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 http://www.sofaexpo.com/ 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
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
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 ...