Friday, May 30, 2008

What is the point of weaving in a world full of trouble?

At a particularly dark moment of the Gracchi era, in the year 125 B.C, Livy reports that disturbing omens began occurring in Italy: wheat grew on trees; at Veii, it rained oil and milk; at Arpi, stones; and for the first time in eight years, the owl was heard on the Capitol….[1]

“Weaving the land” is a challenge when the ‘ground of our being’ is a place which is hard to locate in purely geographical terms. It exists where we are, but it also exists where we think we are, whether that is in the past or in the future. It is also necessarily a contradiction, evoking thoughts of landing, but also of shifting sands and compromised terrains. It is increasingly challenging to negotiate a space when the land itself is at risk.

Things that once seemed clear are no longer so certain.

When Patrick White’s Voss, one of the contenders for the title of Great Australian novel, journeys into pastoral country he notices that “a truth of sunlight dappled the innocent grass”
[2]. What is that truth? Is it still relevant?

When writing the pastoral now, Australian expatriate poet John Kinsella claims that “one must be ironic, and (consequently) political. The conversations between shepherds have become those between motorbikes and tractors, helicopters and light planes. Even the climates are changing. Nothing is consistent, and [this is] what the pastoral has always been about. Once “retrieved’ from wild Nature the landscape is shaped to remain for ever after – unlike the city, which is about progress and change, ad infinitum.” [2] I can see all this happening. What implications does it have for my art practice? What do I take into the studio?

And why am I talking about poets when this is a talk about my tapestry practice? What is the point of weaving tapestry, a slow, self-absorbed, personal medium in a world full of trouble? It is obvious looking at the work presented in this conference that there is a lot of weaving going on, and I feel a certain trepidation that this talk is preaching to the converted, and in the case of some practitioners, like telling grandparents how to suck eggs, as they say. It was one thing to write it at home and quite another to come and see all the tapestries afterwards.

However, the things I hear on the news and read in the paper concern me, and I wonder what my work is all about. What contribution is one more piece of weaving to the large picture of our life on earth? Are our answers the same? I am impelled to put myself on the line and open a dialogue with like and unlike minds on the topic.

[1] Scheid, John and Svenbro, Jasper, The Craft of Zeus: Myths of Weaving and Fabric, p.35
[2] White, Patrick, Voss
[3] Kinsella, John , The Pastoral and the Political Possibilites of Poetry

I would like to think about these things in the following framework:

In The Studio (private and personal space)
At the Loom (A slow, self-absorbed medium)
From the studio window (the threshhold)

Puck, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream says “I shall weave a girdle round the earth in forty minutes” Let’s make that 25.
Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream[1]

1. In the studio:

I am in an ambiguous position as a tapestry weaver because my full time paid work is as a High School teacher. I teach year 11 and 12 Visual Art and History of Art, and also English in various forms, across the High School. My relationship with the world is therefore in a constant state of negotiation one with the other, the visual and the literary. This makes it more difficult to define my ‘studio’, the place where etymologically speaking, one’s “zeal” is focused, and what is the work that I do there.

There are many interesting historical and literary links, quotations, references to do with weaving, as you all know. And it would be easy to relate for example from Scheid’s book
the Craft of Zeus, Plato’s reference to weaving as a reminder of the importance of weaving work in troubled times. He uses weaving as a metaphor for statesmanship. Through extended metaphors or weaving and technique, male and female and united, chaos turns into order, etc, etc, and on another level, a new cloak is woven for the appropriate gods …[2]

Is this just a lot of fancy rhetoric? Does it make it any easier to go into the studio, fortified by Greek or Roman underpinnings and begin a new work, or even, a series, say, a large one?
Is it a convincing “rationale”? Oh no, my art students say, a rationale? Do we have to?

As an English teacher, I don’t live to read, as some might think (after all, English teachers have no life. Ask a student!) I read to live. Literature is a constant source of inspiration in my visual work. I can’t resist the temptation to crack open the hard crusty fruit represented by words to reveal the inside as a tempting morsel for sustenance. For example:

“I was walking by the Thames. Half-past morning on an autumn day. Sun in a mist. Like an orange in a fried fish shop. All bright below. Low tide, dusty water and a crooked bar of straw, chicken-boxes, dirt and oil from mud to mud. Like a viper swimming in skim milk. The old serpent, symbol of nature and love.[3]

What an image! What an example of literary and visual in combination together!

What does this mean for my studio work in a time of trouble? In front of the classroom, it is overwhelmingly clear to me that conversation matters more than anything, and yet the range

[1] Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, II, i, 175
[2] Scheid, Op. cit, p. 24 pp
[3] Cary, Joyce, The Horse’s Mouth, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1948, p. 5

of expression available to young people today is depressingly narrow. Indeed, so much falls between the cracks of language that we must cross the boundaries of disciplines to communicate more fully. One without the other is not enough. If art does not create a dialogue, then it is only decoration.

There is a sense in which I feel my time under pressure because of the requirements of school teaching, and I could wish for more time in the ‘studio’, but the teaching I do means the more I can bring to bear on my work the input from school, the ‘coal face’ of human experience, and the more I can bring to my teaching the experience of my visual practice. In this sense, I bring my studio along with me wherever I go.

In a world of words, where does the visual get a “look” in? Let’s get to the loom, you may be thinking. A few years ago I did some collaborative work with two Canberra poets, Geoff Page and Alan Gould, and the topic of ekphrasis came up. More Greeks. Links between tapestry and words are not new, of course, witness the speech ribbons and texts which have an acknowledged place in the history of tapestry weaving, and of course, there are all the associated quotations and allusions to do with weaving and text…

The late Murray Krieger uses the term ekphrasis to mean visual arts are a metaphor, not just for verbal representation of visual experience, but for the shaping of language into formal patterns that “still the movement of linguistic temporality into a spatial, formal array, not just vision, but shape, closure and silent presence…[1] ekphrasis is like the slit in the tapestry of language, the ambiguous link between writing and speaking about the visual object and its challenges to the writer and the artist. The commonsense perception of this is that it is impossible, as there are inherent, essential properties of various media and their proper / appropriate modes of perception. Art History is an example of verbal representation of visual representation…interesting to read the outlines of talks this weekend where language speaks in advance of the visual work! Semantically speaking, there is no essential difference between texts and images. The mystery is why we have this urge to treat the medium as the message and why we make the obvious, practical differences between these two media into metaphysical oppositions which seem to control our creative acts and which then have to be overcome with “utopian fantasies like ekphrasis”.[2] I

n this work, * [slide Aust uncovered 1, 2] the reviewer commented that “the heaviness of the medium distracted from the text” and also, that the combination of texts on the wall and in the weaving “overwhelm the work” and “work should stand on its own and not need deciphering”. As a tapestry weaver and an English teacher I have to come to terms with these issues in order to weave and not merely to write, and not berate myself for being “merely an illustrator”. Do troubled times tolerate silence from the studio? In fact, Ekphrasis allows us, perhaps requires us, to qualify the visual as other to language, a threat to be reduced, a potential to be the same, or similar-but-not-quite-the-same, and we do it within our own medium as well. The time for this has past. If I am to keep weaving, tomorrow and the day after, then there has to be an ability to live with ambiguity, uncertainly and doubt, and the possibilities these things represent. Creative writers are always looking for this. Tapestry has hitherto prided itself on its elite status as an art form, but it should not be seen as an elitist stance, as elitism always looks for certainty. Security is not necessarily truth, and it is not

[1] Krieger, Murray, Ekphrasis and the Other, Picture Theory, Chicago, University of Chicago Press,1994, p. 154
[2] Mitchell, W. J. T. Op.cit, p. 161

certainty. The studio therefore has to be a no man’s land, not a cosy room away from the world.

2. At the Loom (a slow, self-absorbed medium)
Man is the shuttle, to whose winding quest
And passage through these looms
God order’d motion, but ordain’d no rest.

Silex Scintillans. Part II. Man.(verse 4) Henry Vaughan, 1622 – 95

When I am weaving I sit in my room and hours go by. Most often, I listen to Radio National and sometimes I listen to an audio book. If I listen to an audio book I sometimes feel a pang that I will miss the Rural News or Country Viewpoint. I don’t see this as living a sublimated life, however, or as a “string” of virtual experiences. I feel part of a community. I notice that people at work will ask “What are you doing in the holidays, are you going away?” and I say I’m going to do some weaving, and they say What? and you explain and they commiserate! But I see it as re-establishing my network with the rest of Australia and overseas. I prepare my classes mentally, I refresh my spirit and I destabilise my understandings by injections of ideas and opinions, and I listen to books while I weave. I am deciding what to do next with continuous interjections from the outside. In this sense, weaving for me is not a meditation.

John Kinsella, whose work I quoted in the beginning of this talk, in an interview with Kevin Hart, another Australian poet, asked Hart whether a poem (and I think we can substitute tapestry here) can “satisfy itself? Whether it can just be a self-contained environment, commenting on its own process? Hart replied “Poems have a desire, and they have a desire for us. A poem is directed outward, it has an intentional structure. It tries to transcend itself, to go beyond the poet’s consciousness.”[1] Of course, it can’t have a unique destination, but why can’t this apply to tapestry in the same way? For me, this is where the connection between the visual and the literary gets interesting.

