Sharon Peoples, Catherine K., Zoe MacDonnell

In today’s world we often find ourselves celebrating the speed and efficiency of the Internet. We can now browse the globe from the touch of a keyboard, without even leaving the comfort of our homes. Real time cameras allow us to see destinations on the other side of the world, new alternatives to shopping allow us to order home deliveries of otherwise unavailable exotic fruit, and new media now gives us the freedom to browse the headlines of overseas newspapers each morning. The benefits are seemingly endless. For a fraction of the cost to travel in person, the world’s cultures now handily reside on our computer monitors. And with the state of security concerns at the world’s airports today, who would want to bother with travel?

But journeys, motion, maps and movement are integral aspects of our ability to understand the world around us. A hunger for knowledge, new experiences and personal growth are crucial to our development as individuals. With many of us spending increasing amounts of time in the virtual world of cyberspace, concrete experiences such as journeys and travel, especially for the tactile world of the textile, are of increasing importance. Working from an antipodean’s perspective, textile artists Sharon Peoples, Catherine K., and Zoe MacDonell present a diverse cross section of contemporary Australian textile art. Each artist works with a distinctive palette and selection of materials, but as the following examples will show, an interest in motion is apparent in each of these works.

Sharon Peoples' “One Hundred and One Red Shoes” is the culmination of research about the stories and iconography red shoes hold for both wearer and viewer. Peoples interest in the social construction of gender through clothing has drawn her to projects of varying scale, using both hand and machine embroidery to reaffirm connections between politics and embroidery. In a departure from previous projects, the red shoes series evokes an emotion about gender and dress that is ultimately positive. In Peoples’ words these are “shoes that denote assertiveness – walking away, moving, feeling positive about oneself, an attempt at controlling change.” Here motion is tied to the image and sensation of walking down the street in full view, standing tall and feeling proud. Rather than an arduous journey, these red shoes are the shoes of celebration, a private sense of strength or the confidence for a public display of joyousness. The netted path on which they walk contains an equal number of holes as it does connections and crossroads, but the work ultimately refutes any connotations to a scarlet or fallen woman. Instead red is understood as a colour of vibrancy and celebration. The journeys such shoes have made are purposeful and deserving of admiration.

Combining printing with embroidery, Zoe MacDonell notes that the main themes of her work are “related to pathways, journey, landscape, change.” MacDonell is a material cartographer, charting pathways to undisclosed lands in cloth and thread. The absence of a key to read these maps allows the shapes to remain ambiguous and open-ended. The rippling, wobbly circles map a world that could be suspended in water, air or earth. While Peoples evokes a sense of emotional or private transition and the celebration of self, MacDonell’s subtle palette charts, on an entirely different scale, the sounds and surfaces where such growth may take place. She offers a reminder that along with intimate and personal journeys, the air, water and land around us continues to grow and record motion.

Working with a palette strikingly similar to MacDonell, the artist known as Catherine K. uses newspaper as her chosen material. While this work may initially seem less engaged with notions of travel and movement, these works are in fact fashioned from pages of an airmail newspaper, the text carefully shredded, wound and hand woven. Apparently it was only after careful investigation that the artist determined the airmail edition of newsprint to be the right combination of strength and weight for her weavings. The totemic shapes and coiling forms reference, much like MacDonell, pathways and ripples, both earthly and otherwise. But unlike Peoples and MacDonell, these materials have literally experienced a physical journey before their reincarnation as textile materials. Transition and movement are all borne on the ink and paper of these weavings. If we were to unwind these materials, we would read of news separated now by both the passage of time and the distances the papers have journeyed. With an awareness of the source of K.’s inky hues, MacDonell’s palette now seems strikingly similar to the grey scale created by various densities of ink print. Possibly her marks are script other than our own, containing the same multitudes of information and ideas that a fat Sunday edition newspaper would contain. That is, for those of us who have not picked up the habit of logging on rather than buying the paper version of the morning news.

While the Internet affords us ample opportunity for virtual travel, opening up a network of seemingly endless links and connections to the world around us, the textile finds perhaps its greatest attributes in its material, in the very stuff that it is made from. In this sense, the textile remains far removed from any virtual possibilities. It is grounded in material, in matter that demands first hand experience. In each of these examples, shapes reminiscent of radio waves, ripples on water, nets of fibre or the cyber space that connects us both virtually and materially to distant nations and cultures is apparent. Admittedly, for a viewer in the Northern Hemisphere this sense of geography and space may be even more poignant than to those viewing the works in Australia. But while the links between these three textile artists working from Australia may initially seem tenuous, they offer yet another example of web making, of connecting the world through both the obvious and the unexpected.

Sharon Peoples, Zoe MacDonell and Catherine K. are all represented by Planet, 419 Crown Street, Surrey Hills, NSW, Australia.

Embroidery magazine (Sept./Oct. 2004: 38-40)

image: Sharon Peoples