Wednesday, 6 February 2019

The Hidden Sex

I have been extremely quiet on this blog since October, when I put my head down and started working my fingers to the bone to get my work ready for my solo exhibition, 'The Hidden Sex', which opened last Thursday at Craft ACT in Canberra. As it was the first exhibition for the year, it was a crowded opening, so thanks to all of you who braved the heat to come and see the work. The exhibition is on until 16 March 2019, and I will be giving a floor talk at 12pm sharp on International Women's Day, 8th March.

'Collecting Ladies I-III' series, 2018-9
Watercolour, marine algae on Arches 300gsm

'The Hidden Sex' is an exhibition that was inspired by my 2016 arts residency at the National Museum of Australia. My original project was to look at their botanical holdings but I quickly became inspired (obsessed!) by their two unprovenanced seaweed albums.  I have posted about these previously so will not go through my findings again here. The exhibition concept was to highlight the  invisibility of women in both society and science in the 19th century. Women were not allowed to attend university, and were hardly ever acknowledged for their contribution to our knowledge of our Australian flora.  All the kudos usually went to men, such as Government Botanist, Ferdinand von Mueller; William Henry Harvey, the great Irish phycologist; Joseph Hooker, of Kew; and Carl Agardh of Sweden.  However, not many know that Mueller conscripted over 225 women and children to collect for him, and some of these women sent their collections directly overseas to other scientists.  Hence the collections by some of our most noted women collectors, such as Jessie Hussey of Encounter Bay, SA; Louisa Ann Meredith, from Orford in Tasmania, and others are also in overseas herbaria.

'From Land and Sea: Rhodospermae, Melanospermae & Chlorospermae'
Three pairs of vintage kid leather gloves, embroidered with silk
Thinking about women collecting algae and vascular plants in challenging conditions wearing their heavy garments, skirts, boots and gloves inspired me to embroider some vintage leather gloves myself. Gloves were made in supple yet tight-fitting leather so that they could mould the hand into the proscribed shape - dainty, with long tapering fingers; not flaccid yet not too muscular. They also kept the skin unblemished from the sun. Indeed, I had trouble finding a 'glove model' for my photo shoot, as even the largest glove would not fit today's narrow hand! These gloves could not get wet, so there is a paradox between the gloves and the act of collecting. The three sets of gloves represent the three classes of seaweed, but the scientific name for them has altered slightly.  I have chosen to use the classifications instigated by Harvey in the 19th century - Rhodospermae (red); Chlorospermae (green) and Melanospermae (brown).

Women of the 19th century had proscribed pastimes to help them while away the hours - botanical painting and collection, needlework, music and languages. In the mid 19th century, a craze for collecting seaweed was at its height, having taken over from fern collecting, or pteridomania.  Botanical collections were pressed in special albums, on cards and in books, and became the subject of watercolours and dioramas. The series 'Collecting Ladies' references the etiquette of dress (handkerchiefs and gloves!) and the pastimes of lace-making, embroidery and botanical collecting.

Installation view, The Hidden Sex, Julie Ryder.
On the left of the installation photo are a series of large cyanotypes, made with seaweed I have collected on my travels.  The cyanotype process was the first photographic process invented by Sir John Herschel, but it was pioneered by Anna Atkins in the 19th century, who used this new technique to produce handmade volumes of photographs of British Seaweed that she had collected. The New York Public Library are currently holding an exhibition of these images from the two editions they have acquired, but they are only on for another week. My work references the life-sized work made by Anna, but I have enlarged them to make a bolder statement.

'Submerged' 2018-9, Julie Ryder
Vintage handkerchiefs, cyanotype, seaweed
In 'Submerged', a series of 42 vintage handkerchiefs, I have used the cyanotype process again to reference women's work.  The title refers to both the seaweed being submerged beneath the waves as well as the plight of women in academia and society.

My interest in Victorian Glass Microscope slides has also been described in previous posts, but for this exhibition I had always wanted to produce a series that contained real seaweed and referenced the lace making done by women that appeared on handkerchiefs and clothing. 