There has to be a sense of a future for my work, an intended audience of some kind, or I am merely padding out the burrow. There are no guarantees of immortality for the work, especially these days, but the future must be imagined or there is no point in starting.

Weaving is not prayer. Or if it is, then it has to be in some way intercessory, on behalf of something other than me to feel convincing. I am not ‘channelling’ some kind of divine energy either. It is my energy and my outlook I am expressing, whether I have divine help or not. I am aware, however, that what I see before my eyes is not all there is. Neither is it consolatory. For what? Except perhaps for our human shortcomings and our lack of understanding about the world. It will not stave off the future in a time of trouble and there is no point in pretending that everything else will all go away if I am concentrating on the weaving. I have to account for my life, including my so-called “spare time”, which is precious.

In this sense, my practice is not a hobby. I am not filling my time weaving. I am working.While I appreciate the female need for a “room of one’s own”, my studio is also my bedroom, so it is before me all the time and I live in it. This helps. I don’t have to steel myself to go somewhere external. In her nineties, My grandmother used to “paint with

[1] Kinsella, John. John Kinsella interviews Kevin Hart. Melbourne, October 22 1995.

wool”, but she never spoke about a pastime, a hobby or time to “being creative”, or that appalling concept “me time”. She used to call it her work. This rings true to me. This is one of her pieces. It is actually needlepoint.

Tapestry weaving does not pay what my teaching salary pays, but I consider it equally important, and I have to tear myself away to spend time with people. But weaving isn’t just doing something comfortable. It is not like a relationship with a pet who doesn’t answer back, because every decision has to be interrogated. There is no going back. One has the possibility of a new page, like a writer or other artist, but one cannot rub out or paint it out when it doesn’t work. I don’t see it as ‘collecting’, pick by pick, either, as a way of controlling an uncontrollable world, and it is not merely a mental world where I alone hold sway, even in the objective “material” world of the loom itself. It is not a substitute for a real life and it is not filling a ‘gap’. In this sense, it is a positive gesture, not the lack of it. I am not hiding. It is not merely an inner dialogue, a ‘new-age” meditation, a solipsistic self indulgence. It is addressed outwards and the world answers back

3. From the window (the threshhold)
“Vain the ambition of kings
Who seek by trophies and dead things,
To leave a living name behind,

The Devil’s Law-Case, V. lvAnd weave but nets to catch the wind” John Webster, 1580 -1625

A reviewer of my work recently made the comment that “finer work aids contemplation and using materials that aid speedy work interferes with the overall effect .Tapestry is a slow process and should be respected as such.” Time, content – anything goes. It is easy enough to walk past a work in six seconds regardless of the technique. Beware the establishment. No reversals in a world full of trouble. It is too late for quibbling. Does it do the job? Is it your best work? Are you content to see it as the sum of your efforts, the sum of your days, the sum of your life?. I’m not saying throw out time-honoured standards, but in a world full of trouble it takes more determination to go into the studio. It requires a conscious stance that one’s work is “political” work (meaning of ‘public life’), not personal work, otherwise we should be outside agitating for a better world. This takes courage. It means taking responsibility for your contribution to the world.

Does work have to be political, I wonder, in the sense of critiquing world trends in order to be worthwhile in a time full of trouble? What if it is not exhibited? It is still surprisingly hard to interest galleries in textile work. Irony can inject life into familiar forms…however, it can slip into despair, and then you’ll stop weaving.

If one’s work is “simply” about beauty and revelling in colour, do it consciously. Rapture may save us. It gets in the way of science and philosophy. Indeed, it is almost ironic and subversive these days. It is accepting the challenge to go into one’s studio in these troubled times and do “wool work”.

When I hear about world food prices I wonder if I would be more socially useful if I were to take time to put my front garden under vegies and learn how to keep them going? I work out of my own interest in tapestry. I am not supported by an institution to do my work. So it takes real effort and determination to do it on my own. Sometimes it feels like I am not taking life seriously enough, or even, whistling in the dark.

However, I like the following piece of advice from Salman Rushdie, who said, the proper function for a writer, and I suggest, for any artist, is to “go for broke. Always try to do too much. Dispense with safety nets. Take a deep breath before you start talking. Aim for the stars. Keep grinning. Be bloody-minded. Argue with the world.”[1] Of course, there is debate to be had, sometimes reasoned, sometimes heated, over the position of the writer or the artist and his or her relationship to the context of the world within which they live and its authorities. Work must be considered. This is the burden of the tapestry weaver in the face of slow process. If it is your “political” work to be indoors day after day, then take responsibility for it. The wow factor should not be Oh my God, how long did that take! but Oh my God, why did you do it? In this sense, weaving is not consolatory or merely therapeutic or meditative. It is putting one’s thoughts into action.

So where do I leave this? What makes me get up tomorrow and do a bit more? It’s an eye for beauty “in the detail” ( and I’m not talking about weaving technique here), and a desire to communicate it. Whether we look at literature, visual representations, or poetry inspired by visual representations etc. it is this in-between-ness in all its ordinariness and mystery which is our human position. We live at the intersections of places, between the past and the future, the earth and the sky.

As Joyce Cary writes:

Five windows light the caverned man ; through one he breathes the air
Through one hears music of the spheres ; through one can lookAnd see small portions of the eternal world.”[2]

I want to know how this works in tapestry. I want to try one more thing. And one more thing, and just something else I have thought about, and then perhaps at the end of it all we will hear

Undying accents
Repeated till
The ear and the eye
Lie down together
In the same bed. William Carlos Williams

Tomorrow is a new day.

[1] Whittaker, Peter, What’s the point of fiction in a world full of trouble? International conference of writers. New Internationalist, October, 2001, p.3
[2] Cary, Joyce, the Horse’s mouth, (Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1948 pp. 5-6 and 56-57)

Brenda Goggs

Apologies as bloger does not respect foot notes and changes the numbering. Any Questions contact me or Brenda, via Valerie,

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Valerie Kirk

Thank you Nancy Hoskins for this image of Valerie.

Autumn a tapestry of colour

If it is 20 years since the last such tapestry gathering, I can hardly believe my luck that I live in Canberra and that I developed an interest in tapestry in recent years. I was introduced to tapestry by Valerie Kirk in 2002 and more recently I have completed some units of the Diploma of Art (Tapestry) from South West TAFE in Warrnambool.

Sometime ago I acquired a second hand copy of the ‘World Weavers Wall’ and I continue to be inspired by these works. Although I felt uncertain about submitting my work, I very much wanted to be part of the Land exhibition because I could imagine something similar to the ‘World Weavers Wall’. It was an amazing experience to have a tapestry hanging in the same exhibition as so many important and experienced tapestry artists from all over the world. (My tapestry hung proudly beside Kirsten Glasbrook’s!) How can I describe simultaneous feelings like being inspired, intimidated, excited, overwhelmed and incredibly humbled by the sum total of experience represented in one place.

During April with our stunning display of autumn leaves in Canberra I found a gardening column in the local paper headed ‘Autumn a tapestry of colour’. Surely this sums up the feast of tapestry we were treated to when the garden gates of tapestry heaven were opened and we were able to listen to all the words of wisdom and mingle and play for a short time with so many of the world’s tapestry gurus.

Thank you to everyone who participated and very special thank yous'

• to Valerie for making it happen and especially for her attention to all the finer details (even a comprehensive summary);

• to the staff and others from the Textiles workshop for their backup and support (especially the yummy lunches and nice coffee and cakes);

• to all the gurus, the speakers and tutors, who gave generously of their skills and knowledge;

• to everyone who contributed in any way to the feast of exhibitions;

• to Paul Cooper for documenting the Land exhibition and setting up Valerie’s Gallery online;

• to Belinda Jessup for giving everyone ongoing access to papers and information through the blog.

Tapestry 2008 was truly awe-inspiring.Anne Peters

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Photos from Yasuko Fujino

reception in School of Art gallery

Late arrival Land exhibition

Another LAND tapestry arrived....delayed in the post, so thought everyone would like to see it! This makes the total number of entries 170 in the show.
170 Elaine Duncan
Choices and Changes

Sue Lawty discussion

Jane Kidd

Coping or using artist papers

If you wish to copy or use any information from Artist talks, You must get permission from the artist first.
Using the information is covered under copyright. Please contact Valerie at ANU Textiles if you wish to contact an artist.

We are hoping that all Artist who had written presentations will let us publish them on the blog, so keep checking back.

I must be time for some more photos so I will scout around and see what I can find. Does any one have photos from the conference we can use? please send them to me
belindajessup[at] with the subject tapestry2008 so I don't delete anyone I don't know.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Selling Yarns 2: Innovation for sustainability
Presented by The Australian National University, Craft Australia and the National Museum of Australia

Venue: National Museum of Australia, Canberra

When: 6 - 8 March, 2009

The conference will be held in association with the exhibition ReCoil, Change & Exchange in Coiled Fibre Art curated by Margie West

Selling Yarns 2: Innovation for sustainability is a conference that addresses contemporary Indigenous craft and design practice. It draws on the outcomes of the first Selling Yarns conference held in Darwin in 2006 that looked specifically at contemporary Indigenous textile practice.

