Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Three exhibitions currently on show at the Corban Estate Gallery

from July 16 – August 29, 2010

Pull Poke Fold by Wendy Kawabata

Ports of Call by Beth Sergeant

In Lieu of Flowers by Alison Milne

Three exhibitions currently on show at the Corban Estate Homestead Gallery overlap in associations, particularly in their explorations of memory and feminine histories of craft.

Beth Sergeant, bookmaker and printmaker, and Alison Milne, handweaver, were invited to respond to the touring exhibition Pull Poke Fold by Wendy Kawabata. Their explorations of the act of remembrance are entwined with a love of traditional female hand-craft.

Kawabata, artist and Associate Professor at the University of Hawaii, continues her investigation of memory, migration and cultural drift, absence and presence, and the meditative and cumulative process of repetitive hand-work. Just a few works can be noted here.

In the installation Stemma, kukui nuts have been carefully wrapped and transformed by thread in intense hues of red. Glass vessels rise up amongst the clusters, storing some of the vibrant balls. Certain facts stimulate associations for this viewer. 'Stemma' can mean genealogy or family tree. The kukui nut tree, of great medical and practical use in many South East Asian and Pacific cultures, is loaded with rich meaning in Hawaiin culture. A symbol of enlightenment and protection, the oil laden nut was burned to provide light. The duration of the light was used to measure time.

Kawabata, who owes her surname to her Japanese husband, has referred to the work as “ an attempt to depict the problems of defining identity through bloodlines, and in defining my relationship to Hawaii through marriage and family...”. Her cocooned and gem-like constellations can be seen as a personal enquiry into the nature of identity, belonging, female tradition and memory.

A stitch in time: the “New World/Blind World” paper series have an airy, willo’-the-wisp quality. Tiny perforations of the needle articulate and conflate whispers of colonial figures, landmass and miscellaneous objects. Infamous but murky identities such as Calamity Jane seem to inhabit a boundless space overlaid with a decorative or interlocking pattern. The works describe the simultaneity of cultural identifications, and the movement of peoples. She asks, “As individuals, families, and communities migrate, what do they carry with them? Who or what is shifted, obscured, forgotten?”

“Withdrawn from Circulation”, is a loosely geometric formation of transformed, ‘redundant books’. It further explores the repetitive (feminine) act alongside concepts of knowledge and its preservation. By folding the corners of each page, she 'dog-ears' in formal fashion, alluding “ (to) our desire to keep and collect the past”. Fastened to the wall, stripped of their outer binding, and truncated with origami-like precision, the books fan out creating soft shifts of light and dark. Rather than overtly melancholy, however, they are somehow buoyant, though mysterious in their withholding of knowledge.

They reference the every-day book as a physical vessel of the past in quite a different way to Sergeant’s two hand-made books. These monogrammed books are devoted to each of her grandparents in the adjacent installation Ports of Call. Blank pages create loaded intervals between extracts of historical documents and images of family heirlooms. Old cotton reels and darning thread nearby underscore Sergeant’s particular interest in her grandmother’s sewing skills. Matilda’s white hand-made wedding night-dress has particular presence.

Sergeant's story of ancestral migration complements Kawabata's exploration of cultural memory. Her tableau is comprised of historical artifacts which describe the journey of William Jolley, an engineer and his wife Matilda, to Wellington in the late 19th century. The manual skills of both husband and wife are celebrated but it is a winding piece of white sewing tape which unifies the display. Sewing here, has among its connotations, familial love, solidarity and continuity. The wrapped kukui nut of Kawabata also invites suggestions of the protected and the beloved.

An antique jigsaw, A World in Pieces, is put to poignant and ambiguous use. Personal worlds as well as ‘New Worlds’, are forced to adjust in the wake of migration and settlement. This carved up world map is also printed in partial form on old damask. On it, Sergeant plots the migration of her grandparents through stitch; buttons marking the stops.

Alison Milne celebrates Pacific traditions of eclectic and colourful grave decoration in her In Lieu of Flowers. Recognisable in the display is the hand-weaving of cotton rags, a technique which echoes that used by grandmothers and great-grandmothers in this country. Woven ropes of fabric form snaking vines along knitting needles which stake out the grave’s perimeter. Simulated hand-knitted blossoms, also made from recycled rags, surround and cover around the mock grave on its faux grass. Strewn on top of the grave are small toys. They lie in custom-made knitted beds, affectionately referencing the coffin beneath.

Above this exuberant display hangs a mat comprised of warp-handwoven fabric strips. It parallels, in hybrid fashion, the traditional preparation and making of mats by women in Pacific cultures which were then exchanged at weddings and funerals.

A part homage to Kawabata's home in the Pacific, Milne impresses on the viewer, feminine hand-craft as a labour of love and a tool of celebratory artistic expression.

The formal beauty of Kawabata's process driven work contrasts with the seemingly casual display of Ports of Call and In Lieu of Flowers. Together, however, the three exhibitions investigate preoccupations which complement each-other in open-ended ways.

Kyla Mackenzie

'Geronimo's Son (II)' 2010 (detail) Wendy Kawabata

'Stemma' 2007 Wendy Kawabata

'Stemma' (detail)

'Constellating' 2009 (detail) Wendy Kawabata

'Withdrawn from Circulation' 2008 Wendy Kawabata

'Withdrawn from Circulation' 2008 (detail)

'In Lieu of Flowers' Alison Milne

'In Lieu of Flowers' (detail)

'Ports of Call' Beth Serjeant

'Ports of Call' (detail)

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