'Flowers of the Sea, I-VI', 2019
Glass, seaweed, hand engraving.
Each of the six large (25x70cm) glass microscope slides have been engraved with the place of the collection (Orford, Encounter Bay, Ballinskelligs, Frank's Beach, Macmaster's Beach and Bicheno). Some of these related directly to our past women seaweed collectors, whilst others are favourite places that have personal resonance with my seaweed collection obsession. I will show some details in a later post.

Lastly, as an avid collector of anything that the waves throw up, I have made a large wall installation 'Hortus conclusus' (which literally means hidden or secret or walled garden}.  Made entirely from cuttlebones, these have been collected over a period of years and reference the aggressive passion for collecting multiples of everything by scientists and amateur scientists of the 18th and 19th centuries - even to the detriment of the species, and many species did go extinct, as did many ferns and other botanicals.
'Hortus conclusus' 2019 Julie Ryder
Cuttlebone, carving.
In my collection there are two 'types' of cuttlebones that can be found - smooth ones, and furrowed ones, which are very labial in appearance.  These are not known to be 'male' and 'female' types, in fact conversations with marine biologists have not shed any light as to why there are two sorts. As they are NOT seaweeds I was wondering whether they belonged in the exhibition at all, despite my initial intuition and strong intention that they should be.  Whilst researching I came across an unusual feature of the Australian cuttlefish that not many people know about that clinched it's addition to the exhibition.  During mating times, once a year, all the cuttlefish gather en masse in Whyalla, SA, for an orgy.  Well, not really an orgy, because males only mate once, and then they die.  As there are more males than females, competition to hand her their 'sperm sac' (yes literally, with their tentacles!) is fierce, with the larger, more dominant males guarding the females from other weaker males.  However, these 'inferior' males have come up with a unique and very sneaky strategy to sidle up to the females in order to hand over their genes.  They camouflage themselves as females, even to the point of having a fake egg sac, so that they can mingle with them and avoid fighting with the stronger male. Ingenious. Hidden Sex..... 
There is an amazing podcast out at the moment which gives further insight into this gender swapping hosted by Benjamin Law, called Look at Me.  Click here , and listen to the end where a very poignant story is told by underwater photographer, PT Hirschfield (IG: @pinktankscuba)

I do hope you will get to see my exhibition at Craft and if you are on Instagram, you can follow my whole journey with the making of work for the exhibition @julierydertextiles

I love hearing your comments, critiques and thoughts about my work, so please don't be shy! And if you have enjoyed this post, or my work, please pass on my blog and Instagram details to others 💚
Cheers
Julie










Wednesday, 31 October 2018

New Work

Since I've been back from my wonderful research trip and arts residency in Ireland, I have been getting my thoughts together for an upcoming solo exhibition, to be held at Craft ACT in late January 2019. This exhibition will reflect the research I've been undertaking over the past two years on women botanical collectors, especially the collectors of seaweeds.

Looking at my seaweed collection for inspiration
I also made a significant purchase to help distill my thoughts...the gorgeous Minton tea cup and saucer in the photo above.  Believe me, the tea tastes so much nicer! Looking back through my Irish specimens I decided to have another look at the cyanotyping process that I did with my friend Aroona and her delightful daughter Ruby in Belfast. The blue photo above is one of the Irish Moss specimens (Chondrus crispus) that I made as a teaching example for them. This time, I decided to try it out on fabric to test out the limitations, colour and definition using the Canberra winter sun.


Testing out the cyanotyping with my seaweed in Canberra
The process is basically the same on textiles as it is for paper, however there are differences in the way that the various fabrics uptake the cyanotyping solution.  Drying was also longer than I expected, but I wasn't in a rush so just made a note of that for when I do the final pieces. I made three different types of tests using different fabric bases including some man made materials, just so I could compare the results.  I also guessed how long to expose them for and chose 6, 7 and 8 minutes to see what differences that would make.  After the fabrics had been exposed I rinsed them in cold water for several minutes and then hung out to dry.

Developing the print...WOW!
I was really happy with the results and eager to start making the final pieces for the exhibition once I collect all my fabrics and dried seaweeds together, and make the hard decisions on what to include and what will get left out.