Selling Yarns 2 builds on the previous conference by presenting success stories that demonstrate innovation and new directions in Indigenous craft and design practice. It will highlight the work of Indigenous makers from the south eastern region of Australia and parallel the directions in practice of urban Indigenous makers with that of artists in remote communities. The conference will be held at the National Museum of Australia in March, 2009 in association with the exhibition ReCoil, Change & Exchange in Coiled Fibre Art, curated by Margie West.

The aim of the conference is to demonstrate that through cultural practice a dialogue can be had that draws all interested parties together for the benefit of a rich and sustainable Indigenous culture.

Topics of interest include:

Design and manufacture, engaging with industry
Innovation for social and cultural sustainability
Mentoring between communities
The impact of government policies on sustainability
The internet and the global market for Indigenous craft and design
Tourism and museums as a driver for innovative practice

Papers: We invite Indigenous and non-Indigenous practitioners, researchers, academics, buyers, collectors, curators, business and arts advisors to respond with a 300 word abstract addressing the conference themes.

Workshops: We invite proposals to run workshops to build skills, increase awareness and appreciation, share information and develop understandings of new developments and sustainable practices.

Email 300 word abstracts to For enquiries, contact Louise Hamby on (02) 6125 8986 or Andy Greenslade on 0412 774 343

Email workshop proposals to For enquiries, contact Valerie Kirk on (02) 6125 5833 or Adam Blackshaw on (02) 6208 5230

Deadline for abstracts and workshop proposals: 1 July, 2008
Notification of acceptance: 1 August, 2008
Deadline for biography (on acceptance): 1 September, 2008
Deadline for full papers: 15 January, 2009

Monday, May 26, 2008

Making Comments

Any one can leave a comment next to an article. If you look at the bottom of each article/post there is a comment button. Go on have a go and leave a comment. Don't forget to send information to put on the blog at belindajessup[at]

Debbie Herd said!

on the 7th May a comment was left by Debbie

Congratulations on hosting such a successful Symposium. Every moment was a joy to be present.I think that it will take us all a long time to come back down to earth. Debbie.

Artwall.blogspot and Cresside Collette

Thank you Michelle for the link, (sorry I have just found it) For those interested Cresside's exhibition at the Drill Hall Gallery is listed on this blog. Artwall blog

Saturday, May 24, 2008

SUMMARY From Valerie Kirk.


TAPESTRY 2008: The Fine Art of Weaving 9 April – 7 MAY 2008

Australian National University, School of Art, Canberra, ACT, Australia

A month of tapestry began with hanging exhibitions in the School of Art and at other venues around the city. As a massive wooden crate was unpacked and Yasuko Fujino’s contemporary masterpiece “Harmas de J.H. Fabre”, 200 x 400cm was unrolled, the excitement about the event grew. Fujino’s ambitious work was indicative of the highly professional, creative and skillful contributions of many internationally acclaimed artists sending work for the exhibitions and attending the event. It signaled the in-depth dedication to the traditional practice of discontinuous, weft-faced hand weaving which continues to flourish as a contemporary expressive medium.

The Exhibitions

“The Fine Art of Tapestry Weaving” explored relationships between fine art, tapestry and weaving in the works of nine contemporary artists from a diverse range of backgrounds, training and cultural perspectives.

Yasuko Fujino, Japan
Susan Martin-Maffei, USA
Fiona Rutherford, England
Archie Brennan, USA
Jane Kidd, Canada
Aino Kajaniemi, Finland
Sue Lawty, England
Sara Lindsay, Australia
Susan Mowatt, Scotland

The exhibition highlighted the global diversity of the work from individual artists working in tapestry and related practices, and presented exciting new developments in the mix of fine art, tapestry and weaving.

“LAND” – was a popular open entry international Award Exhibition held to encourage emerging artists and recognise professionals in the field. 170 tapestries addressing the theme of “Land”, 10 cm high and as long as the artist wanted were sent from around the world. Archie Brennan wove the words “ A Very Long Landscape……” in a piece almost a metre long but was beaten for length by Kristin Saeterdal’s “Temperature Calendar” which was hung along 3 walls in the space and metres at the end were coiled as space was not available to show the entire length of the weaving.
Wendy Teakel and Sara Lindsay judged the awards with the Tapestry Foundation of Victoria awards going to Cheryl Clarke Thornton and Amy Cornall and the American Tapestry Alliance Award presented to Irisa Blumante. The Peoples Choice Award went to Peruvian artist Maximo Laura. Exhibiters are able to view all tapestries through a web album compiled by Paul Cooper and later in the year the public can see the tapestries on a web exhibition arranged by the American Tapestry Alliance. In GB Jilly Edwards is arranging an exhibition of all the British entries in the BSW Gallery, Devon.

“Lao PDR Tapestry: Weaving Dreams and Aspirations” showcased traditional Tai Lue tapestry weaving in the form of the “sinh” or tubular skirt and its variations in contemporary Lao weaving. The 100 year old antique pieces demonstrated the use of natural materials and dyes with a repertoire of designs based on water motifs and in the contemporary forms a wide spectrum of sophisticated designs emerge. Kommaly Chanthavong from the sustainable business, “Mulberries” in remote northern Laos demonstrated the technique of reeling silk from cocoons in boiling water to strands of fine silk. A sale of Lao textiles was held in conjunction with the exhibition and three other Lao exhibiters – Carol Cassidy, Mrs Vandara and Mr Keomontree participated in the symposium.

“En Pleine Air Tapestries - A Month at Bundanon: Tapestries and Drawings by Cresside Collette”, curated by Alison French was held at the Drill Hall Gallery with a floortalk by artist and curator. Abigail Howells exhibited small works at Craft ACT and “South West” and “Inspired Gardens” exhibitions by Australian and NZ weavers were at Alliance Francais.


Five masterclasses were held where “the masters” shared skills and knowledge with enthusiastic participants ranging from willing novices to artists with international reputations in their own right. The buzz of energy was palpable as students learned to work directly and intuitively with Aino Kajaniemi, weave en plein air with Cresside Collette, re-invent the possibilities of jute with Sue Lawty, explore ancient Peruvian techniques with Archie Brennan and Susan Maffei and concentrate on design investigations with Jane Kidd. The discussions and sharing of experiences provided a rich learning and developmental environment.

Tapestries in Public Places

Canberra has a wealth of hidden treasures in its range of tapestries in public buildings. The National Portrait Gallery arranged a special viewing of the Dame Elizabeth Murdoch tapestry woven by Merrill Dumbrell of the Victorian Tapestry Workshop and mini-bus tours took groups to see tapestries in the National Library, National Gallery of Australia, CSIRO, Department of Foreign Affairs, small galleries and studios. Maggie Cooper prepared a list of tapestries that people can see in the ACT.


Speakers explored their connections to the traditions of tapestry, the field of contemporary art and the craft of weaving. Images of “The Lady and the Unicorn” were referenced several times and ways of engaging with contemporary art and design practice explored. A theme of re-valuing the handmade, engaging with the craft of weaving and thinking of tapestry as integral structure and image became apparent.
Annika Ekdahl, who has been awarded a five year Arts Fellowship by the Swedish Government, was the opening speaker. In her lecture “Road Movie (Verdure)” she talked about her professional journey, giving advice on career development – plan it, do it and tell it – a mantra that has taken her to great success and world acclaim as a weaver of monumental tapestries evolving from photoshoped images and freely worked on the loom.
Fiona Rutherford, England discussed Japanese clothing from the Kimono to Issey Miyake as inspiration for her work. “ It is how cloth from one culture informs the making of cloth in another” that interests her. Pattern, symbols and mark-making combined in a vivid palette are central to her tapestries.
Andrzej Banachowicz represented a move in Poland away from the conventional approach to fibre to a multi-disciplinary way of working incorporating film, sculpture and weaving. The tradition of narrative continues in new expressive forms.
Academic and contemporary theorist, Jessica Hemmings, GB proposed a re-reading of contemporary tapestry from two perspectives: the narration of memory and landscape and the metaphor of memory and landscape. She provoked a new understanding of Penelope from our time of non-engagement in hand weaving – maybe she was not unpicking by night? Have we just lost the collective memory of how long weaving takes?
Artists Nell and GW Bot talked about heir engagement with tapestry through the Victorian Tapestry Workshop. Their personal involvement in the tapestries directed the weaving approaches and the weaving fed back into their studio practice through unexpected parallels and synergies.
Mrs Vandara Amphayphone presented a short history of Lao weaving and its revitalisation from the 1970s. The technique of tapestry, still considered the most difficult and time consuming, is prized for its versatility in making patterns in weaving. It does not rely on the vertical heddle system, but on the skilled individual weaver and their interpretations.
Themes emerged over the 2 days:
The contemporary artist weaver enjoying and inspired by their knowledge of history and tradition.
Tapestry weavers as contemporary artists freely using new technologies and incorporating design/image programs, film etc into their studio practice.
A sense of the versatility of the medium to express ideas and sensibilities.
Optimism that modernism, the death of the hand-made and slickness of cold, smooth surfaces is in the past. We desire meaningful softness.
A strong commitment to the slow art of tapestry in the face of rapidly changing times.
Public appreciation of tapestry demonstrated by the developing organizations and exhibition attendance in GB, Scandinavia, Europe, USA and Japan.
The rhythm of tapestry reflects the rhythms of life, its physical passing of threads has parallels with our daily routines and continues to be relevant on a primal level.
In the face of a digital, multi-media, throw-away society tapestry presents a tangible continuum with its material substance capable of lasting beyond our time.

