Laura Potter ‘Craft Samples’ @ Personal Space Project

21 04 2015

Once again I’m totally enamored with an exhibition in Zoe Brand’s ‘Personal Space Project’ : Laura Potter‘s ‘Craft Samples‘.

This collection is titled ‘Redacted Brooches‘.

exhibition media; image used with explicit permission

exhibition media; image used with explicit permission

Without being able to see these in person, I can only get a feel for them via Zoe’s images. But what’s not to love about this group I ask you? The muted colours of the denuded transfer-printed fabric, the little ephemeral wisps of brightly-coloured embroidery thread saved into little plastic bags … like the outcome from an archeological dig or scientific investigation.

Exhibition media: “I had no idea so much of the handicraft I saw as a child came in kit-form, allowing impressive household items to be fashioned by women who had very little skill or feel for materials. My mother subscribed to a monthly magazine full of projects to sew, weave, cast and carve. It was like a craft recipe book with a list of materials and tools, step-by-step instructions, tutorial images and patterns to cut out and use. It was craft-by-numbers. I thought what my [relatives were] doing was accomplished and difficult. I am now not so sure that it was.

exhibition media; used with explicit permission

exhibition media; used with explicit permission

I admit to getting a bit lost in revery about this collection.

I wondered if Laura’s quasi-destruction of these pieces is an expression of her disappointment that these aren’t the unique and special objects she was led to believe. She is excavating the evidence that they’re not personally designed nor very special at all.

Perhaps she wants revenge for being tricked by exposing them for what they are? Though I dare say that if there was genuine anger then these handcrafted brooches (in their original frames) wouldn’t be so carefully disassembled for us to see their components.

At times I can see a kind of sadness here too … a quiet sorrow for things not being as once thought.

This is a such a brilliant meditation on the subject…

exhibition media

exhibition media; used with explicit permission

I completely love the display – the large group makes the investigation seem compulsive and perhaps even unfinished, both sentiments I can relate to.

As a child I did a lot of similar ’embroider by numbers’ – textile kits, with pre-printed and cut and finished fabric, and all the thread you need. I have a soft nostalgia for these objects, maybe a kinder recollection. Interestingly, I don’t ever remember seeing embroidered brooches like these, and perhaps that’s explained by Laura being a UK native – maybe these just weren’t done in Australia, but more a British object.

Be sure to read Zoe’s text about the work for her perspective too – I like reading how others’ see things; and also for more images.

Laura Potter ‘Craft Samples‘ is online at Personal Space Project (personal visits by appointment) until 30th April 2015.

Caz Guiney @ Personal Space Project

6 02 2014

This is my first review-from-afar of an exhibition. Sounds strange doesn’t it? Is it possible even? Well, this post will go some way as to tell if I can do it justice.

Regular readers are familiar with my admiration for Zoe Brand – the lady is a visionary. She has set up a gallery in her bedroom: Personal Space Project. If you don’t already know about it, you must.

The current show (for the month of February) is work by Caz Guiney.

exhibition media; click on image for original source; used with permission

exhibition media; click on image for original source; used with permission

How beautiful is the display? I love it.

Zoe documents the exhibition so wonderfully with images on her website that I think I have a feel enough for it to be able to write a little about it, even though I haven’t visited the space in person. If there were many more items, and the space larger than could fit in one photograph, then I would suggest the task of getting a feel for the cohesiveness of the work would be quite difficult. Thankfully it’s perfectly compact and made accessible.

I was especially intrigued by the introduction in the exhibition text: “In this work Guiney explores the difficult and perhaps even ethical situation that many jewellers face; what do you do when you have a potential goldmine just casually tucked away in boxes under your bed?

that's my name don't wear it out  (2014); image used with permission; click on image for original source

that’s my name don’t wear it out (2014); image used with permission; click on image for original source

More of the exhibition media: “This series examines the process of revisiting old jewellery projects and explores the possibility of liberating them from the archival tissue, the zip lock bag and bubble wrap to give them another opportunity to shine, communicate and tell stories. The particular project from which these works have been emancipated is Precious Nothing (2008)…

And seriously beautiful new art objects these are.

I especially love the one above; the composition is fabulous with all the young fellows admiring their friend’s swanky chest adornment. It’s like he’s saying: ‘yeah, I know, it is pretty ace isn’t it’ … and feeling all proud of himself that he’s made his mates envious … and stuff …

(left) i know you are but what am i (2014) & (right) your dumb and i'm not (2014); used with permission; click on image for original source

(left) i know you are but what am i (2014) & (right) your dumb and i’m not (2014); used with permission; click on image for original source

The titles are adorably childish and viciously insightful; given the looks on the faces of the children you couldn’t think of a better title when you see them. I remember saying things just like that to my family when I was a kid. So naughty. And I like that cheekiness combined with the black and white somewhat dorky images (from knitting patterns), succulents for colour and the gold for a grown-up touch. And I’m pretty sure I ate party foods from plates just like those as the same age.