Monday, 20 August 2018

Local Colour : Experiments in Nature

As soon as my plane touched the Canberra tarmac I was back into the whirlwind of getting work finished for the 'Local Colour: Experiments in Nature' exhibition at UNSW Galleries in Paddington, which was curated by Liz Williamson. My fractured wrist and time away was not conducive to lots of intense stitching, so it was head down and needle to the fore to get the final pieces in place before delivering to the gallery.

Liz Williamson opens Local Colour at UNSW Galleries
Photography: Silversalt Photography

'Local Colour' opened on 27th July and both Dr Julie Montgarret and I gave artist presentations to a large crowd beforehand.  I spoke about my arts practice and the interaction of nature with my work, and Julie Montgarret spoke about the work of Elsje van Keppel, which was also included in the exhibition. It was such an honour to be included in this curated show, to be with some amazing textile artists such as Elsje, Rowland Ricketts, Holly Story, Hildur Bjarnadottir, Dorothy Caldwell and India Flint to name a few.

My work ' Aranda to Frost Hollow' triptych, 240cm x 150cm
Photography: Silversalt Photography

My triptych, 'Aranda to Frost Hollow'  was a pieced work that utilised plant-dyed fabrics that had from the suburb of Aranda in Canberra.  My favourite bushwalk when I lived near the Aranda Bushland was to start at the very top of the ridge and walk all the way down through the Frost Hollow snow gums and back up the very steep hill past the powerlines.  For almost 17 years I did this walk about once a fortnight, noting the species of trees and shrubs, grasses, terrain and avoiding collisions with kangaroos! It was a walk I often took visitors on when they came to stay. After my cloths had been pieced, I then mordant-printed the map of the area where I walked on top.  The middle textile ('Frost Hollow')  is composed of hundreds of tiny naturally dyed scraps all hand-sewn to the base fabric to metaphorically continue the journey between the two hills.

My work, next to the work of Gabrielle Mordy (centre)
and Rebecca Mayo (far right)
Photography: Silversalt Photography

There were some gorgeous baskets produced by two groups of indigenous basket makers, curated by Dr Louise Hamby, and these black ones from Mullingimby were so unusual but so beautifully displayed hanging in space.

Photography: Silversalt Photography

The ethereal work of Rowland Ricketts showing his complete mastery
of indigo dyeing onto felt
Photography: Silversalt Photography

Work of Hildur Bjarnadottir (large wallhanging) and
the sculptural work by Lucy Simpson in the fore.
Photography: Silversalt Photography

The day after the opening saw many of the artists give floor talks about their work in the gallery and this was so well attended by the public.  It gave great insights into the works and why and how they had been created. One of my very favorite pieces is the work of Judith Kentish, which also happened to be hanging next to my work ! The simplicity and honesty that that emanated from these small weavings illustrated Judith's mindfulness and practise of being right in the state of making by weaving her plant dyed yarns from Cobb Creek on a card loom. Poetic.

Judith Kentish's weavings reflecting the Cobb Creek environment.
Unfortunately, there is no catalogue (yet) but if we keep nagging perhaps one will become available! If you can't get to the exhibition then the catalogue is a fantastic way to see the very best in contemporary plant-dyed textiles.


'Local Colour' is being exhibited until 15 September, 2019.
  • CNR OF OXFORD ST & GREENS RD, PADDINGTON NSW 2021 
  • Hours
    TUES TO SAT, 10AM-5PM. CLOSED PUBLIC HOLIDAYS






Friday, 20 July 2018

Following Charles Morrison

Time in Belfast was spent at the Ulster Museum repository looking at 19th century seaweed albums, including those connected to Charles Morrison (see previous posts!) Although I was staying one minute's walk away from the Museum, all their albums are housed in a secure facility many miles away. Luckily I had a lovely curator to look after me who drove me there each day and facilitated my access.

My working table within the UM repository.
 This is the album I came to see at the Ulster Museum, so it was an emotional moment for me, having discovered a lot through reading about it only through published papers.