Dinner Speakers

Archie Brennan O.B.E. was asked to reflect on his 60 years of weaving, from apprenticeship days when only boys were trained as workshop weavers to the heady days of artist weaver collaboration at the Dovecot, Edinburgh in the 70s to the daily ritual of weaving in the New York home/studio.
However, he did not know that 3 speakers from GB (Maureen Hodge speech read by Susan Mowatt), Australia (Cresside Collette) and Canada (Linda Wallace) would follow to pay tribute to his vision, commitment and force in the development of tapestry, as we know it today.


Diana Hare led a group through the specific skills and tools required to stay afloat as a professional artist. She provided information on everything from worthwhile subscriptions to maintaining professional image documentation.
Community Tapestry – Education, Art and Public Service was presented by Cresside Collette with Kay Lawrence, Kirsty Darlston, Marie Cook and Stephnie Cantoni.
“ The making of a community tapestry is a primary example of many hands engaged in a shared task in the creation of a work of art. In a world where learning is now so technologically based, the immediacy if the hands–on process of weaving restores an important human dimension and pride in craft.”
Seminar participants had the opportunity to informally engage in reflection and discussion, opening up ideas about possibilities for future development.

TAPESTRY 2008 was a major, multi-faceted project encompassing the viewing of major works and diverse tapestries from around the world, practical workshops and seminars, symposium, tours of tapestry in public buildings and talks with major tapestry works. The specialised program of events builds the capacity of individuals and groups, through professional training, development and mentoring. It keeps tapestry in Australia vital and engaged with the global field through wide community participation and personal connections made between participants.
Susan Martin Maffei wrote: “Congratulations to Valerie on such a successful event. We applaud your efforts and hard work. We enjoyed it on so many levels. The talks were very varied and covered a wide range of subjects. I found it quite interesting to find that there was a real movement back to the language of tapestry weaving and a movement away from the translation of painting. It is an international movement. It was so good to have the extensive land exhibition as well as the gallery tapestry exhibit right at the seminar to pass thru every day as we went to and from all the activities. Pleased to see the high level of expertise as well as diverse country representation in our workshop as well as in the lecturers and attending body. Hopefully we will see many more 4 selvedge weavings appearing on the horizon in the future as our workshop information is passed on. Thank you for giving us that opportunity. Catching up with old friends and meeting new ones was certainly a great part as well. Hope it will not be another 20 years for an event like this one to happen again. Love the passion of it all. “


Belinda Jessup has set up a BLOG for TAPESTRY 2008 to share information and images with everyone on the tapestry list.

Valerie Kirk, Artist and Head of Textiles, ANU SCHOOL of ART,
Building 105, Acton ACT 0200Australia.ANU CRICOS PROVIDER # 0012OC School of Art Web site: Arts Graduate Program Prospectus: postgrad application guidelines at

Professional Development, a guide for artists

Subscriptions to consider
Art Almanac
Australian Art Gallery Guide
Arts Hub ( also has a link to Uk and US top left hand Corner)
• Craft Australia - 716 Newsletter subsrcibe FREE
• Artisan –e-news
• Craft Victoria - Craft Almanac
• Object Gallery - e-flier

guilds/groups/organisations in Canberra
• Australian National Capital Artists (ANCA) studios and gallery 6247 8736
• ACT Textile Art and Surface Design Association 6281 6189
• Beaver Galleries 6282 6189
• Canberra Contemporary Art Space 6247 0188
• Canberra Quilters 6292 1737
• Canberra Region Feltmakers 6231 2669
• Canberra Spinners and Weavers 6295 7313
• Embroiders Guild ACT 6262 8035
• Fibre Basket Makers ACT 6241 0960
• Gorman House Art Centre Studios 6249 7377
• Helen Maxwell Galleries 6257 8422
• M16 Studios and Gallery 6295 9438
• Strathnairn Arts Association Gallery and Studios 6254 2134
• Textile Network 6231 2669

Australian Craft and Design Centres – Craft Australia
Australian Craft and Design Centres – Artisan (formally Craft Queensland)
Australian Craft and Design Centres – Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre
Australian Craft and Design Centres – Craft Victoria
Australian Craft and Design Centres – Craft South
Australian Craft and Design Centres – Design Centre Tasmania
Australian Craft and Design Centres -Form
Australian Craft and Design Centres – Jam Factory
Australian Craft and Design Centres -Object
Australian Craft and Design Centres – Territory Craft

Full CV
Name, address, telephone, mobile, email
List in chronological order, include position details and dates
Include dates, majors, and details of degrees
Include dates and details of training and certification
Include period and details of membership
Include year, exhibition title, venue name and location
Include year, details of
Include year of acquisition, name and location of institution and if for specific acquisition type
Use the Harvard referencing system as follows: Author, Year. Title of book. Edition (only include this if not the first edition). Place of publication: Publisher. Author, Initials., Year. Title of article. Full Title of Journal, Volume number (Issue/Part number), Page numbers. Author, Initials., Year. Title of article. Full Title of Newspaper, Date. Page numbers. Author, Initials., Year. Title of document or page. [type of medium]. Website Address Locating details(eg. Breadcrumb) [Accessed date]

Tailored CV
Name, address, telephone, mobile, email
Include dates, majors, and details of degrees, training and certification
Include period and details of membership
Include year, exhibition title, venue name and location
Include year, details of the funding body and award
Use the Harvard referencing system as follows: Author, Year. Title of book. Edition (only include this if not the first edition). Place of publication: Publisher. Author, Initials., Year. Title of article. Full Title of Journal, Volume number (Issue/Part number), Page numbers. Author, Initials., Year. Title of article. Full Title of Newspaper, Date. Page numbers. Author, Initials., Year. Title of document or page. [type of medium]. Website Address Locating details (e.g. Breadcrumb) [Accessed date]

Open your image in Adobe Photoshop
Go to Image in the menu bar, select Image Size –this window details the size of the image (pixel dimensions) and the size of the document (dpi) thesize of the file is indicated in MB at the top.
To resize the image make sure the width and height are locked (selectconstrain proportions)this will avoid proportiondistortion

• Change the resolution to 300dpi
Change the width to 10cm for printing/publication or 4-5cm for grant/exhibition proposals (under 1MB)
The size of the resized image is indicated at the top with the original document size in brackets. You cannot increase the size of an image only decrease it. When resizing make sure the document is not larger then the original.
• Final step is to select bicubic/bicubic smoother option, this allows for the computer to digitally compensate for the pixels lost when resizing, giving a crisper result. Each time a jpeg is resaved it degenerates slightly because it is resampling for compression.
Do a save as
• JPEG Options select the image quality between 9 –12

What is pixelation?
Pixelation is where the photographic image on paper does not store enough information for it to look clear.
Pixelation can also be referred to as dpi or (dots per inch).

What does low/high resolution mean when referring to a photographic image?
• Low resolution images appear pixelated, they will be blurry and discoloured.
• High resolution images are 300dpi or more.

How do I tell if my image file is low or high resolution?
• You can check the image resolution by the size of the file.
• You can check in Photoshop, under ‘image size’.

Exhibition proposals
Think about the style of the gallery or space
What is the rational behind the layout
If showing in a group, what thread of connection is there between the work?
Do you need wall text explaining your work or simple numbers referencing a list of work with all the details?
Lighting is crucial.

From Practitioner to Product Supplier
When developing your product consider the following
What are you offering
Can you make the total product yourself
How much capital will you need to invest in a production run?
What is the optimal size of your production run, giving the unit cost of production?
Can you ensure the quality is consistent?
How long will it take to make the product?
Do you have enough storage space for inventory?
What is your lead time for re-supply?
What price will you charge for your product?
Will your wholesale price change depending on increases in raw materials?
Assume retails will mark up 100% to give themselves a margin of 50%
Research the market
Who is most likely to buy your product
Can you provide the retailer with professionally photographed images of your work?
Which retailers are the most appropriate for your product?
How does it relate to the retailers collection?
Does your product need to be packaged
Can you supply the retailer with an artist’s statement or does the packaging provide this?

