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Summer 2002


Travel Wagga
and Other Works by Ruth Hadlow

At the SOFA (Sculpture Objects and Functional Art) Chicago expo last October, a striking piece by Ruth Hadlow was displayed by the organization Craft Australia. Hadlow, an Australian native, was featured in the Summer '99 issue of FIBERARTS. She now lives in West Timor, Indonesia. Below, we share some of the pieces she has done in recent years, along with her own writing about them.

Dates for the 2002 SOFA expos are May 30-June 3 for the New York expo, at the Seventh Regiment Armory (Park Avenue at 67th Street), and October 25-27 for Chicago, at the Navy Pier. Check for updates on lectures, galleries attending, and special exhibits.


Travel Wagga (with detail), 1999; leaves, thread; approx. 6.5 by 4 feet. Courtesy of Craft Australia.

Travel Wagga is a diary piece which I think of as a self-portrait. Its form refers to the single bed quilt; the conventions of piecing, fragments, a whole made up of un-united bits, and a temporariness of fixture all have strong metaphorical or philosophical resonances for me. They refer to the shape of my life at various times...

Waggas were quilts made during the Depression era in Australia. They were made from found and scrounged materials--bits of men's suit cloth, flour bags, old clothes. They were made in relation to circumstances. Their designs were often quite formal and restrained, but beauty was considered, even in such a spareness or emptiness of situation.

There's an amazing textile in the NGA's collection called the Westbury quilt, which was made in Tasmania around 1901. It's a huge thing, scarlet-red and made up of lots of small segments embroidered in white with images and writing. They're like an eccentric diary and a curious jigsaw puzzle of the life of the woman who made it. It's pretty haphazard and she doesn't seem to have been too concerned about issues of prettiness or rules of design. And it has the most fabulous border of huge uneven round flower shapes, looking like wonky 1960's pop art. It's my favourite thing in the entire gallery and I think about it a lot.

Once I walked into an exhibition in the Museum in Hobart, and in amongst a series of old and new artworks and collected objects was a glass cabinet with some banksias in it. The leaves were dry; they looked like they'd been picked about 12 months ago. Then I looked at the label. They'd been collected by Joseph Banks in 1770. I've worked a lot with plant materials and I know most people think they're pretty ephemeral. I was standing in front of the cabinet thinking how those leaves had been around for a long time, and would no doubt be around for even longer. And how I'll only have about 80-odd years or so, and therefore that I'm quite a bit more ephemeral than the leaves. And that made me wonder about how many other things we might have a bit of an odd slant on, in terms of permanence and transience, and various other illusions.

These leaves are from different parts of the country, from different journeys, familiar places, unfamiliar places. Stitched together with red thread--blood-coloured thread. I think about relationships with places, responses to places. The feeling of my body in specific places. The feel of wind or sand against my skin; the sound of my breath or heartbeat in the emptiness of certain places. The way places can change my mood. There's a relationship of experience between a body and a place. It surrounds you--you are within it--it affects you--you are part of it, even momentarily. Even in your foreignness you're still there, in the here and now, the breathing and feeling moment of a place.


Kamus Merah/Red Dictionary (with detail), 2000; Timorese newspapers, silk organza, thread, pins; approx. 8 by 7.5 feet.

All the words in Kamus Merah/Red Dictionary are bahasa Indonesia that I've learned in the last few years. It's a kind of diary--each word relates to an experience from while I've been in West Timor. Or various other parts of the Indonesian archipelago. So there's a story for each word. Sometimes it's a word I've needed, sometimes it's one I've heard and want to understand, sometimes it's to do with the surrounding circumstances--the big political situation, the intimate personal one.

I've discovered that I love learning another language. I learn so many things about my own culture and language by learning this other one. About all the cultural constructs that we assume as absolutes, as natural and common things shared by others. Which are mostly unrealised or unrecognised, until you learn another language. One that doesn't have the verb "to be". That has no future or past tense, only the present. What can that mean, and how different must our worlds be? I find I can no longer take anything for granted--everything becomes relative and has to be questioned. The fixed position or opinion is no longer possible, context becomes everything.

The newspaper scraps are part of the daily record of events and situations; the circumstances within which I live when I am in West Timor. But I don't understand most of the language. It's too complex for my still-basic grasp which covers only necessities and relevancies at present So I float across the surface of a complex world, grasping at small details. I am surrounded by a world of which I can comprehend only a little, and mostly through a language foreign (and therefore possibly irrelevant) to its nuances, histories and entwined relations.

The work is informed by a beautiful cloth from Rote, a selandang, which my lover gave me. It has a very formal design made with an intricate and time consuming ikat resist-dye process. I've been thinking about how taste can be a relative and contextual thing, and that meaning, circumstance and story can have the capacity to hold precedence over aesthetics in the end. The border design of this cloth is derived from motifs from the patola cloths - Indian double-ikat silk textiles that were traded through SE Asia for about 300 years, and privileged as sacred cloths due to their rarity, expense and extraordinary technical qualities. Only after the kingship structures in eastern Indonesia were actively broken down by the Dutch in the early part of the 20th century, were the patola motifs available for use outside of the royal families. The strength of their influence is visible subtly and overtly in many of the Timorese and eastern Indonesian textiles, like an articulated reminder of the complex interrelationships and histories of this part of the world.

Other references for this work include a historic Tasmanian textile called the Westbury quilt, which is an eccentric diary of white embroidered images and words on red cloth. I always think of red thread as related to blood, and blood as the life force made manifest. Silk organza is most commonly used for bride's veils. Red and white are also the colours of the Indonesian flag. The conventions of piecing, fragments, a whole made up of un-united scraps, and a temporariness of fixture all have strong metaphorical or philosophical resonances for me, which I see as referring to the shape of my life at various times. The process of making is always for me a complex balance between research, fascination and intuition--some things come about by coincidence and some through choice, just like life.


Aeroplane Parts, 1998; cloth, thread, pins; approx. 6.5 by 7 feet.

This piece was included in the 10th International Triennial of Tapestry in Lodz, Poland, in 2001.

Aeroplane Parts is made in response to a plane woven in the 1920s by Janet Watson, a Ngarrindjeri women from the Coorong area of South Australia. She used the traditional Ngarrindjeri basketry coiling technique to make a very untraditional sculpture.

Looking at this plane has made me think about lots of things. Like how planes used to be fragile things made mostly of sticks and cloth, so vulnerable and so hopeful ... About embroidery and basketry, and how alike and how different the Ngarrindjeri coiling stitch is to the European techniques of buttonhole and blanket stitch, and lace tatting ... About the European invasion of this country and what it has brought with it ... About the removal of some cultural traditions, and their replacement with others ... About white-ness, with all its variations ... cleanliness, purity, the whiting out of specific histories, white-on-white embroidery traditions ... My aeroplane is in parts, and the parts are about questions, and the questions most likely have many, many answers ...


This article first appeared
online in:

Summer 2002

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