Friday, 23 June 2017

Stitched Up

Stitched Up opens tonight at The Lock Up in Newcastle and unfortunately I can't be there, however I will be going up to see the exhibition in a few weeks time to get some professional photography of my work, "Liberty". In the meantime, Anne Kempton has sent me some images of the work so that I can share it with you.  As mentioned in my previous post,  I think my work will be very confronting for some viewers, and this is probably exacerbated by it's position in the Lock Up venue - the leather padded cell......

Julie Ryder, Liberty, 2017. Photo: Anne Kempton
Yes, it seems a bit grim, but the work is not about deaths in custody, nor even that Mary Jane Wright, the girl I based my work on, hung herself.  In fact, it appears that none of the girls committed suicide  from reading the histories of the 193 girls that Jane Ison has documented here.  So why the noose?

When I was visiting Timeless Textiles for my Chromophilia exhibition there last year, I walked through The Lock Up one morning before it was open to the public in order to get a sense of the place with a view to producing  work for Stitched Up. Prior to this Anne Kempton and Wilma Simmons had organised for Jane Ison to talk to artists involved in the project about her research on the inmates of the Newcastle Industrial School (NIS) and together we walked up to the old site and discussed how it would have been in the late 1800's and how daily life was for these girls. It was a really informative session, and Jane's passion for research and her plea that every girl deserved to be remembered struck a real chord with us. Particularly with Wilma, who made 193 dolls to represent every one of the 193 girls incarcerated in the school.   You can see images of Wilma's work in a newspaper article here.

Anne and Wilma have been passionate about organising this exhibition over the past couple of years and together have helped bring Jane's research to life.  They have also spent time researching the types of materials and clothing that were worn by the girls at the NIS, and also by the people in local community at the end of the 19th century.  They sent out swatches of fabrics and information to all the artists involved so that they could produce work that was authentic as possible.

So....back to the noose. The girl I chose to represent was Mary Jane Wright, and her story can be read online here. When I was alone in the Lock Up I had a very strong sense of the desperation and hopelessness that  must have been experienced by any inmate there. The small, cramped dark rooms with graffiti on the walls seemed to have absorbed the misery and sorrow from bygone days. I don't know what I had been thinking but I had an immediate vision of a noose - not as a device for death, but as a metaphor for 'hanging around, endless waiting to be released, a sense of foreboding and doom, as in "a noose hanging over one's head". And when I had that vision, I almost immediately realised that the noose would have to be made of human hair to symbolise the fact that many of the girls were incarcerated because of their femininity - locked up for their own good because they had no visible means of support or were living from hand to mouth through prostitution. The girls in the NIS often sewed clothing or mended clothes for the local community, and I had the idea of the hair noose ending with a hair-embroidered word, "Liberty", on an antique irish lace handkerchief. 

Detail of 'Liberty' hair embroidery on antique Irish lace handkerchief

Because Mary Jane was arraigned for her own protection, I imagined what she wanted most was freedom – Liberty – from the school, from her mother, and her mother’s devious boyfriend, and from her circumstances in life. Her family’s bad influence seemed like a noose around her neck, dragging her down, ensuring she stayed in limbo between one authority and another. The noose can symbolise intimidation, fear, condemnation and the suspension of time. The green ribbon that binds the plait of the red hair rope/noose is stitched in hair with the initials MJW and on the other side "saoirse" - Irish for freedom or liberty. The irish word is something familiar and personal and therefore attached to her body (hair)  whereas the work she was made to produce – sewing – is in English denoting the cultural and physical relocation Mary Jane underwent from Belfast to Australia.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017


The scarf exhibition Wrapped is about to open  at Barometer in Paddington so I just thought I would share a few photos of some of the install to whet your appetite and for those that can't make it tonight.
Click here for more details.A big thankyou to Barb Rogers for organising the exhibition (and everything else...!!)

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Wrapped....and Stitched Up

Two group exhibitions that I am involved in will open this week, one in Sydney and the other in Newcastle.

A selection of my naturally-dyed and degummed scarves in Wrapped
Wrapped is an exhibition of scarves by Vivien Haley, Sylvia Riley, Barbara Rogers, Julie Ryder,
Liz Williamson, Tradition Textiles and Deborah Emmett at Barometer Gallery, 13 Gurner St Paddington.  Opening viewing and drinks are on Wednesday night 21st June 6-8pm.
Gallery hours are Wednesday - Saturday 12-5pm.  The exhibition is open from 21 June to 22 July.

