MEND (2014 - 2015)
'Mending' in connection with cloth suggest the repair of fabric. In this body of work - which was made in partial fulfilment of my Masters degree - I use the term to describe the transformation of an inner conflict while employing needlework techniques.
Coming from a family of embroiderers in Austria I use needle and thread as my tools and physical objects as triggers in search of what has been forgotten or repressed. The work centers largely around a shared history between my mother and myself, which though marked by many separations, the love for needlework connects us again and provides a meeting place that bridges the divide caused by absences in the past and in the present.
Below are some 'words and thoughts' around some of the works.
I am not Tracey Emin
I am also not Louise Bourgeois
I am more like my Grandmother's attic ...memories hanging like cobwebs in the corners of my mind (2014)
These three works started out as a triptych called Essay in Three Panels.
The first two panels, look at similarities and differences between Tracey Emin's, Louise Bourgeois' and my own work in a humerous tongue-in-cheek way that tries to make light of seriousness of working through trauma. The third work, which I renamed later Cobwebs in the corners of my mind is the entry into my own style of work.
The work Cobwebs in the corners of my mind (2014) was made in an attempt to visually define the concept behind my artistic process, which is the ongoing attempt to understand my life, the choices I have made and how to live with them...mend what is in need of repair in me.
In hand and machine embroidered texts I have transcribed entries from my journals onto small fabric pieces in red threads and stitched these onto mull cloth. Some of the fabrics are remnants from my mother and grandmother's household linens. The open weave of the mull cloth is suggestive of a net or a veil, which could be read as something being hidden or trapped...but also as providing possibly a safety net. This ambiguity fits well into the concept of locating the uncertainty within my search. A softer version of mull cloth, was also used as wound dressings when I grew up, which offers a pertinent metaphor for attending to the search for the wounded places inside me.
The photocopies of winter landscapes represented a longing in me that I could initially not place, which is symptomatic of how this intuitive process of collecting objects, such as these postcard, lead me one step at a time toward the next associative memory, which eventually revealed some inner 'truth' and gave me a sense of understanding the larger connections within my personal narrative. Jung described this intuitive process as "unconscious knowingness" (cited in Staples 2009).
My quest is a kind of Parsifal journey through which I am trying to find answers within me.
The process involves searching for the clues that help me peel away the different layers of memories and find the connections to certain events in my life.
Cobwebs in the corners of my mind, are just that: unattended residues of unresolved themes that occupy my thoughts. By stitching them down, I exert a measure of control over them, rather then being overwhelmed by them. The work in its unfinished state is symbolic for the never ending task to mend and repair the story of my life.
Heart of the Mat(t)er (2014 - 2016)
Following the intense Auseinandersetzung with my childhood, and the cathartic release after the Mother/Child Pods, I made the work The Heart of the Mat(t)er. With embroidered and appliquéd texts and photo transfers stitched onto an old bed-sheet, I tried to make visual connections between events that happened in my mother's and my grandmother's lives which still made themselves felt in my own childhood. Seeing those connections, as if for the first time, I understood my own story as part of consequences that happened in previous generations. This particular work was a threshold experience for me. By 'seeing' the wounds of the others, I could accept my own.
This process calls to mind how aptly Louise Bourgeois speaks of the needle as a tool for forgiveness stating that it "is used to repair damage" metaphorically and physically (Parker 2010).
Umbrella - my entangled Family life (2014)
In my art-making, objects play an important role. They either act as triggers for some thought processes behind the making of a work, or in other instances they are physically included into the work. Sometimes it is their tactility or smell that bring forth flashes of moments from my past. For instance, last year I bought an old black umbrella in a second-hand shop in the little Karoo town of Barrydale. When I saw it, it was like finding an old friend.
In my grandmother’s house, next to the attic door, was a coat rack full of old jackets and outdoor apparel, and within this collection was an old black cloth umbrella. As children we to used play hide and seek, and I often hid behind those coats. Finding this old umbrella transported me back to my childhood in an instant. I remembered the smell of cooking in the house, the cold emanating from the attic door, the scratchiness of the coats against my face...it was all there with me in that second-hand shop.