Packing and crating artwork
• Pack it as if it will be dropped and kicked along the way
• Use packaging suitable for all weather
• Do not make the crate too heavy
• Seek expert advice
– Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material Inc (AICCM)
• Use a professional service
– International Art Services (Domestic and International); 1st Fleet (Canberra and Domestic) (02) 6202 5789; Woollahra Art (Eastern Seaboard); Australian Air Express (Domestic and Internationally)

Some images

FIONA RUTHERFORD, England and Nancy Arthur Hoskins, USA(Nancy was supported by the VC's Visiting Academic Support Scheme)

Valerie Kirk, Tapestry 2008 project director

detail of tapestry by Aino Kajaniemi, Finland

Sue Lawty, England, Archie Brennan, USA, Katie Hutchinson,England, Susan Martin Maffei, USA

sale of textiles

Lao supplementary weft weaving

Judge of "LAND" exhibition awards - Wendy Teakel

To Practice in the Middle: A Craft / Art Dialogue by Jane Kidd

To Practice in the Middle: A Craft / Art Dialogue
Jane Kidd

‘The fine art of weaving – the relationships between visual art, tapestry and the craft of weaving.’ When I first read the title for the Tapestry 2008 conference I was intrigued, as this phrasing seemed to reference and parallel a growing awareness in my own practice as an artist and career as an educator with the relationship of tapestry weaving to both craft and art.

In my talk today I would like to focus on my own practices as a tapestry weaver. Although I will reference images of my work and discuss some of the themes that are explored through image and narrative, much of my talk will focus on my identity as a tapestry weaver and my personal commitment to finding meaning and relevance in the process of tapestry making. I will consider my practice as ‘a practice in the middle’ a bridge between two dynamic paradigms Craft and Art, and share my attempts to navigate the circuitous path that links the fine arts, tapestry and the craft of weaving. In many ways this talk is about balancing the scale that in the past I have consciously tipped towards fine art, setting aside aspects of craft practice that I at the time saw as irrelevant. The need to rebalance this fictitious scale has come about through a kind of crisis of identity, particularly in regard to my identity as a tapestry weaver in the hybrid field of contemporary fibre practice.

Contemporary fibre practice has been one of the more successful areas to emerge from traditional craft and engage the conceptually driven arena of Fine Arts. Artists working in the fibre field have long recognized and employed the socially salient qualities of textile history and the textile object as well as the metaphoric potential of fibre materials to address issues - feminism, the corporal, the haptic, post colonialism to name a few. Artists in a wide range of practices have also mined the conceptual potential of textiles and hence fibre has taken up a prominent position in the interdisciplinary interface that is core to post modern art. Much of the work in this developing milieu is also moving away from the discreet object to embrace installation, intervention and digital technology as artistic strategies. Approaches that often show little empathy for the more traditional processes of making.

So where does this leave the maker of wall based tapestry? Have I become the poor, distant relative too dowdy and reticent to engage in such a dynamic and innovation conversation? Definitely not, but to reassert my identity with confidence I have had to reexamine the family tree and revive and reconsider my lineage in relationship to the legacy of craft.

Let me put your minds at rest this is not about a resurrection of the Art/Craft debate. Setting craft up in conflict with art was a construct of modernism that has lingered into postmodern thinking. I think it is important to note that this debate/conflict has been an extremely health process for both sides. Craft has awaked from a period of conceptual lethargy and Art has been exposed to a more human face through social engagement. The debate may not be resolved but I do see a shift in context I believe we can now talk about a Craft /Art dialogue.

My relation to craft as a framework to define my practice or interests in Textiles has often been ambivalent. I was educated with in a frame work of a modernist aesthetic and have taught for the last 25 years within a fibre program that is very much part of a larger Fine Art school. When I first started teaching I worked with other faculty in the Craft Areas, at The Alberta College of Art and Design, to abolish the Craft division. We successfully moved the craft disciplines - Ceramics, Glass, Fibre, Jewelry into the broader category of Fine Art and have been a dynamic presence in this amalgamation of disciplines ever since. Not a bad thing in that all disciplines benefited from the ensuing dialogue that has helped to break down hierarchies as well as define differences. It is interesting that some 20 years later the Craft disciplines Ceramics,
Glass, Fibre and Jeweler are reforming an alliance under the concept of craft, as the four program areas move forward with The Alberta College of Art and Design’s first graduate degree, a MFA in Craft. The concept for our developing MFA is not one of exclusion defining craft as a discreet practice, but a hybrid, a practice in the middle, a bridge that can connect and navigate the conceptual history of Art and the meaningful making of Craft.

It might be useful to define my understanding of the word craft. The word craft as a noun emerged in the late 19th century a construct born of the Arts and Craft movement reaction to industrialization and committed to decorative art, the vernacular and the ethics of labor. [i] My sense of the meaning of craft is possible best framed by Canadian Craft historian Amy Gogarty who has defined the craft object as “useful artifacts made largely by hand, amenable to pleasure and interpretation by those who use and own them, having greater capacities than art objects to integrate with everyday life” [ii]

I would like to look at aspects of my practice in the context of contemporary craft as it is expressed through pleasure, evoked through the material and sensual nature of materials and process;
The hand made as a manifestation of skillful labor and time; and usefulness and everyday life reflected in Tapestry making as a reparative gesture and practice of optimism. I see these concepts as ideas that persist in my work alongside narrative implication and subjective imagery.

When I was an art student in the early 1970s I presented two woven works to my painting instructor as a resolution to a landscape based project. I was young and inflexible and unwilling to see my work as anything different from a painting. My instructor, who was horrified by the work, was equally inflexible and was unable to see the works as anything but scrunched up weavings. Seemingly not a very productive experience, but in fact through situations like this I was forced to question what I was doing and reevaluate the differences and inherent values evident in media and process.

This disinterest by my instructor and many like him was tempered somewhat by the emerging fibre works that were part of the fibre revolution of the late 60’s and 70’s dynamic and aggressive works that moved ‘beyond Craft’ to “ Art Fabric” to quote the title of the two seminal Constantine/Larsen books that charted this new work, work that clearly embraced a modernist ideal of newness and aesthetic power. Influenced by the works of artists like Abakanowicz, Hicks, the Jacobis I began to understand the dynamics of materials and the physical presence of the woven form.

Although I was greatly influenced by this work I was also aware that my own interests were taking on a slightly different focus. I was increasingly drawn too objects of material culture, particularly textiles that were beautiful, decorative, skillfully made by hand and reflected the individual or cultural context in which they were made

To pursue this interest I embarked on a kind of parallel education. In order to study historical and contemporary examples of textile production I began to travel extensively. I was interested in balancing the very euro centric influence of my education by traveling in parts of world where art-making traditions embraced skill and the handmade and the significant of cloth varies from my own experience. Through this experience I also hoped to begin to understand my motivations and identity as an artist.

Although my recent works are linked more closely to the narrative role of tapestry, in these early abstract works I began to establish the primary physical identity of my work as textile: thread, pattern, colour, skill and the weaving process itself needed to be as evident as image or allusion. The intent of my work from this point on is aligned with the wider context of cloth. I see the precedents of my work in the art traditions where myth, symbol and pattern join to create a rich visual language tied to ceremony, ritual and where the personal and the communal are intertwined.

I am continually drawn to the pre-linguistic or female nature of cloth, referenced through images of the body and ritualized and domestic cloth.[iii] Although my works are distinctly formed through the tapestry technique I consider them to be a fabric and weave with a weight, drape and surface that creates a parallel identity to cloth. My desire to create cloth and represent images of cloth in my work is tied to the inherent nature of the textile as a material construct with which we are all intimately involved, a tactile object that evokes the senses and invites touch.

I have come to understand that I am drawn to tapestry partly because it is an inherently sensuous medium; the slow labor-intensive process of making a tapestry exudes a kind of physicality and sensuousness. As the maker of a tapestry I am intimately involved with every aspect of production. The yarns are handled, pushed, beaten, stroked into place and images grow out of intense colour and ever present surface texture. In the cross cultural traditions of skilled making and ‘making special’ and the aspirations’ of craft as a contemporary practice the tactile presence of the object mediates a connection between the body and senses of the maker and the sensorial consciousness of the viewer/user. [iv]

The traditional disciplinary skill and engagement with material that is so much a part of tapestry practice often seems to function in a critical vacuum and contemporary understanding of technology privileges the mechanical, electronic or digital forms overlooking definitions of technology as process. A powerful aspect of craft lies in intimate hands on experience and knowledge of process and materials. The Eminent Craft Historian Peter Dormer stated “It is not craft as “handicraft” that defines contemporary craftsmanship: it is craft as knowledge that empowers a maker to take charge of technology”. [v]

In the book To Weave for the Sun Ancient Andean Textiles Rebecca Stone-Millar’s analysis and insights into of Andean weaving remains relevant to a contemporary understanding of the importance and power of process. She writes. “Technology, as it is commonly understood constitutes the material, such as camelid fibres and cotton: the tools such as spindles and looms; and the techniques such as tapestry weave, routinely used to make fibre objects. However equally important it also includes the attitude towards material, tools and techniques that govern the choices that are made at every step of the creative process. Thus we can speak of technological style just as we do artistic style, because individuals, societies and cultures consistently show recognizable patterns of choices in this dimension as well.” [vi]
I believe Andean weavers possessed extraordinary powers of visualization employing eidetic thinking, to allow them to envision the three-dimensional potential of clothe and create profound and inseparable links between technology, design and meaning. Here skill and technology is not just the manual vehicle for artistic expression but an equal component in the creative act, not the antithesis of self-expression but an extension of self or cultural realization and conceptualization.