After my research at the Ulster Museum, I left Belfast and drove north to each and every known site that Charles Morrison had collected the seaweeds he put in his many albums.....the Giant's Causeway, Portrush, Moville, Greencastle to name a few. 
The spectacular Giant's Causeway

Northern Ireland Coastline

Portrush

Rockpools at the Giant's Causeway
 Not only did I follow in Charles' footsteps along the wide beaches, rocky shorelines and isolated promontories, I also collected seaweed samples myself from each place so that I could have my own contemporary collection that mirrored his. Except not as prolific...!

Some of my Northern Irish seaweeds

Charles Morrison also collected along several sites along Lough Foyle, so I spent a few days at Derry-Londonderry (the 'PC' version of Derry....one radio announcer also coined the popular term "Slash City"). I was delighted to walk along one of the streets which incorporated this street art of  lovely marine pavers. One side of Lough Foyle is in County Derry, the other is in County Donegal. 

Marine inspired street art on a pavement in Derry-Londonderry
 He also collected at Lough Swilly, also in Co. Donegal. One of the most spectacular beaches I have seen on my travels was near Portsalon, on the far north coast of Lough Swilly. It was a really rough and winding road to drive down, and up, as the roads were so narrow.  Added to this was the temperature - over 30 degrees, something Irish roads are not used to.  The very bitumen was melting as we drove along, sticking to our tyres and also our shoes! But it was worth it in the end to walk on this beautiful and relatively deserted beach near Ballymastocker Bay.
Beautiful Ballymastocker Bay, Co. Galway
Back home now but still processing photos and seaweed for further posts....and getting data together for my research.






Saturday, 23 June 2018

Belfast Linen

I was  having an Instagram conversation about the scarcity of linen to be found in Ireland and that same day I went to the Titanic Experience  in Belfast. Little did I know the two events would be linked, and supported by another walk through the Ulster Museum....
Titanic Belfast Experience
In 1711 a Linen Board was established in Ulster to direct the development of the linen industry and new methods and better seeds were imported by the French Huguenots who settled in the north of Ireland at the end of the 17th century. Flax was grown in the countryside alongside food crops.

Flax seeds through to brown and bleached linen
Flax seeds were sown in spring and harvested around 100 days later. The mature flax was pulled from the ground rather than cut, so the extra length could be obtained. It then underwent a retting process which used moisture and bacteria to eat away the hard woody stem so that the inside fibres could be removed easily. Scutching then removed the outer skin of the flax, leaving only the silky inner fibres. These were combed over pins, known as roughing, and then hackling gave the flax a more thorough combing to remove superfluous organic matter.

Growing flax and turning into linen cloth was a long and laborious process with many stages. Traditionally women and children prepared the flax and spun the fibres into thread at home on spinning wheels whilst men then wove the thread into linen cloth on hand looms.

Working from home
Image from Titanic Belfast
The brown linen was taken to markets to be sold for bleaching and finishing then usually exported, mainly to England where it was prized for its fine quality.

Flax Mill c.1840
Image: Titanic Belfast

In the early 1840's linen cloth production moved from a home-based occupation in the country to a large scale factory-based one in the city. The different processes linen had to undergo before being made into cloth meant there were a series of hierarchical jobs within the mills accompanied by differing standards of working conditions and pay.

Mill production
Image: Titanic Belfast
Mill Production
Image: Titanic Belfast
During the 19th century people flocked to Belfast to work in the new linen mills and by 1900 Belfast was producing and exporting more linen than anywhere else in the world. There were over 65,000 mill workers at the turn of the century, many employed in Belfast, and around 900,000 flax spinning spindles in Belfast alone in 1900. Mill workers worked 6 days a week from 6.30am to 6pm for very low wages, many of whom were women and children who were often known as "half-timers" because they attended school as well. Dust inhaled when preparing the flax could trigger disease, and the hot humid conditions necessary for the spinning and weaving of linen caused chest infections. Working barefoot in water in the spinning rooms often led to painful foot conditions.

Mill Production
Image: Titanic Belfast
Embroiderers were often lowly paid but their working conditions were healthier, and they were considered socially superior.


