlackStar, the song is called Lazarus. In the clip he is seen lying on a hospital bed, his eyes are bandaged, criss-cross wise with medical gauze, but where his eyes should be are sewn two grey buttons.
That’s my button craft he’s quoting. How clever was that, that he could collect such eclectic talent? Likewise in his music. BlackStar is him singing with a jazz quartet. Over Christmas he gave the world the sweetest version of White Christmas with Bing Crosby. Strangely, he looked well in that clip, no inkling of medical struggle or trauma.
He’ll inspire generations of musicians/composers to come. He already did so, from when he released Ziggy Stardust. My friends who were in a Gay Liberation Group in Sydney played that album nonstop all night. It was the first album to express what we felt, to sum up how we saw things. He externalised the gender fluidity we already felt was necessary. Our countries (the USA and Australia) were involved in the Vietnam War, a totally ridiculous, horrific experience. Our culture was still in post WW2 PTSD; we were struggling through the chaos of masculine brutality, football, beer. What was Bowie’s cry? “You’re not alone, ’cause you’re wonderful. Give me your hand.”
Finally saw this movie on TV; realized I’ve been living in a retro universe, having missed out on so much. I had, until now, not seen a movie containing the talents of Mr Brand and suspected I would enjoy the experience. He does, after all, come across as so very iconoclastic. The movie was well structured, funny, lyrical, courageous. The role of Russell Brand, fiction imitating life in the aspect of the actor abstaining from substance abuse. His Bob Dylan imitation, using placards was amusing: “sodomize intolerance”, as were his other routines, such as the grotesque sexual onstage enactment, that Sarah glibly accepts as a romantic gesture.
As a whole however, I wonder whether the writer of this movie, as well as being thoroughly influenced by the sitcom Friends, watched and was influenced by Pasolini’s film Teorema. There, the Terence Stamp character interacts with each member of an upper middle class family, in the process, changing their lives irrevocably. Here, Brand teaches the virginal newly wed man how to accept the mechanism of hetero love making. He also reflects back to themselves Sarah and her ex, until they are able to learn from the lesson and go forward. To Sarah Marshall, he describes her love making as the quintessential female faked orgasm.
I’m encountering Gustave Flaubert’s Temptation of St Anthony; the introduction talks of the author’s love of religion, all religions, while thoroughly despising the dogmas they grow to contain. Forgetting is about LA and Hawaii; it’s about the LA religion of the movie and media industries. When the successful individuals of this culture retreat to Hawaii they are pampered by the service industry, America’s $4 an hour underpaid. The movie describes their interaction; they are, after all, invisible to the movie stars they service. Except, as in the case this movie describes, a composer down on his luck attempts to get his act together. Flaubert’s admiration of universal religions is interesting in the schism between LA and Hawaii. Sarah describes the island as life failure, a dead end; the receptionist retorts: “yes, it has so few shopping malls and pet walkers” or words to that effect.
Everyone constructs their own religion: the phony weed smoker has his nebulous version. Sarah points out to Brand that he wears several religious tattoos, making him full of shit. The composer is most successful in finally being able to transmute his gothic vampire vision into a comedy, where we can all accept reality.
The late 1960’s was an exciting time for TV in Australia; the ABC here was broadcasting a lot of fine BBC programming, for instance a superb art nouveau black and silvery version of Oscar Wilde’s play Salome.
It was the moment that psychedelia was literally taking off; every Friday? night a rock show was broadcast which began with the motif of a plane taking off.
The song that most intrigues me with its elusiveness was a track about walking up the steps of a pyramid and becoming encased in spiritual spheres. Does anyone know which band this is? I thought at one time Pentangle, but they are folk rather than psychedelic.
Does any of the above strike a chord in your memory bank, Stu?
Patrick Gale’s 1995 monumental novel The Facts of Life has a Holocaust survivor and classical music composer, a campaigner for feminist rights and sexual rationality, a young working class woman adopted by the campaigner who is encouraged to become a GP and who marries the composer, and a range of characters in between. Its sweep of time alone is breathtaking: from the UK movie industry of the 1950’s to AIDS in the 1990’s.
Thinking of what theme to pursue next, I came upon a magnificent sermon by the campaigner, Buddhist in its purity, but of an aesthetic school all of its own. “We survive”, she said at last. “It’s the harshest lesson of all; worse than sickness, worse than losing the one you love — and believe me, dear girl, I’ve lost plenty one way or another. I don’t know how we we do it, but we survive. Compared to the perfected simplicity of the lower animals, man seems expressly designed to suffer, punish his fellows and destroy himself. He’s been given faculties to make every bad thing worse by analysing it and comparing it with the bad things that went before. Worst of all, he remembers so acutely that he can relive any suffering he might be in danger of forgetting. But he survives. Exhausting really, but there it is.
Comparing human effort with the “perfected simplicity of the lower animals” might be an interesting experience for the new year. Happy 2016.
Yesterday’s SMH published in its Spectrum section an excellent article by John McDonald about Greyson Perry’s show at the MCA in Sydney. McDonald lays out Perry’s ideas about art and the artist. Last century was about pain and brooding, this one will be entertainment and humour, spiced with a little shock. Okay, Brit art is mostly upper middle class and Perry is self-styled working class, making him an outsider and “common”; however, he is by now a media celeb, so he has also insider status, allowing him to be crassly definitive about “ethnographic” groups like indigenous Australians. This however, does not prohibit him from borrowing Benin imagery, making the exercise a reference to British colonialism.
I am told that Perry has pottery skills, so that his decorated vessels are not just designed but artist-fabricated. Not so his jacquards, but I have mentioned them elsewhere.
I have difficulty however, understanding the contradictions in Perry’s comments. The artist must no longer be a brooding genius, but s/he must be involved in social commentary. I would like to know how today’s terrorism, for instance, can be light-heartedly communicated.
Meanwhile, last night, ABC 1 ran a movie Open Doors starring Stephen Fry, who played a collections manager at a Scottish bank. Sorry, spoiler alert: he engages a hippy art forger who trained in China: copy, copy, copy. The copies, according to Fry were obviously soul-less. It seems to me that designed objects are also, just a little bit soul-less. Maybe as objects they have a wound from which their psychic energy leaches away? It seems to me, yes the world needs a brooding artist to communicate the social problems, not a PR shock & awe.