10 February to 24 March 2012
Barbara Rogers, A study in stripes (detail), 2011, silk charmeuse, canvas frames, Shibori, de-coloured, azoic dyes, polyester thread. Photographer: Creative Image Photography.
Parallels by Dr Sharon Peoples
It is difficult to ignore the close interrelationship between cloth and clothing, both are linked linguistically, as well as culturally. Shibori has often been associated with dress and the work of Barbara Rogers has in her arts practice encompassed both textiles and dress. Historically, the complex bond between textiles and clothing was broken with the advent of modernity. While textiles have been hung from walls and ceilings for over thousands years, until roughly the late nineteenth century, textiles had utilitarian purposes, be it protective, didactic or aesthetic. Collecting cloth as ethnographic material for museums began in earnest at this time. Collecting and appreciating textiles as 'art' occurred much later in the twentieth century. I would argue that Sonia Delaunay's appliqued quilt of 1911 may be one of the first examples of art textiles. However, the close domestic association with textiles tended to cloud the intellectual experimentation by early twentieth century women artists such as Delaunay and Sophie Tauber. Rogers has explored the work of Delaunay in depth, and cites her as inspiration. Through Parallels Rogers takes up similar issues that Delaunay was concerned with geometry, the urban living and African textiles.
Art textiles appear to be a post-war genre which developed through a revival of handcrafts as a meaningful expressive form. As such, those working with textiles moved their work towards the non-functional by the 1960s and 1970s, using the medium as an expression that was more typically associated with painting. This development came about due to a number of factors that included: increased world travel, sparking interest in a wider variety of textile traditions; using these traditions as a form of intellectual expression; abstract art influenced abstract cloth painting; and the use of textiles as a political expression of 'women's work' by second wave feminists.
Shibori was one of these crafts that were utilised by artists to create art textiles to be exhibited as fine art within the framework of galleries and museums. The crafting process of shibori can include processes of folding, crumpling, stitching, plating, twisting and tying before dyeing. Resist dying - blocking areas of fabric from access to dyes - and discharge dyeing - removal of dye in the fabric by the application of substances containing bleach - are employed. Rogers uses much pared down shibori processes to examine the built environment in which she lives. Rogers is interested in Japanese fashion but is not particularly influenced by Japanese shibori. She looks more to geometric design from African bark cloths to 1920s design. As well, her daily walking throughout the streets of Sydney brings her in contact with modernist sensibilities of geometry and providing stimulation to her designs. In her installation, Parallels, Rogers explores the diversity and such language of graphic pattern of stripes through contemplating formalist notions such as colour, light and shadow, and open and closed structures, juxtaposing positive with negative, bound with unbound, dyed with plain in the textiles she creates.
Throughout the last forty years textile artists have developed their own distinct critical practice, operating somewhere between fine art and craft. The art textiles of Rogers in Parallels, tends toward the fine art in its visual presentation but has a strong craft base that cannot be denied. Rogers exhibits contemporary shibori textiles deriving from an understanding of the materials and processes involved and from its history, techniques and traditions. The textiles produced for this exhibition are the culmination of twenty years of working with cloth and dyes.
The tacit knowledge acquired over this period through actively engaging in the process of making has extended the traditional practices of shibori. Although shibori is a Japanese word, meaning 'to wring, or squeeze', the process has long and strong traditions around the world, not only from Japan but also Africa, the Middle East, India, South-East Asia, Central and South America. These traditions contain bodies of knowledge and understanding of materials and equipment and, over time, have created rule-directed processes. They are but a starting point for Rogers. Her unique assimilation of knowledge and understanding of materials comes through repetition and sustained practice. Not only asking the question 'what would
happen if…', but also actually working through uncertainty, and making the unforeseen part of her practice in transforming cloth.
Creativity and innovation comes from an openness to experiment. Both working within limits, as well as risk-taking are part of her arts practice - as they should be for any artist. We might consider that Rogers' distinctive colour palette may be part of working within her own self-imposed aesthetic constraints. Yet the scale, bold design and layering are ambitious: pushing through the confines of traditions.
Chance and accident are always present where resist dyeing and discharge techniques are involved. Although there are many variations of techniques involved in the art and practice of shibori, Rogers works in a much paired down manner and aesthetic. This indicates her long experience and her highly skilled ability to work in concert with materials and processes. Through the process of making comes knowing. British artist, Anthony Gormley notes:
Art is not a noun; it's a verb, a process. These objects...are the fall-out, as it were, from a way of thinking physically. And that's what I do, as my daily activity. It is a daily practice.
(Colin et al (2004) Substance, memory, display: archeology and art Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archeological Research, University of Cambridge)
Again I return to the question of 'what would happen if…' reminding us that play is at hand when we begin to question how we are making. Often through playing around artists are not conscious of when they 'are on to something'. It just happens - sometimes there in the studio or much later when reflecting back on the shapes and forms. The significance of experimental play and the subtleties of learning embedded within should not be undervalued. It is not only the reflective in action, but also reflecting an alternative action. Repeated analysis, continual reassessment, along with valuing the unexpected and unintended changes are vital to such a textile practice as shibori. Rogers works in this way, experimenting with colouring processes when new batches of cloth respond in different ways. Creative lateral thinking leads to alternative uses of dyes and resist pastes, tools or equipment. Reflecting on chance and disaster facilitate moving forward.
The process spirals through stages of appreciation, action and re-appreciation. The unique and uncertain situation comes to be understood through the attempt to change it, and changed through the attempt to understand it.
(Schon, D.A. (1995) The reflective practitioner: how professionals think in action, Aldershot, Ashgate)
How do artists get to the stage where there is apparent simplicity, yet the complexity is hidden? Although making a body of work can be executed rather quickly, it can only be done so when there has been a long continuous and reflective practice building up to the making exhibition works. Crafting becomes intuitive. Time is not only required as a necessity in the cerebral facet of making, but also in the physical, in the creating. Making is slow research.
Dr Sharon Peoples, Research School of Humanities and the Arts, Australian National University