Image description: An install shot of EMBEDDED 2020 featuring works by Emma Ruby Armstrong-Porter, Olga Cironis and Tania Ferrier.
By Rushil D’Cruz
Opening two days before International Women’s Day, EMBEDDED 2020 stitches together the works of nine artists with the unifying thread of self-identifying womanhood. A complex exploration of the psyche, the exhibition trapezes between light and dark, the political and the personal; all within the confines of the simple quilt.
By placing an emphasis on representation over narrative, Curator Sandra Murray has created a space which celebrates the diversity of experience simply by honouring the honesty of each artist, and allowing them the room to converse with each other.
Three works in the corner of the gallery – Not Urs, THANK YOU FOR RADICALISING ME and Ms Angry Underwear Quilt – arrive with the force of a sucker punch. Not Urs, Emma Ruby Armstrong-Porter’s audacious offering, depicts the female genitalia, large and drooping in bright pink and gold satin, with the words, ‘NOT’ and ‘URS’ stitched at the top and bottom of the quilt respectively. Thematically straightforward and visually sensuous, the piece is effective in its simplicity: why should such an obvious statement need to be made at all?
Next to this hangs Olga Cironis’ THANK YOU FOR RADICALISING ME, an exploration of how identity is constructed within inherently political spaces – a familiar thought-exercise for immigrants and their children. The text itself is reminiscent of the typeface used by The Sex Pistols – fitting, given the punk ideologies of the work and its neighbours.
On the adjacent wall hangs Tania Ferrier’s Ms Angry Underwear Quilt, a collection of underwear with vicious teeth and eyes surrounding a mannequin with the word ‘NO’ on its face. The piece displays as more funny than vindictive; the result of an artist looking back on a project developing in various forms over three decades.
This is a common theme among the three pieces: each artist uses a deft hand to eschew anger and bitterness (rightly earned given the subject matter) in favour of satire – jabbing at its seedy targets with a surgical precision.
Separating these works from the rest of the gallery hangs UWA graduate Molly Werner’s OVER/UNDER, suspended from a wire in the middle of the room, and gently cascading to the floor in cream-coloured layers. Composed of waste products from dancewear production, OVER/UNDER gently sways in the breeze, and reminds viewers that the construction of the psyche is both cyclical and linear: an additive process which reuses and recycles past experiences to create unique identities through time.
This retrospection is apparent in the works of Nikita Dunovits-Ferrier and Claire Bushby. Dunovits-Ferrier’s nostalgic Sweet child o’ mine reflects on her adolescence, pinning together old rock band t-shirts to form a quilt, and incorporating a box television playing home videos of a little girl on the ground. There is a sense of familiarity and relation to the angst in the work (cigarette butts on an ashtray and toast crusts on a plate lie at the feet of the TV). There is also understanding, as Dunovits-Ferrier writes that her teen years were “a period in my life for which I am both nostalgic and glad to be done with.”
On the opposite side of the gallery (and devoid of any nostalgia), hangs Claire Bushby’s Bushpig. Bushby reincarnates in the work as a half-pig, half-woman goddess who judges the viewer with intense blue eyes, as beams of blue and red energy radiate from her body. There’s an earthy quality to the piece – strengthened by the decision to hang the quilt from a wooden branch – and its style is akin to depictions of woodland creatures in folklore. Bushby’s reclamation of the name prescribed to her by her childhood bullies is empowering and disconcerting in equal parts – altogether, incredibly difficult to look away from.
While Bushpig stands looking back on the past from a spirited present, two pieces – slip, sleeve, cover and Transformative Quilt – lay bare the battle against circumstance when past and present are riddled with trial and trauma.
In the former, Michele Elliot considers the life of a homeless woman living at a bus stop in Sydney, covered only by the bare essentials – a pillow slip, arm sleeve and quilt. The simplicity of the pieces belies a deeper sorrow. Hairs sown into the uniformly patterned, cream-coloured fabrics force the viewer to face “a most private space occupying the most public of spaces,” and the reality of a nation with annually increasing rates of homelessness.
Image description: sleeve by Michele Elliot, stitched with the artist’s own hair.
Hanging beside it, E. Anne Jeppe’s Transformative Quilt is a dark, multi-layered work, managing the delicate balancing act of incorporating a variety of mediums (paint, metal, threads, pins) and text on a single quilt. Snapped metal wire hangs off the quilt, and the phrase ‘Disintegration of Dissociation’ is stitched just off-centre. Grappling with “historical crimes against me,” E. Anne Jeppe’s work is strikingly vulnerable, and shimmers with a cautious optimism; a hope that, beneath all the layers of dissociation, a connection to the past may still be preserved.
Image description: Transformative Quilt by E. Anne Jeppe.
If there is a single piece that draws together all the individual threads of the gallery, it is Pamela Kleemann-Passi’s Sweet Dreams: a quilt overlaid with hair, flanked on one side by a lamp overlaid with hair, and on the other, by bedroom slippers stuffed with hair. Initially whimsical, the piece seethes with the uncanny, and grows unnervingly nightmarish to look at for long periods. The quilt itself conjures images of Cousin Itt from the Addam’s Family, and the seemingly-endless waves of hair create the illusion that there is movement at the peripheries. Each strand of human and cat hair has been stitched and combed meticulously, mirroring the (sometimes ridiculous) processes we simulate in our own grooming. In its playfulness, Sweet Dreams uncovers the irony of our routines, and the great lengths we go to in maintaining appearances.
Image description: Hairy slippers, part of Kleemann-Passi’s Sweet Dreams hairy quilt installation.
In her didactic label, Kleemann-Passi writes, “Hair is ubiquitous…there’s the hair we can talk about and the hair we can’t.” So it is with the human psyche: there must exist the messy and the laughable, the memories we speak of proudly, and our darkest hours.
EMBEDDED 2020 brings all these moments together in a space of vulnerability and honesty. It is sometimes brazen and loud; other times sombre and meditative; and nearly always uncomfortable to sit with.
In the words of E. Anne Jeppe, “I’m not neat, I don’t like sewing and life is messy with many loose ends.” EMBEDDED 2020 forces the viewer to grapple with these implications, and draw their own conclusions.
Only one thing is promised: there is no comfort to be found in these quilts.
Rushil D’cruz goes by the name SUSHI sometimes.
All images courtesy of Pamela Kleemann-Passi
Although Flux Gallery is closed until further notice due to COVID-19 concerns, they plan to re-open in mid-April, 2020.