I’m quite taken by these. You can tell, I know.

Adoration aside, I too regularly wonder what on earth I should do with some of the pieces I’ve made – especially those I’m not proud of or no longer like. I once had vague delusions of grandeur that I would hold onto them in case of some imaginary future retrospective when I become totally famous. Pft.

As that’s really not going to happen, questions are perpetually on my mind about what to do with all the pieces. I am a minimalist and do like to clear things away regularly; I don’t like to own objects that don’t fit a purpose, with aesthetics being one of the most important purposes of all.

I can’t imagine how this would weigh on a maker’s mind if they had more than I do (I would say I have relatively little), and where gold and more precious materials have been used (most of mine is just silver).

I’m all for makers repurposing their pieces if the result is going to be as stunning as this work or if it opens a new window on another way of viewing their practice. Start with that route; the experimentation alone is valuable experience.

But if that doesn’t quite work out, I would seriously recommend documenting the piece (photographs and sketches and even the story behind it) and then melting away – it makes room for more new work, and releases some funds too. That is in fact a large part of why I’ve documented my RMIT pieces on this blog – once that was done I felt more able to let some of those pieces go and be melted away.

Caz Guiney is at Personal Space Project (Canberra and online) for the month of February 2014. Zoe’s writing about Caz’s work is most definitely worth your reading (more than mine I dare say).

‘Mapping Our World: Terra Incognita to Australia’ @ National Library of Australia

27 01 2014

The second of the two exhibitions that brought me to Canberra was ‘Mapping Our World: Terra Incognita to Australia‘ at the National Library of Australia (NLA).

Maps interest me in how they make evident the manner in which people perceive and place themselves in the landscape, and then how they represent their three-dimensional world in two dimensions. This exhibition shows that to some small extent, though (naturally, given the title and focus) is more about how maps of the ‘modern’ centuries evolve to show snippets of what came to be called Australia.

Exhibition media: “Mapping our World is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see rare and unique cartographic treasures from around the world. Discover how European explorers unravelled the secrets of the great south land.
Highlights of the exhibition include the magnificent Fra Mauro Map of the World; the remarkable Boke of Idrography presented to Henry VIII; an intricate world map by the Benedictine monk Andreas Walsperger (1448); a fifteenth-century Ptolemy manuscript; magnificent and controversial ‘Dieppe’ charts; one of only four surviving copies of Mercator’s groundbreaking 1569 projection, and original manuscript charts by Pacific navigators including Louis de Freycinet, James Cook and Matthew Flinders.

There are some absolutely magnificent works of art here – and yes, they certainly do deserve that lofty description. The most stunning of course being the map used in media for the exhibition: the ‘Fra Mauro Map of the World‘ (1448-1453). This is the first time the map has ever left Venice … ever. If you only go for one reason, this is sufficient.

click on image for original source

click on image for original source

The above map is detailed beyond comprehension; and its counterpart could be considered to be the little map that struck me for its simplicity and design, and also its proposal of not-yet-discovered places: Macrobius’s ‘Zonal world map, in Commentary on the Dream of Scipio’, from the 11th century.

click on image for original source

click on image for original source

The most significant impact this exhibition had on me was to underscore how inadequate my primary school education had been in such matters. I was taught that Captain Cook ‘discovered’ the east coast of Australia in 1770. I don’t remember being taught anything of the Dutch reaching the west coast (it wasn’t until my thirties that I came to this knowledge, via someone raised in Perth and taught such things in school), nor that the Portuguese were more likely the first ‘Europeans’ to map the shores of the continent in the 1500s (if not earlier, as such knowledge was fiercely guarded).

Regular readers will know how I love maps; though visiting this exhibition was almost too much of a good thing. I found myself developing map-fatigue half-way through the rooms.

I’ve given this some more thought and consider it akin to compassion-fatigue (and of course closely aligned to art-fatigue, if not exactly the same): being surrounded by so many amazing objects, bombarded at each turn with a map deserving of attention and contemplation in its own right, creates such a weight that it’s overwhelming and desensitizing. An individual brilliance is dulled and suffocated by the company of many others of equal value.

