More familiar as the barrier between our skin and the outside world, fibre and fabric as a medium offer a myriad of pathways for visual language at Holmes à Court Gallery in West Perth.
Inspired by recent acquisitions of fibre, textile and stitched works for the Janet Holmes à Court Collection, FIBRE at Janet Holmes à Court Gallery in West Perth is a diverse and exciting overview of a medium once relegated to the very lower rungs of the fine art ladder. Indeed, fibre and textile art are thriving, says Laetitia Wilson, Exhibitions Manager at the Janet Holmes à Court Collection. “The exhibition is both a testament to and celebration of this,” she says. “Fibre has an association with craft, which can have quite negative connotations of not being high art, but I think that argument isn’t really relevant anymore. Some people are still hung up on that idea, but a lot of contemporary art is so highly crafted now, and fibre art is certainly on the up.”
As we walk through the storage facility at JHACC, works in FIBRE, such as Carmela Corvaia’s Horizon, a stunning use of fleece, dyed green, and wrapped around the base of bare olive branches, is simply laid flat on top of storage furniture. Other 3D works are strung from the ceiling to maintain their shape. “Storage is certainly something Janet thinks about when purchasing these works, because they can be fragile,” says Wilson. “It’s fortunate the works can be stored safely here in climate controlled, dust-free conditions.”
Noted after a cursory look through the catalogue of works for FIBRE is an obvious gender imbalance of practitioners, suggesting fibre, textile and stitched works are mostly a female domain. “It’s something I wrestled with,” says Wilson. “But a lot of works in the show are traditionally seen as women’s work.” Among those by male practitioners is John Parkes’ A Shirt Quilt (2011), fashioned from shirts formerly worn by the quilt’s maker, stains et al, and Guadalcanal (2019) by Mark Dustin, a screen print on felt. Sourced from his grand-father’s images as a former photographic reconnaissance spy during the American Guadalcanal campaign in the Solomon Islands during the Second World War, the work shows the ship which delivered him to a Japanese occupied island where he was given a thin, felt blanket to keep himself warm for months on end in a hidden dugout.
Other works include Kate Thompson’s Not all people become monastic and bitter when love goes long distance. Presented in book form, with pages made from her husband’s FIFO uniforms, humorous, yet quasi-tragic and poignant text such as, “So you’ve come back,” adorn the fabric pages with a simplicity reminiscent of early learning books. Binding resembling carpet samples adds yet another dimension to the work. Wilson says it is very much a narrative about FIFO relationships. “It’s not necessarily a critique, but more of a philosophical, candid reflection on a situation so many couples face.”
Among representation by Aboriginal artists are unique ten-metre long batiks on silk by Emily Kame Kngwarreye and Lindsay Mpetyane Bird which will hang from the ceiling of the former factory building, providing a dramatic entrance statement. An intriguing work by Papau New Guinean artist Jean Magreat Hiojo features natural plant dyes and ash painted on bark cloth – a felt-like fabric with the deceptive appearance of bark, made from the inner bark of rainforest trees. Curtis Taylor’s
work, a painting in ochre and oil paint, also includes woven hair. In search of Pulkartu, the bone’s pointing (2018), depicts Pulkartu, a sacred stone stolen from Karlamilyi River in the Pilbara. By painting the sacred stone Taylor hopes someone will recognise it, and it will be returned to its rightful place.
The exhibition is undoubtedly a vibrant representation of the medium. Wilson says visitors to the show will be surprised by its scope and diversity. “The works are attentively crafted and move beyond simply being a presentation of fibrous materials. It’s a different language and a different way of telling the stories of our time in a different medium. I think it can grasp your attention in varied ways, so works in fibre, textiles and stitch should definitely be on people’s radar.”
FIBRE is on show at Holmes à Court Gallery @ No. 10 Douglas St, West Perth from 1 February until 14 March.