Much of my appreciation for importance of the physical identity of my work and the sensual pleasure that is expressed through material and process in alignment with idea and image has evolved from the influence of historic and cultural textiles and practices. In many of the extraordinary textiles that I was looking at I sensed a clear relationship between the physical and the cerebral. Much of the dilemma between the physical realm of process and material and the intellectual realm of concept that had plagued my formal art education seemed to be seamlessly resolved in these textile objects.

To pursue a practice in Tapestry weaving is for me a commitment to the value of skillful making. In Fine Art discourse ideas of making and labour have often been translated into a theoretical framework that references domestic or engendered activities, consumerism and postcolonial theory. These works and installations often explore the ideas of labor and time through repetitive and laborious activities but rarely through traditional processes that demand skillful handwork.

Like many in the field I have come to believe that a relationship exists between highly skilled hand labor and the ability to conceptualize and integrate personal and cultural experience and feel committed to pursuing this relationship as an aspect of my practice. Frank Wilson’s book “The Hand, How its use shapes the brain, language, and human culture” has confirmed my thinking in this regard. Wilson relates the evolutionary development of the human hand to neurobiology, language development and the expression of forms of intelligence. [vii]

Study of textile history and the traditions of craft practice have fostered my appreciation for the development of skill and the consumption of time in the making process. Investment of time and skill in my works provided a subtext that heightened the ritual and ceremonial associations and provides a counterpoint to the immediacy and temporal nature of contemporary culture.

In 2001 I started the “Handwork Series: to the bone, in the blood, from the heart.” In this series it is my intent to embody the concept of handwork and to initiate a more overt inquiry into the social and cultural perceptions of time, labour and the skill of the human hand. In Handwork Series, I use images derived from anatomical and gestural drawings of the human hand and forearm juxtaposed with images that reference traditional or historic textiles. The tapestries are presented as fragments enclosed in architectural frames that suggest the presentation of samples or specimens. My intent is to evoke a reference to a relic or memento. The tapestries in this series are small in scale each 35 x 51 cm they require intimate viewing that breaks down spatial illusion and figuration to focus on detail and surface real and illusionary as evidence of process and the labor of the human hand.

This series has less to do with imagery that might arouse memory, imagination and collective experience as in my earlier works, and more to do with a kind of narrative that is revealed through the physical presence of materials and structure as evidence of the maker’s mark – the result of my hands shaping a sequence of thoughts thorough actions. It was my intention to make a sense of time and human labour implicit in the object itself and to evoke reference to the relationship between material culture and the human body and our contradictory and multifaceted understanding of labour and the work of the hand.

The making of an object by hand is a laborious and time intensive act particularly the weaving of a tapestry. The concept of Time has long been part of Art and Design theory, but time investment in concert with tacit knowledge and workmanship are defining values of craft practice and are more generously recognized and valued within this arena.

In my practice I have explored the concept of time through a number of references, chronological and cyclical time and the timelessness of dream, myth and memory. These references to time have become important metaphors in the visual language that I work with, but I am also concerned that time consumption in skillful making be part of this visual language, valued and recognized as content and conscious intent. British artist Mole Leigh discusses this idea in her article Chronomanuel Craft. Time Investment as a Value in Contemporary Western Craft, in the Journal of Design Vol 15 No 1 2002

She writes, As a broadly definable scientific and philosophic value, ‘time’ already provides a potent metaphor in the acknowledged visual language of the creative arts. However, if ‘time’ were to be recognized as a defined value in criticism and theory, its relevance to the field of craft would be particularly significant.
….in contemporary fine art, ‘time’ provides unparalleled latitude as a concept that can be communicated and evaluated visually and intellectually. As a recurring theme throughout art history, it has been expressed in innumerable forms, both directly and indirectly: from life cycles, memory, and decay, through chronology and temporal authenticity, to the ‘fourth dimension’ explored in time-based media. As time consumption is an inevitable aspect of contemporary craft, it may perhaps be undervalued partly because it is so easily overlooked. On close examination, however, it can be seen that time consumption is an aspect of craft that is consistently invested, and with unique significance to this creative field.”
Leigh goes on to suggest a qualifying term for the distinct relationship between human labour and relative time consumption in Contemporary craft - Chronomanual and states that chronomanuality exists as a inherent value present in every craft object. [viii]

As the textile/fiber field consistently moves to embrace greater conceptual content and personal expression it is possible to see that the ‘chronomanual’ as Leigh defines time and labour is diluted and overlooked. I think skilled labour is often dismissed as an assumption embedded in the process or an anachronism from another era, not a valuable linked to conceptual content. When a tapestry is presented in a public situation it is most likely that a cognitive interpretation of image and content will be the focus and this is undeniable important, it is also likely that if the chronomanual aspect of process is acknowledged it will be misunderstood as a feat of endurance and patience.

To understand the relevance and power of tapestry I believe that it is crucial to recognize that the process of weaving involves the maker in constant interpretation and translation, that as the weaving transpires it is a form of speech spoken eloquently through the makers hands and skill. [ix] Tapestry is also an activity invested in the present. Peter Dormer refers to this as “the workmanship of risk” stating that process in this state is open to failure at any point as well as spectacular success and in this state fosters discovery and innovation. Through the very nature of the process Tapestry is innovative, it looks to the future and is an optimistic process. [x]

Tapestry weavers are in a particularly strong position to assert a reevaluation of process and skill. The weaver’s vision of process as technological style and labour as subjective experience that is fueled by concept and a vision of the completed work have the potential to create a dynamic imperative. When this is linked to the fundamental pleasure in skillful making and sensual engagement we are provided with fertile resources for a dialogue that embraces process, materiality, concept, the values of craft and the concept driven agenda of contemporary art.

I believe that tapestry making is an optimistic act and that through the investment of time in the acquisition of skill and consumption of time through process, tapestry weavers are optimistic thinkers. In saying this I do not think I compromise the approach of many in the field who use the process to explore controversial issues and critic difficult world realities. Tapestry is a sophisticated contemporary media that often reflects provocative themes and provides cultural critique. Craft theorist and jeweler Bruce Metcalfe alludes craft as optimistic activism when he says
For both makers and users craft stands as a critique of 20th century culture in the west. If we have come to value immediate results over patience and hard work: if we value the easy over the difficult: if we value the hyper-reality of music, television and CNNnews broadcasts over the mundane existence most of us live - then, patient work has meaning. It embodies a resistance to all those values. [xi]

Within my approach and practice I have come to value the handmade as a human centered activity and site for tacit knowledge, Process as a means to reconnect skillful making with skillful thinking, time investment as a reflection of generosity and willingness to take care and pay attention. I am committed to the relevance of history expressed thorough the continuation of tradition, and I have come to value cross culture exchange of technology, design and ideas outside of the limiting view of appropriation. I see the considered relationship of technology, skill and concept as dynamic elements in the creation of meaning and beauty. Through my own practice I am interested in embracing ideas of optimism that I think I share with others in the field and that I see more widely embraced within the disciplines of craft practice.

Artist and historian Amy Gogarty has written about my work on several occasions, she employs the term ‘reparative gesture’ to discuss the optimistic impulse evident I my work and in other contemporary object based works developed in craft disciplines. I feel this term is particularly applicable to tapestry. The concept of the ‘reparative’ derives from psychoanalyst Melanie Klein and has been used in contemporary art discourse art theorist Jean Randolph. [xii] Randolph writes:

The reparative impulse is altruistic, generous, and synthetic. It does not cast out what is impure or ruined. It restructures, reinterprets, and illuminates the potential of the impure subject, object, idea or form. The reparative impulse attempts an integration of grief for the lost ideal with the desire to make good for injury done. Reparative action is the endeavor to restore. Rather than hiding traces of damage, it integrates them with grief of the lost ideal and the remaining qualities of value.[xiii]

In 1995 influenced by shrines and personal acts of devotion I began to explore the idea of a reparative gesture through imagery and process in the Memento Series. The five works in this series are also influenced by my interest in display and the collection of objects from multi-cultural sources. I gather together a collection of objects that reference shifts of perception that occur as objects and people move between diverse cultural contexts. In the memento series I refer to objects that I have collected, received as gifts or have inherited. These are also objects that I feel can communicate historic, cultural, and emotional concerns.

In the tapestry Trinket/ Token the objects strewn on the plate form, may as the title suggests be read as insignificant, trivial, small trinkets, however the change in perception from insignificant trinket to token or talisman embed with power may shift depending on cultural and personal experience to imply more complicated narrative implications. I continue to use a divided compositional space, contrasting intimate flat, almost claustrophobic space cluttered with worldly objects with a more expansive and ethereal space defined by architectural details.

Like the Dutch Still Life painters of the 17th century I believe that objects signify more than their simple reality. For me the things we make and gather around us record the lives we live in meaningful ways.

In the Memento series and the more recent Possession series I strive through process and image to reach between historic and cultural contexts to create a reparative gesture and initiate a reinterpretation of context and value. The tapestries in the “Possession Series” explore the implications of accumulating, collecting and displaying objects from material culture and the natural world. In this series I am interested in the human desire to possess and assimilate the natural world into material culture and recreate nature under human control through translation into the decorative, systems of notation and collection. I have been influenced by16th Century cabinets of curiosities and later natural history collections that bring into question the relationship between knowledge and control and that reflect our continuing anthropocentric attitude to the natural world.