Examples of fine linen embroidery at the Ulster Museum
The Titanic needed huge quantities of linen for her maiden voyage and these were all made in Belfast. The First Class passengers had damask linen tablecloths and napkins, patterned with the White Star emblem. Linens were also used for all the bedding as well as in the kitchens and dining room.  The Titanic carried thousands of aprons and tablecloths and over 10,000 kitchen cloths, as well as 18,000 bed sheets and 45,000 table napkins! There were no facilities on board to wash anything, so there were separate stores for clean and dirty linens, and a drying room for wet linen so they did not become mouldy on the voyage.

The information above came from the Titanic Belfast Experience Museum. More information about the history of Irish linen can be found here

Walking around the Ulster Museum I came across an enormous hand-woven contemporary Irish linen artwork - The Game of Thrones Tapestry that opened at the museum in July 2017. 

Game of Thrones Tapestry, Ulster Museum
Now, I have not seen Game of Thrones, but I thoroughly enjoyed walking around this incredible tapestry which snaked back and forth across walls within the exhibition space. It is now 66 metres long, and consists of six 11m panels, one for each of the six series currently produced. By the time it is finished it will be longer than its inspiration, the Bayeux Tapestry which measures 77m. Here are some images of some of the series - are you a fan and can you recognise any of the scenes??

The Night is Dark and full of terrors....
Have you been paying attention...?
Exquisite weaving and embroidery
The End....for now......
Read more about this amazing tapestry and how it has reignited the awareness of Irish Linen and promoted Irish tourism here



Monday, 18 June 2018

The Wild Atlantic Way

It was so hard to tear myself away from Cill Rialaig, but right at the nth hour I had a message on Instagram that one of the people I have been following, Susan (@todayinireland) was in Ballinskelligs and could we catch up for a coffee? I have been following Susan because she really gets about this part of the world, and to be honest, I thought I would bump into her on the beach one day or walking around in Waterville, but of course, it was literally just as I was leaving town. It is so lovely to meet people face to face that you have connected with on IG!

A coffee catch up at Barbara's on the beach, Ballinskelligs
Back into the car for 45 minutes and it was time for another goodbye at Caherdaniel from John and Kerryann (@atlanticirishseaweed). I love these two people who are so passionate about seaweed and making a living from educating others about the benefits of eating and bathing in it!
The Blind Piper, Caherdaniel
We met downstairs at The Blind Piper, a true Irish pub - a bit early for a pint for me but not for some I could mention! Kerryann gave me a bag of seaweed to eat and a couple of seaweed bath bags to try out so luckily most of the places we have stayed have baths.

Sneem for lunch at the Bakery
Back in the car we passed through Sneem and stopped for a quick lunch before heading to Kenmare, where I was keen to see the Kenmare Lace and Design Museum




In the 1800's sisters of the Poor Clare convent in Kenmare introduced needlepoint lace to the women and the girls of the locality as a response to the poverty that followed the Great Famine. This was an incredible initiative of the nuns who also arranged for tuition from tutors from the Kensington School of Design in London and the Crawford School of Art in Cork, leading to the establishment of a school of design in Kenmare.

Gouache painted designs by the nuns of the Poor Clare Convent, Kenmare
From this school came designs that won acclaim in exhibitions around the world. Kenmare lace graced royal functions and liturgical occasions, however eventually economic factors brought about its decline and apparent demise. These designs have been revived and local lacemaking continues today.

Lace design and lace on display in the local church.
Next it was off to Bantry to have a look around Bantry House, the private estate still owned by the descendants of the Earl of Bantry.

The view of pantry House from the rear Garden.
Home to the White family since 1739  this house has a garden with seven terraces, overlooking Bantry Bay, with many works of art both inside and outside the house. After many years of neglect the garden terraces were overhauled in 2016 and work continues on the garden restoration today.  The inside of the houses was magnificent, but photos were not allowed.

Onwards to our destination, Kinsale, where we spent two nights. Kinsale is a gorgeous seaside town, known for its colourful buildings and fine dining. 

Kinsale Harbour

One of the many pubs in Kinsale

Cute cottages

Colourful buildings
Our next journey is to Kilkenny, to see the famous Kilkenny Craft and Design Centre, kiss the Blarney Stone and then head towards Belfast for my research at the Ulster Museum herbarium.