Art Quilt Australia: People, place, nation

1 November to 14 December 2013

OzQuilt Network

Art Quilt Australia: People, place, nation  by Valerie Kirk

Ozquilt Network a dynamic Australian organisation focussed on art quilting and raising its profile and the status of members through its exhibitions. Art quilts build on the traditions and skills of quilt making, but move beyond the domestic and the utilitarian to communicate ideas and express perceptions through the visual and material form.

In 2013 the exhibition theme of people, place and nation aligns with the centenary of Canberra and marks the celebration with individual artists' responses and interpretations.

The diverse population of our capital city and country is represented through the indigenous and multi-cultural communities and we are reminded of the issues of refugees, boat people and immigration. People are conveyed as carrying their own cultural indicators but coming together as Australians. In many of the pieces Indigenous people, their ancestors, art and land are referred to indicating strong awareness and respect for Aboriginal people and their importance in our understanding of Australia.

The theme of place is explored through Australia's bush capital, Canberra, depicted as iconic buildings, introduced vegetation and roads superimposed on the selected site described at the time as a "cow paddock" and the dammed Molonglo River becoming Lake Burley Griffin. The grid, a common element in piecing fabric and in city planning, evokes ordering, taming and controlling and contrasts with the natural lines and forms of the city's surrounding rivers, plains and mountains. Other places across all states are highlighted as expressions of individual attachment and physical experience, creating strong relationships to country and a sense of belonging, from the Perth Hills region to the mangrove mudflats on the northern coasts. Artists have considered the ephemeral qualities of light and shadow, depth of layers beneath the earth and colour/texture/pattern are used to reveal the essence of the land and skies. There is a pervading sense of nature in the quilts with flora and fauna emblematic of Australia included in the imagery - the waratah, the gecko and White Brittle Gum. Also natural disasters and phenomenon which rallied communities when faced with the hardships of dealing with floods and fires are commemorated.

While some of the works tackle major issues of country and nationhood, the individual's expression comes through in images that deal with our day to day domestic environment, private worlds and personal spaces vital to the making of our nation. The mark of the hand sewn stitch immediately evokes the person, their action, and creative thinking. It embodies the maker and a particular time and place.

The works exhibited draw on patchwork and quilting ways of re-using found fabrics as repositories of memory and as part of sustainable contemporary practice. In addition, diverse cottons sourced from around the world and an Aboriginal printed textile reflect the way fabrics have historically been exchanged and traded, moved around the world embodying symbols and subtle messages about their place of origin.

Techniques from a repertoire of dying, printing, cutting, image transfer, piecing, stitching, shibori, overlaying and quilting are used in various combinations from the formal and recognised ways of working to more experimental approaches. Altered and distorted photographic images and digital printing or transfer techniques bring new qualities to the fabrics incorporated.

Many perspectives are apparent in the quilts - the way a geographer looks at the land, how a visitor to Canberra experiences the city and navigates the roundabouts, the way our place in the home gives a view of a position within our society. The artists have drawn on their experiences and worked on refining the images with appropriately selected techniques.

Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre continues its support for Art Quilt Australia by including this exhibition in the centenary program, marking legacy and strength of contemporary craft and design. It allows fabric and thread to explore alternative narratives of the past, present and future of our people, place and nation.

Valerie Kirk is the Head of Textiles at the Australian National University School of Art, and was the guest curator for this exhibition.