I use a compartmentalized composition to collect and juxtaposition historic and contemporary tools, reference to botanical drawings, taxonomy, diagrams and mapping. I also reference historic textiles emphasizing those that show evidence of colonialism and cross-cultural exchange, drawing parallels between the human urge to transform the natural world into material culture and the West’s preoccupation with accumulating and possessing other cultures. Each tapestry in the series is marked with an imprint of a human fingerprint in the lower right corner.

The narrative that is woven through this series of tapestries explores the impact of the human desire to possess and control our environment, our bodies, and our histories. In these works I attempt to bring forward and make sense of the complications and contradictions of our history and the issues we live with.

Throughout history, textiles have been imbued with spiritual and social significance. They are infused with personal and communal meaning that joins the spiritual to the mundane, reaches across cultural understanding. By bringing tradition forward into contemporary culture in meaningful ways the craft of weaving links old memory to new feelings and is evidence of creative skillful making.

Through both process and image tapestry weaving has the potential to enact a reparative gesture by addressing rifts in cultural understanding, reestablishing links between skillful making an skillful thinking, acknowledging and ameliorating history and tradition and refocusing our understanding of the value of tacit knowledge, patience and taking care.

Contemporary Tapestry has I believe the potential to assumed an unique location, no longer sited at the margins of visual art practice, but at a conjuncture between two dynamic dialectic fields, craft and art. If we are to recognize interdisciplinary practices as a position of equal exchange between disciplinary areas – a kind of distinct society of the arts not necessarily a melting pot, then tapestry is well placed to contribute and engage in the dialogue as a reparative agent.

I see my own work as a hybrid, a practice in the middle that willingly engages in a Craft /Art dialogue. Equal in every way to a painting but also linked to the values of Craft that speak through pleasure, optimism and the handmade.

Finally, I hope that my tapestries will be seen as objects of expressive beauty and material skill, that create metaphors for experience connecting the past with the present to explore the contradictions of contemporary life and the larger sphere of human endeavor.

[i] Paul Greenhalgh, The History of Craft, in Peter Dormer (ed) The Culture of Craft, Manchester University Press, 1997, 25
[ii] Amy Gogarty, Utopic Impulses: The Place of Craft in Contemporary Life, Online Library commissioned article, 1
[iii] Diana Wood Conroy, “Archaeology of Tapestry” in Material Matters: The Art and Culture of Contemporary Textiles. Toronto YYZ 1998, 59
[iv] Ellen Dissanayake. What is Art For. Seattle University of Washington Press 1988, 92
[v] Peter Dormer. Craft and the Turning Test for practical thinking
in Peter Dormer (ed) The Culture of Craft, Manchester University Press, 1997. 140
[vi] Rebecca Stone- Miller, To Weave for the Sun, Thames and Hudson 1994. 18
[vii] Frank Wilson. The Hand. How its use shapes the brain, language, and human culture. Vintage Books, New York 1999
[viii] Mole Leigh, Chronomanual Craft, Time Investment as a Value in Contemporary Western Art. Journal of Design History vol. 15 No. 1 2002
[ix] Amy Gogarty, “Jane Kidd’s Handwork Series: Disciplinarity and the Reparative Impulse,” Calgary: Stride Gallery, 5 September to 4 October, 2003. Reprinted in Textile 2 (2004). 7
[x] Peter Dormer. Craft and the Turning Test for practical thinking
in Peter Dormer (ed) The Culture of Craft, Manchester University Press, 1997. 138-139
[xi] Metcalfe quoted in Mole Leigh, Chronomanual Craft, Time Investment as a Value in Contemporary Western Art. Journal of Design History vol. 15 No. 1 2002
[xii] Amy Gogarty, “Jane Kidd’s Handwork Series: Disciplinarity and the Reparative Impulse,” Calgary: Stride Gallery, 5 September to 4 October, 2003. Reprinted in Textile 2 (2004). 8
[xiii] Jeanne Randolph, “Influencing Machines: The Relationship Between Art and Technology,” in Psychoanalysis and Synchronized Swimming and Other Writings on Art Toronto: YYZ Books, 1991.

Other influential texts:

· Craft Perception and Practice vol 1, II and III, (ed) Paula Gustafson, Nïsse Gustafson and Amy Gogarty, Vancouver: Ronsdale Press and Artichoke Publishing, 2002, 2004, 2007
· Bruce Metcalfe. Contemporary Craft: A Brief Overview, in Exploring Contemporary Craft History, Theory and Critical Writing, Symposium Papers, Coach House Books and The Craft Studio at Harbourfront Centre. Toronto 2002
· Bruce Metcalfe, Craft and Art, Culture and Biology, in Peter Dormer (ed) The Culture of Craft, Manchester University Press, 1997
· Peter Dormer, The language and practical philosophy of craft,
in Peter Dormer (ed) The Culture of Craft, Manchester University Press, 1997

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Belinda's turn!

I hope you have all enjoyed the blog. We hope to continue to add things to the blog and keep it up to date and informative. So we need tit bits of information happening in the Tapestry world both in Australia and internationally. I have enjoyed put up information about Tapestry2008 and keeping everyone informed as to what was and has happened at the conference. Please send any information and images to belindajessup[at}

I am organising and Exhibition and sale of scarves, wraps and contemporary neck pieces for the National Breast cancer Foundation. So if you feel you would like to donate something let me know at the above email. The exhibition and sale is in August 2008 at craft ACT gallery.
If you know of anyone else please pass the information on. Blog

Thank Belinda

Sunday, May 18, 2008

From Susan Martin Maffei

Congratulations to Valerie on such a successful event.
We applaud your efforts and hard work. We enjoyed it on so many levels. The talks were very varied and covered a wide range of subjects. I found it quite interesting to find that there was a real movement back to the language of tapestry weaving and a movement away from translation of painting. It is an international movement.
It was so good to have the extensive land exhibition as well as the gallery tapestry exhibit right at the seminar to pass thru every day as we went to and from all the activities. Pleased to see the high level of expertise as well as diverse country representation in our workshop as well as in the lecturers and attending body.
Hopefully we will see many more 4 selvedge weavings appearing on the horizon in the future as our workshop information is passed on. Thank you for giving us that opportunity. Catching up with old friends and meeting new ones was certainly a great part as well. Hope it will not be another 20 years for an event like this one to happen again.
Love the passion of it all. Susan Martin Maffei

Friday, May 16, 2008

Digital technologies, the design process and tapestry weaving: from the ordinary to the extra-ordinary.

Digital technologies, the design process and tapestry weaving: from the ordinary to the extra-ordinary.

Jane Freear-Wyld

Why digital?
In 1998 we took delivery of our first scanner in the Art department of the Coventry secondary school where I taught in the UK. We’d had a couple of very basic BBC computers for several years which, thankfully, had recently been up-dated. Computer manipulation programmes were becoming more user-friendly, the earliest ones certainly hadn’t been; and our newer computers no longer crashed at the drop of a hat, losing all the work because no-one was in the habit of saving anything until the very end of a lesson.

So, we’d got this scanner. We knew how to plug it in, we could switch it on, but that was about it. I volunteered to spend a day during the October half term holiday, hopefully working out how to use it, and writing ‘the idiot’s guide to scanning’, never realising for one second what a life-changing decision this was to be.

Ring of Brodgar, The Orkneys
A couple of months earlier I’d spent 3 weeks of the summer holiday travelling around Scotland and the Orkney Islands visiting and photographing prehistoric stone circles – a theme I often return to. I’d got masses of photos, some of which I’d been using to make photo montages a la David Hockney, one of my heroes, but nowhere near as brilliantly as his.

I selected a few photos at random and set about working out how this wretched machine worked, which only took a couple of hours to sort out. I’d got some time left so I thought I’d have a go with this new-fangled all-singing, all dancing Adobe program we’d recently bought and see what that could do as I knew I’d soon have to use it in my teaching.

Unfortunately I never thought to save any of the manipulations at the time but, thankfully, I did print some of them out although I don’t have the whole sequence.

The results I got from manipulating were so dramatic and exciting that I instinctively knew this was the way forward. After a childhood accident, when I nearly lost two fingers, I find drawing and painting really difficult because it’s virtually impossible to make my hand do what my eyes and brain are telling it to, and drawing for any length of time is very painful.

Here was a way for me to design the sort of tapestries I wanted to weave, and from designs I hadn’t seen any other weaver producing. I just loved this pixellated design, especially the movement and colours. I thought building up a design using squares and rectangles would be fascinating, but could be problematic in terms of weaving technique. I knew I wanted to work on – for me – a large scale, but all those slits would make the actual fabric of the tapestry unstable, rather like the body of a ripped concertina.

Luckily at the time I was taking monthly workshops with the Scottish weaver Joan Baxter when she had a studio at Welbeck, in the north Midlands. She showed me the ‘sew-as-you-go’ technique, which I later modified. It does take longer to weave a tapestry but gives excellent results, and I’m not sure I could have faced sewing up all those slits once a large tapestry had been cut off the loom anyway.