Through experiences such as this, I have become interested in the capacity of objects to unleash memories and experiences of the past in their beholder. In conjunction with an engagement with my family heritage of needlework, this concern for the object as a vessel or trigger for the process of memory has become a cornerstone around which my practical and conceptual enquiry into the nature of trauma, memory and healing has been structured.
Mother / Child Pods (2014)
Following an intense bout of homesickness and longing for my mother ...which felt completely irrational as I had just visited her two weeks before...I realised that there was something else at the core of it. The longing was that of the little girl for her mother. After much writing about this agony I formed the sentence ... "is there not something I can 'MAKE' to ease my ache?! And in this moment I drew little shapes that expressed that unity between mother and child, like being part of the mother in a tight embrace.
Not wanting to be too literal and create a 'Madonna and Child' image, I aimed more for a shape that could be both an expression of that longing, and also a vessel for my intense emotions. Initially I used old white cotton dishcloths from my grandmother, and either tied the bean-like shape with red thread, or followed the jacquard pattern of the textile in small embroidered stitches. This work was especially important in my two year process, as it proved once again in my moment of greatest despair that I had the key in my hand that could unlock that door behind which I was trapped: my needle and thread. I worked on the first series of pods until I felt an easing of my homesickness.
At a later stage, after the homesickness had passed, I made more pods, purely to explore the possibilities of combining different materials with this shape that, for me, symbolised vulnerability. These pods were made from diverse materials such as sea-grass, handmade paper, algae, cotton wool, porcelain, cement and chicken wire - bringing the total number of figurines to 33. By using materials from my surroundings here in the Cape, my thoughts ‘travelled’ to the places where I gathered them from, and provided me with a sense of the ‘here and now’, which was both grounding and reassuring..
The Mountain (2014 - 2015)
On a 5.3 meter long and 3.5 meter wide linen fabric, I have outlined my mother's first mountain - the Traunstein, surrounded by an imaginary mountain range. Textile fragments cut from jackets, coats and trousers; attached in rough grey and red embroidered stitches, fill the space. The attached cloth pieces spill over the edges at the side and continue downwards in a seemingly never ending array of fragments.
The Mountain is forever in progress and will never be completed. It has become a symbol of my personal "Aufarbeitung" - a processing of my past - but it also represents some aspects of a period in my mother’s life...a time before I was born...a time when everything was still alright. I would like to belong to this world of hers in which she was happy. The stitched mountain momentarily includes me and ties me to her. As my mother 'weaves' those stories, I receive them and pin them down, we produced something together - the mountain-cloth. In a way the mountain signifies a union between us, a coming together... a meeting place.
Mutti (2014 - 2015)
The Mutti works express further the interdependence between my Mother and me. Perhaps because we spent so many years apart while I was little, there is forever a need to nurture and be nurtured. We hug often and even though we do not talk about this time spent away from each other...it sits between like a thin blanket of silence that we both try to ignore.
In the letters "Mutti" - an endearment for "Mother" in German, I have laid out wheat kernels and watered them for 7 weeks - symbolic for the 7 years we spent apart. While they grew I recorded their growth by photographing them at frequent intervals and turned the process into a stopframe animation which plays inside a cushion that my mother embroidered specially for this project.
The looped film Mutti Talks About her Love for Embroidery shows my mother embroidering the cushion. It is overlaid with sound recordings I took over the years on my visits to her.
Wrapplings ( 2015)
As a final gesture of laying something to rest that has been worked through and has changed forever, I wrapped my thoughts into white fabric fragments and stitched them onto an old white tablecloth. As part of an interactive work during the final MFA exhibition, I offerd participants the opportunity to wrap up some of their own thoughts and mental images they whished to let go of.
After the exhibition, as a final act of catharsis, I took the cloth with me to our Barrydale garden and immersed it in the river in an attempt to cleanse it of all the heavy thoughts that are tied up in it.