Feature story Nov/Dec edition 2023

Pliable Planes: expanded textiles & fibre practices

Artists from across Australia disrupt our understanding of textiles in this major touring show from the University of NSW at Fremantle Arts Centre.


Catherine Woolley, co-curator of Pliable Planes: expanded textiles & fibre practices with The Nurses, 2020, fabric, plastic and acrylic paint by Mikala Dwyer. Photo Lyn DiCiero.

Touring from the University of NSW, Pliable Planes: expanded textiles & fibre practices at Fremantle Arts Centre reimagines textiles and fibre art, stretching and flexing the medium into exciting territory. The exhibition takes its title from a 1957 essay by celebrated Bauhaus artist Anni Albers who sought to rethink weaving through the lens of architecture, interpreting textiles as fundamentally structural and endlessly mutable. Through painting, assemblage, sculpture, video, sound and installation, twelve artists challenge the formal and historical use of textiles, making social or cultural comments through their work, as well as redefining our notion of production. 

While textiles are everywhere in our lives, mass produced from bedding sheets to furniture and fashion, it’s easy to lose sight of their origins in marking differences in  cultures and telling social stories. Pliable Planes pares back the medium to conceptual experiences, reinterpreting methodologies and exploring innovative approaches, together with modern narratives.    

Co-curated by Karen Hall and Catherine Woolley, Pliable Planes was first shown at UNSW Galleries in April 2022, and has already travelled to Ballarat and Dubbo, and will head to Bendigo and Grafton after showing in Fremantle. The curators have been taking turns to tour with the exhibition, with Woolley delightedly receiving the short stick to head to Fremantle on her first visit to WA. Arriving a few days ahead of the opening for install, she was still glowing at her good luck to visit Fremantle. “It’s such a beautiful town, and the heritage is amazing,” she says. 

Woolley chooses The Nurses by Melbourne-based Mikala Dwyer as an appropriate starting point to our tour of the show. Ominous theatrical masks hang from a     bright yellow wall, with black and white ‘costumes’ hanging flaccidly below. “This particular project was interested in the wellness industry and disease,” she says. “The yellow colour is from quarantine flags used onboard ships, then there’s a reference to plague masks.”

Also Melbourne-based is Anne-Marie May, whose long-standing practice includes an interest in architecture and experimentation with process. Her work, Unforeseen Constellations,with hand-stitched intersecting lines denoting constellations on a humble ready-made floor carpet, is suspended vertically in the gallery space. “We usually think of carpet as being horizontal,” says Woolley. “There are a number of artists in the show who are thinking about how we would usually interact with textiles and turning that on its head.”

NEW PERSERVERANCE by Perth-based Akira Akira is a suite of works from his ongoing series of stitched perforated acrylic plastic sheets. “Previously he would fill the entire sheets to create quite minimal tapestry needlework, but he’s left these gaps now,” says Woolley. “Counting the stitches, he put it through a data sonification process, so there is a musical sound element that accompanies the work for about a minute every half hour. It’s almost like you can read the works as if they were sheet music.”

Collaborative wall works in paint with angled wooden rulers attached, by John Nixon and Jacqueline Stojanovic, beg the question of textile inclusion, yet these reflect weaving techniques and designs. Stojanovic, a weaver, worked as a studio assistant with Nixon before his death in Melbourne in 2020. The two began the body of works before he passed away, with Stojanovic later completing them. Towards the end of his life, Nixon would often ask her to try to finish his works. “It wasn’t until he said they should exhibit together that she realised it was a formal collaboration,” says Woolley.  

Kate Scardifield’s two-channel video You Don’t Need Me To Tell You, takes parachute cloth into the landscape as an instrument to track weather conditions. Pulling the light cloth over the landscape of east Sydney, Scardifield creates a tension between human, textile and landscape. Beautifully edited, the accompanying music is composed by Laurence Pike. 

There are a number of WA-based artists in the show, such as Akira Akira and Katie West, as well as Teelah George, now Melbourne-based and Sarah Contos, now Sydney-based. Woolley says a number of artists are from Victoria, Queensland and WA. “It’s really nice we can bring the works home to each of the artists throughout the tour.”

Pliable Planes: expanded textiles & fibre practices is on show at Fremantle Arts Centre until 28 January.

From the series NEW PERSERVERANCE, 2016 – ongoing, Appleton tapestry wool on perforated plastic, Tasmanian oak frame and soundscape by Akira Akira. Courtesy the artist, Perth. Photo Jacquie Manning.

Confluence 2, 2017, buff Raku Trachyte, jute twine and Blue Jay feathers by Janet Fieldhouse. Courtesy the artist, and Vivien Anderson Gallery, Melbourne.

♦ You Don’t Need Me To Tell You, 2022, (still) dual channel HD video, colour 16:9, stereo sound, 8:52 minutes by Kate Scardifield in Pliable Planes: expanded textiles & fibre practices at Fremantle Arts Centre. Cinematography Josh Raymond, sound Laurence Pike. Courtesy the artist, Sydney.


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