“Ring of Brodgar: No.4”, completed in 2000, is 103 X 152cms and, like most of my tapestries, has an 8 strand Appletons crewel wool weft on a No. 12s cotton warp.

What dawned on me yesterday during Diana’s presentation was that my pixels are simply a twentieth century version of the Roman tesserae. I find pattern drafts for cloth, such as rosepath and honeysuckle, fascinating, and I made a series of small pieces based on some of those pattern drafts a couple of years ago. I haven’t included them because I felt they were completely different from the works I’m showing today. What I now realise is they’re not different at all because the tesserae shape is the common factor.

The next thing we bought at school, a few months after the scanner, was a digital camera. I cannot even begin to explain the feeling of utter luxury in immediately seeing the photo I’d just taken. Whilst in Scotland I’d taken over 30 reels of 35mm film, with a number of photos not being worth the paper they were printed on. Now I was able to delete, or keep, an image at will.
I’ve had my own digital camera for several years and rarely print out, although I’m rigorous in archiving every image onto CD. In terms of consumables, once you have the memory cards, digital is so much cheaper than film, and more convenient in the speed at which images can be ready to work with.

Reflections: Chicago
Reflections, whether in water or on buildings, is another recurrent theme running through my work. My husband and I have visited Chicago a couple of times, and I just love the tower blocks there.

On our first trip I took photos of those glass-fronted buildings with interesting reflections, sometimes groups of buildings or, as with this image, a detail. I particularly like the way the character of the building changes with each manipulation. From this group of buildings I cropped a detail to work on. Unfortunately I only have a couple of the print outs of manipulations I made.

”Skyscraper: No. 1” completed in 2002, 26 x 30.5cms, evolved from the second manipulation and is a cotton and silk weft on a fine cotton warp.

On our second trip we took quite a long city tour and passed by a quite low but wide, mirror-fronted building with a gas station, burger bar and other buildings reflected in it. Poor John just looked at me and said: “We’re going to have to go and find this building, aren’t we?” But I’m afraid he really didn’t need an answer.

I decided to crop single windows, or two or three adjacent windows, from the images then manipulate to see what would happen. After several false starts with other cropped windows, I was amazed by the colours that appeared this time. I’d never worked with reds before, so this would certainly be a challenge.

”Window Series: No. 2” is 97 x 188cms, and was completed in 2003. I really enjoyed weaving this piece, although it fast became known as ‘The Monster’ as it very quickly took over my life. The squares and rectangles were much smaller than those on the Brodgar tapestry, and it was a really engrossing experience watching the design grow.
I liked the design resulting from these two windows, where the colours are so different from the previous tapestry. I’d never woven a diptych before and was surprised to find it wasn’t that difficult working on two separate warps, side by side. Each piece of “Window Series: Nos 3 & 4”, completed in 2006, measures 58 x 101cms.

Reflections: Pool Series
Swimming pools, especially if they are lined with tile patterns, are such wonderful things. The pool at the school where I taught was a particularly fine example, with a checkerboard pattern in the deep end and a wall along the length of the pool with floor to ceiling windows. The combination of tile patterns and the sun shining through the windows onto moving water creates some exquisite effects.

I took a crop from this photo of the sun shining onto the surface of the water, then tried a range of effects, especially experimenting with colour in the last three. I next took a small crop from the chequerboard section, and rotated it by 180 degrees. “Pool reflections: No 1”, 6.5 x 13cms was completed in 2005, using a linen, cotton, silk and lurex weft on a cotton warp. I love the colours and was interested in experimenting with raising the black shapes, using a double warp technique and lightly stuffing the resulting shapes.


When I first began designing digitally I’d simply sit at the computer, clicking away until I came up with a design I liked; only then did I save it. But I would often manipulate for too long, and what I’d come to realise was that I needed to be meticulous in saving every step in the process. I also began printing out the whole series, in order, so that I could see the complete sequence. Very often it wasn’t the last manipulation I’d use as a design, which I would have missed had I not saved each step.

For the touring show: ‘RE:DESIGN’ members of the exhibiting group Coventry Contemporary Crafts linked with another member to produce a piece of work based on that member’s work. My partner was the ceramicist, Pauline Upton, renowned within the group for her quirky pots. Initially I had no idea how to approach this partnership.
I began by taking photos of different views of her ceramics and, back in the studio, simply sat at the computer and looked through the images. I soon realised it was the surfaces that interested me most, not the shapes. I decided to take a crop, or ‘slice’, from the body of the cylindrical pot ‘Calm Sea’, to see what would happen when I manipulated it using a combination of Paint Shop Pro and Adobe Photoshop 4.
Whilst designing digitally can sometimes be tedious, generally it’s so exciting and often the most unlikely images yield the most promising designs. Some of the resulting manipulations are quite astonishing. It was the green slice I particularly liked, so I decided to pixelate it to see if it could work as a design. This reinforced the importance of saving each step in the process.

I could see the original design was very complex, and would take more time than I had available to weave. I tried pixellating the image using various sizes of squares but, in order to be able to weave this design in the time available, the squares would need to be quite big. This, I felt, resulted in the essence of the original design becoming somewhat compromised. I tried cropping the original design hoping, when pixellated, it would retain that ‘essence’ I was looking for.
I repeatedly experimented with different crops but, at the time, I still wasn’t happy; and felt that ‘essence’ I was looking to retain just wasn’t there, especially after pixellating the crops.

‘Torn Rock’ looked interesting; again I took a slice from what I felt was an interesting area of the pot. Why this particular slice? There was something about the shapes and range of tones that looked promising. And the very first manipulation more than fulfilled that promise.

In the end it was the second to last manipulation which became the design for “Surface Slice”. As I wasn’t happy with any of the other designs I’d worked on, I decided to move away from squares and rectangles to weave a tapestry full of fluid, organic shapes. ”Surface Slice”, completed in 2005, measures 117 x 208cms. Although I love my squares and rectangles it made a refreshing change to weave such wonderful swirling shapes.

Reflections: Scarf Slices
The RE:DESIGN exhibition travelled to three venues in all, and at each venue I photographed the show for the Coventry Contemporary Crafts portfolio. For the final venue several members decided to produce more work, with a new partner. At the second venue a Barbara Fidoe scarf was lit by a small spotlight at exactly the right angle to cast a lovely shadow-cum-reflection, which I just couldn’t resist.

When I began manipulating the ‘Scarf Slice’ I immediately got this incredible image. I brightened, rotated and cropped it, resulting in a potentially very promising design. I tried again using a different effect, which really enhanced the reflection. I rotated the slice, and continued manipulating. I love the vibrancy of the colours. It’s all too plain to see the completely different results I got this time, although I used the same program but different effects.

Time to make new work, as usual, was an issue so I experimented with cropping areas from the design. I wondered what would happen if I added a mirror image of this last crop, making it twice the size. I rotated it and created a negative image of it. I’ve been paper weaving using manipulated printouts since 2005, and decided this could be quite a successful Print Weave. In the end I produced a series of print weaves for the final RE:DESIGN show, but came back to this design in 2007. “Colour 5”, completed in 2007, is 143 x 111cms.

It’s interesting that not only do my pixels link with Roman tesserae but another speaker has also used the word ‘metamorphosis’ A close up of beautiful stones on a wet Clovelly beach in Devon was the starting point for “Metamorphosis”. I’d already manipulated this image, producing two different Print Weaves as part of the ‘TaP…off the wall’ touring show. TaP [Textiles and Paper] is a Midlands based textile group I’m involved with.

I took a small crop then changed this into a negative version. I knew “Metamorphisis” would be a quartet of small tapestries, and that I wanted to experiment with combining squares and rectangles with more flowing, organic shapes. I pixellated the original crop, made the image the finished size of 25 x 25cms, and repeated this with the negative version. I then printed the original and pixellated versions out, and experimented with combining them.

I decided to begin with the original crop, which I first rotated by 180º, and gradually change it into the negative pixellated version. This means not only do the colours change from positive to negative, but the shapes also change from flowing to pixellated. “Metamorphosis”, completed in 2007, is a quartet of pieces.

In conclusion

Because I use digital technologies the design possibilities are endless, and I see the effect on both my designs and weaving technique as incredibly positive. What is so exciting about designing digitally is knowing my designs are mine. Even if two people were to manipulate the same image using the same program, the results would be completely different. Whilst like all of us I am influenced by other weavers and artists, I do not want to merely imitate or reproduce someone else’s work – I want my work to be distinctly mine.

There will always be elements of what has become my ‘signature style’ of squares and rectangles in my designs, but this won’t ever remain static. I’m only too aware design style can be mimicked and weaving techniques learnt, but knowing my designs are completely unique to me is a significant benefit of using digital technologies.
Over the years I have refined my working methods, now often working on ‘slices’ from digital images, and ensuring each manipulation is saved giving me a full overview of the whole design/manipulation process.

New technologies are central to my work but it’s still the process of tapestry weaving I love, and why I’m an artist/weaver. For me, tapestry is painting with colours mixed from threads providing the means to interpret a digitally produced design. Although crucial, new technologies are a means to an end - ensuring I can spend my days sitting quietly at my loom, listening to the radio, creating tapestries from the boxes of yarn around me, completely oblivious to anything else.