Debra Dawes, Robyn Djunginy, Fiona MacDonald, Karen Mills
24HR Art, Northern Territory Centre for Contemporary Art, Darwin
11 February to 19 March 2011
Twining: Weaving and abstraction brings together weaving and abstraction, material and form. These four artists experiment with the nexus between the opposing registers of high and traditional art to explore ideas of cultural circulation and, in this exhibition, the critical process of colonial cultural intersections.
This exhibition platform is an artist-to-artist initiative: Robyn Djunginy and Karen Mills are from the Top End and Debra Dawes and Fiona MacDonald live in Sydney. The project’s staged structure and workshops aim to enable a more complex sharing of tacit or hard-to-articulate knowledge often embedded and encoded within everyday cultural practice.
Robyn Djunginy’s installations invert art/craft demarcations: her woven bottle works are not utilitarian objects and can only be considered as charged sculptural forms while her figurative paintings depict forms suspended in inspired optical cross-hatching. As one of the Ganalbingu people she refers simultaneously to bottles (colonial intervention and modernity) and a site of the honey ancestors near Ramingining. Curator Djon Mundine’s astute note on how Djunginy’s paintings mimic and draw on the ‘warp and weft’ of her woven work led to a revolutionary insertion of her work in the 1989 Biennale of Sydney’s theme of the 'Everyday'. She has lived a traditional life and is a renowned dancer. She has also mentored many artists, including Karen Mills.
For Debra Dawes the simple act of painting is itself a way of mediating experience and a means of processing the relation between knowledge and experience. Her art incorporates a notion of the artist’s studio work as an everyday commitment. She explores the grid and warp and weft patterns as ‘social fabric’ — found in the optical patterns of common gingham of school uniforms from her Moree childhood and, in one large gingham painting once memorably carrying the word ‘Sorry’ (1998), in the patterns of besser-block walls and camouflage nets. Sometimes, too, she embodies the pleasures and rigours of artmaking in the painting itself composing the lines of her breath or hours worked in the studio.
Karen Mills, like Robyn Djunginy, affirms basket weaving (buyu) as a metaphor for collective values and culture. She paints overlapping fields of the personal, social and cultural: her works commemorate her mother’s hand-knitted garments alongside traditional weaving. Yet her paintings explore weaving as abstract painting and lodge firmly into the language of contemporary abstraction. She paints the positive and negative space of the 3-D object and the pulled apart material of weaving — twining and untwining — until perhaps a word or sentence-like structure appears. The twining motif references severed family ties, ‘hunter gathering’ for materials and the aerial landscape of Country. Like the work of her artist comrades, Karen Mills’s work carries a gendered view of weaving through to abstracted depictions of objects and patterns, a case of revisiting the concept of 'the personal is political'.
Fiona MacDonald’s curatorial commentary for Twining comprises cross-woven photographic 'portraits' of the artists in their studio, a biographic commonplace. Yet, like her woven portable ‘archive baskets’ (as in Across the Square, portraits composed from Brisbane photographer Michael Aird’s family album), her weavings function as keeping places. Her overlapping of oppositional categories — Natives and Strangers, environment and continuing contest — within a ‘given’ curatorial frame is a form of remembrance and often reference colonial and race relations in Queensland. Although taken from the everyday, her works are commemorative.
|Twining opening talk by Christina Davidson, CEO of ANKAAA||Robyn Djunginy, installation view, 24HR Art, 2011||Karen Mills, installation view, 24HR Art, 2011|
|Fiona MacDonald, Weave, Karen Mills, 2011. Hand-woven photograph||Fiona MacDonald, Weave, Robyn Djunginy, 2011. Hand-woven photograph||Fiona MacDonald, Weave, Debrah Dawes, 2011. Hand-woven photograph|
|Twining workshop, 24HR Art, 12 February 2011||Twining installation view, 24HR Art: Robyn Djunginy and Debra Dawes||Installation view 24HR Art (left to right): Fiona MacDonald, Robyn Djunginy, Debra Dawes, Karen Mills|
Djon Mundine OAM generously opened Twined with Robyn Djunginy and Karen Mills, the first version of this project, at The Cross Art Projects in Sydney (23 July 2010.)
Djon Mundine’s curatorial work has contributed in large measure to the revolution in the criticism and display of contemporary Aboriginal art. On this occasion he spoke as a past art and craft advisor at Milingimbi in 1979 and as curator at Bula-bula Arts at Ramingining. He outlined why Central Arnhem Land and homeland communities around such as Maningriada, Milingimbi, Gapiwak and Oenpelli are famous for woven pandanus mats, bags and baskets, linking this determination with the Yolngu people’s renowned fight for native title and cultural and human rights.
Djon Mundine writes of Central Arnhem Land contemporary art:
In Indigenous religious beliefs, fragile fibre objects such as these could be utilitarian artefact or sacred object depending on the context. The first creative beings carried life-giving objects and children in special versions of bags when they created the world. It is said that the first body designs came from patterns left by the fibres on the bodies of the children. …
… all Indigenous art and life continues in the belief that personal experience, immediacy, past and present stories of places and environment, can never be separated, any more than forms and mediums of expression. Art is thus a coexistence of art and life, in whatever form it appears, a complex twining of relationships. For Indigenous Australians this is so much assumed that it could only be described as a casual acquaintance.
(Djon Mundine, A Casual Acquaintance, exhibition catalogue, Biennale of Sydney, 1989.)
Recognition for Djunginy’s generation of women artists, who pioneered the shift from mission-influenced fibre forms into superb art objects, followed in landmark shows: Aboriginal Women’s Exhibition (Hetti Perkins, AGNSW, 1992); Native Born: Objects and Representations from Ramingining, Arnhem Land (Djon Mundine, MCA and touring, 1996-2003); the national touring exhibition Re-coil (co-curators Margie West and Karen Mills, 2007) and Floating Life: Contemporary Aboriginal Fibre Art (Diane Moon, Queensland Art Gallery, 2009). Yet the dialogue with the wider contemporary art community is oddly lagging. Twining is a small step to this end.
Co-curators: Jo Holder and Fiona MacDonald with Karen Mills
Essayists: Jo Holder and Djon Mundine
Thank you: to Bula-bula Arts, Ramingining and manager Kris Carlon, curator Yaja Hadrys and former manager Louise O’Neill. To ANKAAA for generous assistance to Robyn Djunginy’s travel to the workshop and to Christina Davidson, distinguished CEO, for her insightful opening talk. Thanks to Diana Wood Conroy for sharing insights on the history of the crafts movement in the Top End in the Sydney workshop. In Darwin thanks to 24Hour Art (Steve Eland and Siying Zhou) and Don Whyte Framing and, in Sydney, The Cross Art Projects, Maxine Kauter and Gallery Barry Keldoulis.