Others have written more eloquently of this experience, so I won’t expand any further on it here. Though I have wondered if my ‘fatigue’ is speeding up with age – I feel I am reaching saturation point earlier in an exhibition than I did in my twenties or even just a few years ago … perhaps a larger and growing ‘back-catalogue’ of accumulated images and experiences casts a longer shadow over the new?

There is so much to appreciate in this exhibition, and it’s free.

Mapping Our World: Terra Incognita to Australia‘ is at the National Library of Australia (Canberra) until 10th March 2014.

‘Gold and the Incas’ @ National Gallery of Australia

22 01 2014

There are two amazing exhibitions on in Canberra right now; and this dear heart believed such magnificence warranted a personal appearance. And so off to our nation’s capital I traipsed for a day of art-fatigue-and-visual-overload.

First: ‘Gold and the Incas‘ at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA).

Exhibition media: “Gold and the Incas showcases the splendour of ancient pre-Hispanic cultures of Peru. Art made of gold, silver, precious stones, textiles and ceramics will excite our visitors and provide a new experience at the National Gallery of Australia. More than 200 objects are included, from gold regalia, intricate jewellery and striking vessels to elaborate embroidered and woven cloths. Australian audiences will encounter the aesthetic depth, drama and beauty of the famous Incan empire and its predecessors.

The most important comment I’ll make to potential visitors – it’s not all about gold. There is a rich collection of ceramics and the most exceptional textiles in this exhibition; and I was pleasantly surprised by the number of items. So if gold isn’t your thing, perhaps it’s still worth a visit.

Best overheard comment: “they sure did like nose rings”. Yes, yes they did. Below are some sketches of some of my favourite nose ornaments [left, top right, bottom right].

nose ornament 1inca_003

One of the pieces that made me giggle was a Nazca forehead ornament: with an central impressed design of a face (serious, straight mouth), with little heads floating above his head, and little serious faces in the eleven ‘rays’ from the top of the object … a forehead object, with a man who looks like he also has a forehead object on, with little men with foreheads … ha, iteration hilarity, oh the fun I had in that little moment.

Along with nose-rings and being quite obvious about the sexy-time (I was terribly disappointed to realise that I had missed seeing the splendid cock vessel in person … boo), they also liked huge headpieces. The last room in the exhibition is worth the visit alone. The sketch below only gives the barest of ideas – but it is splendor you cannot imagine, on a scale that is formidable, in a display that is stunning. Earrings the size of your forearm? Oh for sure!


The most breathtaking object is the Sican-Lambayeque mantle – it is lit in such a beguiling and entrancing manner, and the unevenness of each of the individual little ravioli-shaped silver components (sewn on to cotton I think) plays beautifully in the light.

The most surprising to me were the textiles – stunning.

Finally, the objects I found most moving were the Quipu. Strange really, considering their use was actually for trade; but when I first saw them I thought they may be maps or objects for personal memories.

My most significant, though minor in perspective, gripe is the darkness of the rooms … truly, many times I couldn’t see where my pencil was on my paper (explaining my less-than-fine drawings). I do understand that this is often necessary for conservation, especially for the feathers and textile pieces; and on the upside, it did make the gold stand out (perhaps the most pertinent reasoning for the low voltage?); but it was disorienting and tiring and somewhat oppressive.

I must admit that my most recent visits to the NGA have been enjoyable, to the extent that I would say (now the value of timed entry ticketing is well understood) that I like how the NGA does blockbusters – specifically, (so far) avoiding traps of ‘ambiance’ manufacturing, ‘real life dioramas’ and ‘virtual experiences’ and such banality some exhibitions fall for.

Gold and the Incas‘ is at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, until 21st April 2014.

See my other posts about exhibitions at NGA here.
Please note: sketches in this post not to be reproduced without author’s permission.


Update (28th January): It’s been on my mind since my visit … the low lighting that is.

To give you a gauge of how odd it was: the round nose ornament in bottom right of the top image is actually half silver and half gold, and the lighting was such I couldn’t even tell they were different. It should have been obvious right?! And in the same case, the nose ornament on the left in the sketches has two twisted wires between the plate and the spiral components, but the lighting was so poor I couldn’t tell what was going on there, just that it wasn’t flat and not round – I just couldn’t see the detail. The room was dark but the display boxes so lit that the contrast was washed out.

And from memory the lighting was in fact brighter in the places where the ceramics and textiles were displayed – so may I be so bold as to suggest that the low lighting in the gold displays was for dramatic effect only? I mean honestly, gold or silver is not going to fade or be damaged by a little more helpful lighting; certainly no more so than feathers and textiles.

Yes, I’m unreasonably annoyed by the lighting … but the exhibition is still worth a visit.