Stitched Up is an exhibition featuring 24 contemporary international and national textile artists on show at The Lock Up from Friday 23 June 2017 until 6 August 2017. It coincides with the 150-year anniversary of The Newcastle Industrial School’s opening; and is resulting from a partnership between The Lock Up and Timeless Textiles galleries.
This exhibition conceptually provides a voice for the 193 girls who attended the Newcastle Industrial School, translated into contemporary fibre art.

A detail of my work in Stitched Up. Photo: David Paterson
Above is a detail of part of my work for Stitched Up. It was hard to choose one girl out of the 193 that historian Jane Ison had researched, but eventually I decided on Mary Jane Wright, an Irish girl born in Belfast in 1853. According to her biography she had red hair and blue eyes, and more about her and the other 192 inmates can be read about here. Some of the stories are shocking to read, reflecting the harsh and often brutal way of life for young girls who fell foul of the law, often punished for crimes they did not commit. I wanted my work to convey the sense of hopelessness Mary Jane must have felt, and so the rest of the work which is not shown in the photo above I hope will act as a metaphor for the stark reality of her plight. I believe my work is to be installed in one of the cell rooms and this should provide the right atmosphere for the piece.  I will be going up to Newcastle to get the work photographed in situ and will then post an image of the entire piece once the show has opened.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Out of the Box

Last Thursday and Friday were spent at the University of Canberra's Out of the Box symposium which aimed to share strategies for accessing natural history collections.  It was a perfect arena in which to give a lightning talk about my current research on the Charles Morrison seaweed albums, and to introduce to others the way I work with natural history collections and objects.
Part of my presentation
It was a bonus that Dr Christine Cargill, my scientist-collaborator, also gave a talk about the artists-in residence she has hosted at the Cryptogam Herbarium at the ANBG, including myself, so double exposure on my artworks!
Christine Cargill's presentation
There were some very interesting talks from speakers who were involved with different aspects of natural history collections - conservators, researchers, writers, artists, curators, scientists, taxidermists etc - but the symposium itself was engineered so that everyone who attended could participate in discussions and workshops on how to make natural history collections more accessible, both in the physical and virtual sense.

These discussions raised issues about increased non-scientist access and security; the increased value of physical collections in a digital world (and also the importance of an online presence); the role of volunteers; the idea of establishing an Australian Natural History Museum; who the stakeholders of these collections are; and how and who we can lobby effectively for an increased  awareness about the importance of these collections.

There were tours of three CSIRO collections: The  Australian National Insect Collection; the Australian National Wildlife Collection and the Australian National Herbarium.  I chose to go to the Herbarium again as I haven't been for a few years.  The ANWC was fully booked as there were limited places and lots of delegates who worked in the fields of taxidermy and conservation of animals and birds.  ANIC was also a very popular tour but I had been there not too long ago.

Brendan Lepschi, the Curator of the ANH, spent an hour taking us through the various aspects of the collection, which was greatly appreciated by the students and interstate visitors who had never been behind the scenes before.
Brendan Lepschi in the ANH showing how specimens are kept

Herbarium sheets showing how small orchids are mounted

Small plants can also be preserved in jars although they tend to
lose colour

Specimen of Eucalyptus collected by Joseph Banks on
Captain Cook's first Voyage

There were also three practical workshops that you could register for : Conservation of physical specimens with Sheldon Teare (Australian Museum); Digital Sharing with Ely Wallis from Museum Victoria, and Creative Responses to Natural History with Erica Seccombe. I chose to go to the Digital Sharing workshop and it opened my eyes to online resources for collections I didn't know existed. It also gave me a broader understanding to other sites such as the Atlas of Living Australia, Trove as well as providing insight into how I could contribute online as a citizen scientist to several other websites.

As with most conferences, the highlight is always meeting like-minded people, finding common ground and talkking about collaborative projects that could be realised in the future.
A very big thank you to Alison Wain for not only organising the conference but ensuring everything ran smoothly over the two days so that maximum time was spent sharing information and strategies for ensuring natural history collections are seen as vibrant resources of information, not dusty old exhibits locked away in dark cabinets of curiosity.